Eagles’ Goertzen soars
Standing all alone while the rest of her teammates play defence at the other end of the court, Chelsi Goertzen claps her hands calling for the ball.
At the far end of the floor, the R.E. Mountain Eagles have gained possession of the basketball and with a couple of quick passes, the ball is soon in Goertzen’s hands.
Without taking a dribble, Goertzen turns her body square to the hoop and unleashes a three-point shot that finds nothing but net.
Shooting three-pointers in nothing new for Goertzen.
“I have had her shooting hoops for a long time so she is pretty good at it,” said her father, Derek Goertzen, who serves as an assistant coach on the Mountain senior girls team.
“I love sports and especially basketball so I used to go down to the court (near our house) with her and shoot baskets.”
“She just got the hang of it right away and loved to do it,” he added.
“When she gets on a roll, she is usually pretty good.”
His daughter, who turns 18 soon, has long loved sports.
She first played team basketball when she was 12 with Athletes in Action’s Friday Nite Basketball.
She has also done Special Olympics, playing hoops, bowling, floor hockey, pretty much anything she can, said her dad.
Goertzen, who has autism, is in her first year on the Eagles basketball team. She has also ran cross-country for two years with the school.
She joined the basketball team on the request of coach Pol Babao, a special education assistant at the school.
“I knew her passion for basketball,” he explained.
“And I wanted to give her a chance to play a real basketball game.”
Babao employs a specific strategy with Goertzen, having her on the court for either the first or last minute of each quarter.
She doesn’t play defence, just standing near the other team’s three-point line to take advantage of her outside shooting ability.
Goertzen has the potential to get on a roll when given the opportunity.
At a tournament earlier this season, she came third in a three-point shooting contest. And in a video made by the school, at one point she sinks three consecutive long-range shots as the crowd cheered her on.
Her part on the team is not a gimmick.
“She is a real player,” Babao said, adding that the opposition guards her and tries not to give her a clean look at the hoop.
“They don’t see the autism there and it’s great,” he added.
Babao knew Goertzen’s passion for the sport.
Every morning before school, he would see her in the gym launching shot after shot. It would be a similar story at lunch time.
The coach said he wished some of the other players would have her dedication.
And inviting Goertzen on the team — as well as another special needs student — was all about teaching his players inclusion.
The players love having Goertzen as a teammate.
“She brings a lot of joy to our team, something special,” said Paige Meister.
“She really brings us together and it is really fun having her there.”
“Chelsi is a big asset to the team,” added Ruth Babao, the coach’s daughter.
“We just try and get her the ball.”
Opponents have been great with Goertzen too.
“They have a certain respect for her,” said Victoria Adimora.
But talking to Goertzen, and all she cares about is being on the court and being with her friends, shrugging off her knack for outside shooting.
When asked if she is the best shooter on the team, she smiles and nods her head.
“She just basically wants to be with her friends,” said her father. “She is definitely happier when she is around others.”
“She is a fun-loving social girl and everyone loves her,” he added.
“She loves sports and she has a good time and is pretty good at them and everyone is amazed.”
And while in Goertzen’s eyes she isn’t doing anything special, there is no denying the impact she has made at the school.
“It has been amazing to watch her growth,” said Debbi McKinnon, the school’s department head for student services.
“She is amazing and she has had such a huge impact on the school.”
The Eagles season came to an end last week as they finished 10th at the Fraser Valley Double-A championships. It was the program’s best finish since 1999.
Mountain had placed second in their division in the regular season with a 7-3 record.