New Zealand Hoops – Q&A with Gemma Stowers

📷 Supplied

What is your full name and where are you from?

Kia Ora

Ko Owairaka te maunga

Ko Waitematā te awa

Nō Ahiterairia ahau

Ko Stowers tōku whānau

Ko Gemma tōku ingoa

Please tell us your story Gemma 😁

I remember my Dad playing in a social league at Jordan Rec many years ago, watching my cousin Sam play in Rotorua and seeing him fascinated with the sport and the NBA, I would spend plenty of my school holidays down there with my family, 1 day I asked to borrow his book, Dennis Rodmans Bad as I wanna be. I wasn’t around basketball much as we were an active family but we played netball, league and American football.

Growing up I didn’t play ball, it wasn’t until my son Cyrus started playing in Year 7 at Balmoral Intermediate and from there we all could see a positive change, even his teachers noticed. Cyrus made a great friend who shared the love and they connected, that kid is still in our lives today. Cyrus had always been an active kid and needed to exercise, he loved movement he needed to move. So from there he played in the school comps at intermediate and in our IEP (individual education plan) the teacher, SENCO & RTLB and and I made plans to use basketball to help keep his focus in class, he started off with every 5-10 mins he would excuse himself grab the ball and head outside either to the hoop or if was raining he would bounce the ball on the deck with a timer and once the timer went off back to class to focus.

He always had a ball on him, it was actually my way of knowing Cyrus is on the street after school because you could hear the bouncing. From there I had to search for a club, first we did the YMCA programme for a term and ended up playing in a YMCA tournament and from there I realised I needed to get him into a club. From there we found Central Cougars and Coach George Taapatoutai, moved to Bay City so he could get some game experience and then last year we went back to Coach George.

Cyrus has also played Auckland Reps where we met Coach Stuart McEwen. From there we have met sooooo many wonderful people within the basketball community and because of Cyrus needing me to be at every training and every game I grew to love the sport more and learn and understand it already knowing how much the sport had done and is still doing for him over the years, subsequently I got interested in coaching, but I wanted to be able to design a basketball training that all special needs children would be able to do and cope with especially children with Autism spectrum disorder as I have 3 boys on the spectrum, especially for my 8yr old who was diagnosed at 2.5yrs old, he also has Anxiety and Sensory Processing Disorder.

Louis was always a very anxious kid and he masks his behaviours and explode when he was in a safe place, school was difficult from the start for him, it was a big stress and worry for him and he didn’t want to seem different he started to then show an interest in the sport so after Cyrus and I went over the Melbourne for the Eltham Dandenong Tournament with Ngamotu Hoop Club 2019 under Coach Josh Reeves.

When I came back to NZ I booked in a coaching clinic reached out to my son’s school Mt Roskill Primary bought some balls put up some fliers around the school sent out emails to the Endeavour Centre (special needs unit at Mt Roskill where my youngest son attends) and we started running after school sessions on a Tuesday. It was all planned out using my experience only being a mother to special needs children but also my job, I have been a carer, teacher aide and paraprofessional I’ve worked with children with Cerebral Palsy, genetic disorders, Autism and epilepsy children and teens so putting all that into account I made up fun activities to help these children learn the basics of basketball but in a way that would keep them interested, engaged but also give them that social aspect which a lot of these kids like mine miss out on, we wanted all inclusive basketball.

After that first term and with the same kids coming back each week and watching there progress and the fact all these kids now had Bball mates and were so excited to see me walking around school, I would get ‘Hi Coach, see you Tuesday” man that was the best feeling. These kids and I made an amazing connection. But alas my strength is not putting my plan down on paper and writing a business plan so the local sessions people asked for didn’t pan out. I couldn’t keep up the costs of gym hire even though I have had some good talks with people and some awesome friends who helped me out for those Louis needed me more, over the last 2 years his behaviours worsened and we were having a difficult time with him mentally and I was busy trying to find the right supports and get him the support he deserved and even though he still wanted to play everything was piling up.

Even though I hate to use it as an excuse I’m a single parent raising 4 children with disabilities, all of them have a diagnosis of some kind, I know it is a worthy one but I had to slow down the sessions and after school trainings and do 1 on 1 sessions at times that would work for my family. But it’s something I plan on working on now, I am not working and homeschooling Louis.

Last year my daughter Leila who is 16 finally decided to give ball a chance, she was always a feisty netball player but after her bone graft operation she took longer to heal and it caused to much pain. She then found fencing at school and softball but when I got a txt to say Mum I’ve signed up to trial for the u17s I was happy. She got into the team and that’s where her journey with the game started, her first team didn’t have the best coach and treated her unfairly and was disrespectful so which sucked but luckily we talked about it and she wasn’t discouraged it actually pushed her more. She’s still playing and just like Cyrus they give so much time and effort to this sport and I love seeing them play together, they get rough but they push each other, they give me a good workout. 

Today our lives revolve around basketball but I absolutely love it it has given so much to my family. Being a special needs family we often get stuck in our little world and home because of all the risks and issues that come along with Autism getting out and doing the usual family activities can be difficult. Louis has managed attending Breakers games, he comes along to trainings and will sit there and take everything in go home and practice, sometimes he would do his own little training on the sideline and take a few shots, even my youngest Micah can now cope with attending his big brother and sisters club trainings and more. 

Last year we discovered the Tongan Aotearoa Basketball Association being Tongan/Samoan/Fijian and the 1st Nations tournament coming up we have extended our basketball community to an amazing group of people who have welcomed us in completely and run an awesome programme.I love Basketball and will give it my all for the sake of my children because it has changed our lives for the better

Who has been your biggest influence in basketball and why?

My biggest influence is my son Cyrus. He is one of my hero’s. I have watched him and his passion for Basketball grow and grow. He is so driven and determined it’s so beautiful to watch him especially knowing where he has come from and the way he is proactive I can see such a bright future for him.

From a shy quiet kid who didn’t enjoy physical contact in sport to someone who gets up early to bus to trainings, who daily will put in his own time to work on his Bball homework and fitness, who listens and learns from his coaches, who takes it all in, who never wants to miss a training or game, who appreciates the sport in all aspects. His love for it is something that makes me so proud. I admire him, he pushes me to be better because if my son can do it I most definitely can ❤️

If you had one piece of advice for your younger self what would it be? 

Be kind to yourself, it’s ok to be you, embrace your uniqueness. Be kind to others. Hug your family more, tell them you love them. Trust your instincts and judgements, believe in yourself!

#BuildTheCulture 🏀

Published by Jesse Wallis

Basketball Journalist

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