VANCOUVER — On a talented basketball team she leads from the heart.
Yet if you were to look a little closer at all the little things which make Jasleen Bahia so essential to the daily pulse of the senior varsity team at East Vancouver’s Britannia Secondary, you’d quickly discover all the ways in which they mirror an astounding off-court alter ego.
Her speed, something which leads to tipped balls and to steals on the court, transitions off the court into the unmistakable urgency she carries into the roots of her community as a mentor to those her junior, despite her own tender age of 17.
Her will, resolute and unyielding despite her physical limitations as a 5-foot-7 player, have not only made her, inch-for-inch, an above-average rebounder, but a humble giant of sorts in a different realm where she brings crusading cause to empower those in need of guidance.
And lastly, there is her vision.
On the court, in concert with her speed and will, it’s what puts her in the places she needs to be to help her team.
Off of it, it’s what has allowed her to trust her inner compass, the one which keeps pointing her along a journey towards a lifelong adventure which seems to be getting bigger with the passing of each day.
A HEART-AND-SOUL SISTER
This past Thursday evening, in the gym at Britannia Secondary, Jasleen Bahia stepped up to the free throw line in overtime, with her team leading by a single point, only a handful of seconds remaining on the game clock, and a berth to the B.C. senior girls Double A basketball championships hanging in the balance.
After calmly sinking them both, the Bruins had beaten Burnaby’s St. Thomas More Knights 79-76 and punched their tickets for a return trip to the Big Dance, beginning Feb. 27 at the Langley Events Centre.
No, she is not her team’s marquee player.
That honour, the experts would agree, is shared by the Bruins’ pair of uber-talented Grade 11’s, guard Shemaiah Abatayo and swing forward Surprise Muni, two of B.C.’s acknowledged elite talents.
Yet Thursday’s game wouldn’t have been the same if Bahia had not brought her speed, will and vision to the floor over the second half, much of which she was forced to play with four fouls after Abatayo fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter.
“She gets a ton of rebounds, she reads situations offensively and defensively, she fills space and she goes and gets the ball,” says Bruins head coach Mike Evans who has always appreciated a complete skill set.
“And in the bigger games, she forces turnovers, gets more rebounds and sprints the floor for layups.”
One of the beauties of basketball is the ability of its line scores to reflect a player’s personality traits. And thus there was a subtle humility to be gleaned from a workmanlike defensive effort punctuated by her eight points, nine rebounds and five steals.
And in the spirit of the blurred lines between her life as a student-athlete, a student-scholar and a student-activist, there is the rest of her February, which has been about as fabulous and life-changing a month as you could imagine.
ALL THAT JAS
Both Bahia and her older brother have been raised in a single-parent household by a dedicated mother who has worked tirelessly to help provide for their needs.
So when the phone rang earlier this month at the family’s East Vancouver residence, it was easy to understand why the tears that began to flow were tears of joy.
“When I got the call, my mom started crying and she hugged me so tightly,” Bahia says of telling her mother Sukhwinder that she had been awarded one of the Canada’s most prestigious post-secondary scholarship awards. “I’ve always been her little girl, and she was so excited for me. I think she’s still in shock.”
The Loran Scholarship is worth $100,000 over four years and instantly transferable upon graduation to one of 25 Canadian universities including Simon Fraser, UBC, Victoria, Queen’s, Ryerson, McGill, Toronto, Dalhousie and Western.
“It’s really a big blessing for my family that I have the freedom to choose from almost any school in Canada and not have to worry about the financial obstacle which would have been placed on my family,” added who says she may seek an institution in which she can pursue a double major in business and science.
The odds of receiving a Loran Scholarship are listed at under one percent.
Over 5,000 applicants annually are narrowed to 500 who are then shortlisted for interviews. Only 88 are invited to a semifinal round, and from there, 35 across Canada are selected.
“I’ve worked really hard to assume leadership positions and this award is not just about who has the best marks or who is the best athlete,” continued Bahia. “They look at every individual in terms of character, leadership and what they do at their school, and to be recognized for that is a huge honour.”
Bahia’s outreach within her community has not only been heartfelt, it’s come with a millennial’s unique self-awareness of the street-level issues that matter most.
Perhaps paramount among her self-starting ways has been the financial literacy club called Biz Whiz which she started to empower elementary school kids in her neighbourhood.
“She realized how important is was to try to break the cycle of poverty and teach kids, early on, how to save money, how to budget and how to get a head start,” said Britannia’s senior varsity assistant basketball coach Mitra Tshan.
For Bahia, the impetus for Biz Whiz came straight from the heart.
“Coming from a single-parent household, it is something that stems from own experience,” Bahia explains. “In our neighbourhood, with the background of the kids and how financial literacy gets neglected, they think they don’t have someone to talk to about it. But I come from a similar background and it is important to take action and get these kids informed.”
There is irony in the fact that the recognition she has gotten through her outreach efforts in the area of financial empowerment to a group of local youth has helped her break the very same cycle which she has sought to help others overcome.
But mostly, it’s the living, breathing message of hope that she represents which is most impactful.
“My mom, being a single parent (of two), she has worked two jobs, so she is working night and day,” begins Bahia. “She got into a car accident and was terminated from one of her jobs because she couldn’t keep going with her physical health. But I also started working, picking up a job as a scorekeeper so I could contribute to the finances.”
Of course, news of the Loran Scholarship hasn’t slowed Bahia in the least from her job.
“We have a score-keeping club,” she says. “So whether I am playing or scorekeeping, the gym has pretty much become a second home.”
Yet there is even more to Jasleen Bahia’s community-minded ways, things she doesn’t bring up, but things you discover in places as diverse as The National Post and your daily Twitter feed.
Congratulations to @VPDCadets Inspector Jasleen Bahia! What an incredible achievement!— Cpl Anne-Marie Clark (@TwoFox15) February 8, 2019
This outstanding young lady is what a #RoleModel looks like! I have no doubt that the positive impact Jasleen has in the #Community will continue grow! #VPD #Youth #Leaders #Proud https://t.co/CpvjTB8IGt
“The Vancouver Police Department has a Junior Cadets program and for all of the kids in Vancouver, she has the highest overall ranking,” Tshan proudly informs.
There’s the after-school science-based program she formed and has led called Little Einsteins.
“She’s also done workshops and clinics in elementary schools for mental health awareness,” continues Tshan. “So when she got the Loran Scholarship, to me it re-affirmed all of the things she is. Jas is the kind of kid that doesn’t do anything for the recognition. All of this comes straight from the bottom of her heart.”
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