LANGLEY — In the B.C. basketball community, pink whistles attached to the ends of pink lanyards have become the ties that bind… even in the toughest of times.
And if you ask Karn Dhillon, the longtime, respected basketball referee, about the Pink Whistle/Call A Foul on Cancer campaign that he launched as an annual February initiative 13 years ago through the united front of his fellow officials with the B.C. Basketball Officials Association (BCBOA), the cause has grown in the most organic of ways.
In fact, as the campaign nears the end of its 2022 run, the proof lies in the fact that, despite the absence of fans at games due to the pandemic, donations have hit an all-time high.
As of noon Wednesday, donations had reached $35,336, surpassing the record of $29,700 raised over the 2020-21 season in which gyms were literally deserted over a cancelled season of play. Over the last season before the onset of the pandemic, 2019-20, $25,730 was collected.
Dhillon told Varsity Letters that BCBOA referees would wear their pink whistles through the games of Feb. 19, but that donations would be open through Feb. 28.
“Little by little, one whistle at a time, one donation at a time we’re all making a difference and I know people are embracing this, because who hasn’t been affected by cancer,” explained Dhillon, who launched the drive in 2010 as his own sister, Amanjit Payer, bravely battled the disease, one which she would claim her life in 2013 at the age of 55.
These days, it’s that precise grassroots mentality of patiently building community-based awareness which is the very strength of the Pink Whistle Campaign’s foundation.
In fact, if you want to know just how ‘in-the-details’-committed Dhillon and his fellow BCBOA referees are in spreading the word, consider how he reacted when two Edmonton-based refs — Joanna Wiegers and Kerron Lewis — set to officiate Canada West games at the University of Victoria last weekend, reached out with a request to wear their own pink whistles.
A local Victoria association had also put a request in for whistles, and when Dhillon investigated the mailing costs involved he realized it was cost prohibitive in terms of the group’s fund-raising cause.
His answer was truly old school.
Longtime B.C. basketball figure Harry Franklin, a Victoria resident, was in Vancouver to watch a hockey game and had reached out to Dhillon to make an in-person donation to Pink Whistle. Franklin not only agreed to bring the whistles over, but also to transport the group one-and-only sign board, as well as a pair of its custom donation ‘paint-cans’.
All Dhillon could say when he was later sent a photo of the entire Victoria crew adorned with their pink whistles?
“To see the smiles on their faces, that said it all.”
That is truly the ‘one whistle-at-a-time’ ethos at work.
Now, after building a true foundation within the B.C. basketball community, Dhillon is hopeful that more far-reaching possibilities are close at hand.
“We don’t have the resources,” Dhillon explains. “We have four paint cans and one sign, and that is how we have to make things work.
“My hope in the off-season is to get a sponsorship to get more (donation) buckets, maybe four or five in every jurisdiction in the province, and at least two signs in every one.
And beyond that?
“If I could have a hope and a wish, it’s that every referees’ association joins us,” said Dhillon. “We all wear black whistles, but what if we could all change to pink for three weeks each year, just to see how much of a difference we could make?”
Every great cause starts small, but those which are able to grow and continue to bless are those whose foundations rooted at the heart of the communities they serve, and which have in turn, embraced them.
That is what has happened, over the past decade-plus, with the Pink Whistle Campaign.
“I think what it is, is we’re hopefully breaking barriers,” sums Dhillon. “At the start, we were ‘just the refs’. Over time, I like to think that we have been able to show our humanistic qualities… the way we carry ourselves on, and especially off the court.
“We can hold hands with the fans and the coaches, and I think they can embrace us, not just as whistle-blowers, but as a group of people whose level of ‘give-a-damn’ is pretty high.”
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