Raptors go local


Entering through a yawning chasm, three high school cagers meandered their way through courtside seats and set foot on golden hardwood.

Their eyes wide in awe, they scanned the rafters of the Air Canada Centre. They were at centre court.

For Evan Lee of Northern SS, Tre Eli of York Mills CI and Forest Hill’s Andrej Sikic that was a moment never to be forgotten.

Every young basketball player dreams of his or her moment under the Klieg lights, coaxed by the commentator’s praise and the cheers of thousands of fans.

Uniting under one front is the life force that drives sports, is the way Lee puts it.

“School spirit means togetherness and every student at a school loves to be there, and supports everything that is being done,” he said.

Sikic flashes his true colours when sharing his Falcon pride.

“School spirit is supporting and cheering on your school,” he said. “Representing your school by wearing school colours and supporting all of the clubs, athletic teams and inter-school activities.”

Though it may not be overt, Toronto’s student body is fiercely loyal to its institutions.

The halls of Forest Hill, York Mills or Northern are rife with grassroots pride, while the Raptors, denizens of the ACC, are the force that unites the city at the macro level.

No better to talk about getting involved in Toronto neighbourhoods and boosting support than Kat Stefankiewicz, co-captain of the Raptors Dance Pak.

She’s in charge of getting fans riled up for game night, whether it is through the Internet (via Raptorspace and Twitter) or on the basketball court.

Still, it’s not widespread knowledge the Raptors are immersed in the community.

“People don’t realize it because it’s not really talked about,” she said. “We do more than a handful of community appearances throughout the season away from the games, whether it be at Dundas Square or charity events.”

Immersion in the community comes naturally to Stefankiewicz, having graduated from the music theatre program at Sheridan College five years ago.

Now 28, she is an ambassador for the Raptors to the community. A member of the Dance Pak since graduation — the past three as co-captain — Stefankiewicz identifies with the city’s young athletes.

“I came from a very sports-involved high school (in Burlington),” she said. “My friends were always athletes; we would go out and play basketball on a Friday night.”

Though being on the Dance Pak is a part-time gig, Stefankiewicz keeps pace with the city, working as a reporter for NBA TV Canada.

Oh, and there’s social media, too.

“I’m doing my Twitter, Facebook, all that getting the fans ready for the game at hand,” she said.

Many of those fans end up courtside to catch games in the Raptors Tweetzone or the Raps Fanatics zone.

“You know the diehards,” Stefankiewicz said. “They keep the place going.”

What the Raptors do for Toronto is not lost on the city’s aspiring athletes.

“Whether the Raptors are down big, or up big, the Dance Pak and Raptor are always up getting the crowd into the game,” Sikic said. Lee weaved in his thoughts about the team representing the fabric of the city.

“The Toronto Raptors, as well as the Dance Pak, are a very multicultural team and show that people with all different backgrounds can get along with each other, do what they love and compete at a high level while having fun.”

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