Lisa Gooding Bontkes made headlines in the Parksville Qualicum Beach News in 1988 for being the only girls on the boys basketball team at Parksville’s Ballenas Secondary — an experience she said set the tone for the rest of her life.
“Our senior girls team folded in Grade 12; myself and another girl were going to change schools,” she said. “I was a bit of an anomaly at the time, sports was my life and I was devastated when basketball was cancelled.”
Instead of leaving Ballenas, Bontkes tried out for the boys team — and made it.
“We were the first basketball team to make provincials, our team did the best in Ballenas history as far as basketball goes,” she said over the phone from Langley, where she now lives. “But I wasn’t allowed to play at the provincials.
“I always had to change in the toilet stall and wait for them all to finish changing because the other team was always in the other change room during games.”
Bontkes said her teammates was supportive throughout the season, adding “the guys on my team made it pretty easy.”
In the 1988 article, Bontkes said she wishes there was a girls team because she said she would see more floor time.
“I get comments like ‘Butch,’ but I just ignore them. Some players are lenient on me. It all depends on the team. In all, most are pretty good about it,” said 17-year-old Bontkes.
In the 1980s, many saw the Canadian sports landscape start to change. In 1984, Sylvie Bernier won Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in diving and Anne Ottenbrite was the first Canadian woman to win gold in swimming.
In 1981, feminist athletes and activists created the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport, which is still advocating for gender equity in the sports community today. It was a lot different being a female athlete then than it is now, Bontkes said.
“You wouldn’t get away with that nowadays,” she said, about the girls team folding. “It’s totally different, females in sport now… the numbers are 10 times what they were when I went to school.”
After graduating, Bontkes went on to play basketball at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) for a year and eventually ended up as a physical education teacher in Langley. She is now retired and spends her time coaching and still comes back to visit Parksville — her parents still live in the area and she has a beach house in San Pareil.
She coached both her children as they were growing up and they now play volleyball at Trinity Western University.
Bontkes said it was her time on the basketball team at Ballenas that inspired decisions that kept her involved in sports.
“My experience with playing sports pretty much my last year at Ballenas has led me to where I spent my life,” said Bontkes, who has now coached for more than 30 years. “I coach because I want to give what my coach [Ian Kennedy] gave me, which was full acceptance for who you are, the ability to learn some great leadership skills, to accept where you’re at.”
She’s not sure what would have happened if she hadn’t been allowed to play on the boys team at Ballenas — not all schools would have allowed that at the time.
Luckily, said Bontkes, she has a slew of great memories on the team and lasting friendships from her senior year. Her grad class was set to have a reunion this summer to celebrate their 50th birthdays.
She remembers great trips down to the U.S. with the team, plenty of hard work and, once, someone telling her that her check smelled like perfume.
To that, she said: “I never wore perfume.”