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Coach Andy Waterman receiving his Community Builder Award from Sarah Onyango, a member of United Way Ottawa’s recognition team. Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Coach Andy Waterman teaches community through basketball

By Erica Howes on April 19, 2018

Erica Howes is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.

Andy Waterman has coached hundreds of Ottawa high school students for more than 25 years, mentoring them in sports, school and on the importance of giving back. For this extraordinary volunteer work with youth in our city, he was presented with a Community Builder Award by Sarah Onyango, a member of United Way Ottawa’s recognition team on Saturday, April 14 as part of National Volunteer Week.

Coach Waterman founded and is head coach of the Ottawa Phoenix Basketball Club, which provides students with opportunities in competitive sports. It’s the most affordable opportunity for local student athletes and brings together youth from all different socio-economic backgrounds across the city. But it focuses on much more than basketball.

More than basketball

The team has a strong focus on community, education and volunteering under Coach Waterman’s leadership. He helps enforce the idea that building a better community starts with building strong, responsible youth to carry the torch.

When Coach Waterman started the program 25 years ago, the percentage of players that moved on to post-secondary education was about five per cent. As a teacher by profession, he was determined to make his student-athletes realize that they need a solid education. He wants them to use basketball to advance their educational aspirations, not letting basketball use them.

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Students participate in study hall together before they even come on the court. Coach Waterman checks each player’s report card and helps his team and their families navigate the school system. He incorporates volunteering and community work into team-building activities, and has organized career days where students learn from leaders that they can look up to as role models—many of them alumni of the program.

Today, the team’s overall average is 80 per cent and the percentage of students that advance to post-secondary institutions is more than 95 per cent. Thanks to Coach Waterman, many members of his team have gone on to excel in academics and sports at a higher level.

For 25 years, all of Coach Waterman’s work with the Ottawa Phoenix Club has been on a volunteer basis.

Meet Coach Waterman’s players

Coach Andy and the team. Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

“I’ve played for a lot of teams but the organization Coach Waterman has built is different, it’s a family. He teaches stuff beyond basketball. It’s about maturity, how to conduct yourself on and off the court and the importance of giving back.” – Muktar, current Ottawa Basketball Phoenix Club player and Grade 12 student at Sir Wilfred Laurier Secondary School.

“I was taught through basketball that respect, hard work, dedication, and perseverance are some of the pillars to building a foundation for personal growth. I will always honour and respect him for not only what he has done for me, but what he has done and continues to do for many young men and women within the community.” – Ryan, former player who went on to play on Carleton University’s basketball team.

“Through the sport of basketball, Coach Waterman and the Ottawa Phoenix program has helped us grow, making us valued members of our families, and communities. We don’t just become better basketball players, but we become positive members of society. Congratulations and thank you for all you have done and continue to do Coach.” – Achuil, veteran player who now volunteers his time as a coach with the program.

“Coach W’s main goal was to give us the right tools to be able to succeed in life because basketball doesn’t last forever, but the experience you gain from it will follow you everywhere you go.” – Ibrahim, a past player.

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

These students joined the program as high school basketball players, committing to being part of the team, attending practices and sometimes travelling for games. What they left with was an empowering experience with Coach Waterman as a role model, who helped them succeed on and off the court and grow into positive community leaders.

Coach Waterman’s players sum up the most important thing to say to community builders who help shape lives in our community: Thank you.

Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.