Within a year, a basketball competition that debuted in Montréal-Nord has morphed into a five-day event across five boroughs, drawing hundreds of young Montrealers.
This month, organizers of the event, which is called “Three for Cheeze,” made stops in Montréal-Nord, Rivière-des-Prairies, Little Burgundy, Saint-Michel and Parc-Extension.
It’s a three-point shooting contest named after Sanchez Brice, nicknamed Cheeze, who was revered by friends and opponents during the 90s in the city’s east end because of his uncanny ability to hit three-pointers. He died in 2012 of a pulmonary embolism. He was 36.
The competition gave young players a chance to showcase their skills, but organizers say the top priority was building a sense of community which has been made more difficult by a recent rash of violent incidents involving youth.
Rondo Brown, the main organizer of “Three for Cheeze,” who worked with several community groups in order to expand the event’s reach, says gun violence, especially in the city’s east end, has discouraged many young people from hanging out outdoors.
“There’s so much tension in the streets,” said Brown.
The three-point champions in each neighbourhood won $1,000 and qualified to play in the finals for a $5,000 prize.
The money is a way to draw the players in. Then, the real work begins, said Brown.
“We wanted to show the kids that they’re loved and that they are important,” he said. “We got a lot of community workers who get to build bonds with the kids.… We give them the message that if ever they need help they can come to us.”
The event is named after “Cheeze,” not only because it’s slang for money, but in addition to being a marksman from three-point range, the man who wore the nickname was known for mentoring youth and defusing situations that could have turned violent.
For a lot of young people, “it’s so easy to slip through the cracks,” said Ted Aspilaire, who works with young athletes as part of the Monarques de Montréal organization.
He said events like “Three for Cheeze” can provide the boost that many of them need.
“It’s [about] being a citizen in the community. We don’t always think that kids think about stuff like that,” said Aspilaire, who is now a co-ordinator for the same organization he used to play for nearly 30 years ago.
“[With an event like this], they’re seen as a member of society. They’re part of something, something bigger than basketball.”