It’s a long drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Guysborough, N.S., but it was well worth it for retired basketball coach Ernie Wolke.
Wolke, 79, drove 26 hours to watch a game at a high school basketball tournament.
He owns a cottage in Port Hilford, Guysborough County and spends his summers there.
It was at the 2018 Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso when he met the MacLeans, a local family.
When Wolke saw there were no mesh nets on an outdoor basketball court used by kids in the community, the former coach said he had to step up.
Bought some nets
He bought some nets and gave them to the MacLeans.
“When I got back to the cottage that day I decided I would drive up to Antigonish and I bought a few nets,” Wolke said from his home in Ohio. “I’m a big advocate of kids being outside doing something versus sitting around and being bored.”
That was just the beginning of the relationship between the retired coach and young basketball players in the remote community more than three hours northeast of Halifax.
He delivered more gifts the following summer as Wolke continued to spread goodwill through basketball.
“This time he had two basketballs and more basketball nets,” said Amanda MacLean.
MacLean is a teacher at Canso Academy. Her son, Druhan, is a member of the school basketball team and her husband, John, is an assistant coach.
“It just goes to show you that there really are good people in this world,” Amanda said.
After Wolke returned to Ohio he stayed in touch with the family. He learned many of the boys who played on those no-net basketball hoops 18 months ago are now playing for the high school team in Canso.
Wolke wanted to see the Canso Academy Seahawks in person. Two weeks ago, he and two friends made the drive to watch them play in a tournament in Guysborough, not far from his cottage.
‘They looked really good’
“We actually left a little early because a storm was coming,” said Wolke, who saw the Seahawks win a semifinal game and advance to the tournament final. “They played a really good game. They looked really good.”
Prior to that game, only a few of those players had ever met the man who donated the equipment that many of them had used on their outdoor court.
Wolke had a special surprise when he addressed the team in their dressing room.
“The boys knew he had something with him in a box but they didn’t know what it was,” said Amanda. “When he opened up the box there were beautiful Canso Academy Seahawks T-shirts for each of the players and coaches.”
Wolke said he had the shirts made for free by a friend in Cincinnati.
But his gesture has had an impact on the boys team.
“To have somebody who is literally hundreds of miles away take the time and want to share his time and experiences is just tremendous,” said Brandon Dort, the team’s head coach. “It’s all about life lessons and Ernie has really been an amazing model of how you can give back through sport.”
For many years there was no high school basketball team in Canso. But, three years ago, a young team came together.
That group is now having a successful season and hopes to win a regional championship and qualify for provincials.
“I’ll be rooting for the Seahawks from down here in Ohio but I doubt I’ll drive back up to watch them,” joked Wolke, who says he’s already thinking of what he can give the team next year.
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