The Calgary Surge had made it their mission to be much more than just a Canadian professional basketball team. 

This story also appeared in LiveWire Calgary

When the Calgary Surge launched their team just under a year ago in Calgary, one thing that Jason Ribero, Vice-Chairman and President of the Calgary Surge noticed were the barriers that disconnected professional sports, including basketball, from the community.

“What we really were doing was creating a cultural vehicle that included art, fashion, music — inclusion — and I think no other sport does that better than basketball,” said Ribeiro.

After consulting the board of Sport Calgary, Kids Sport and a number of other organizations, he learnt that one of the barriers was footwear. 

“If you put a few 100 sneakers into the community, whether they be gently used, whether they be brand new, that they would be used, and that would be one of the biggest barriers that would be lifted for kids looking to participate in basketball,” said Ribeiro.

Ribeiro said that Calgary Surge was already involved in the fashion culture with various partnerships.

But, he said, they needed to figure out how to get sneakers into the hands of kids and deserving families.

The Calgary Surge partnered with #YCCSOLEDIERS and Status YYC to encourage people to donate gently used sneakers at their games and at Surge events, which then could be donated back to Kids Sports.

Ribeiro said that so far these efforts have been successful, but said that he wanted to figure out how to make affordable sneakers “cool again” while staying true to art, community, fashion and inclusion. 

A plan was developed to partner with local artists to paint affordable sneakers that could be purchased at Walmart, and “frankly just make them cool enough that kids would want to wear them,” said Ribeiro.

For each of the 10 Calgary Surge home games, and their playoff game, they’ve had a sneaker customized which will be auctioned off at the end of the season.

All proceeds from the auction will go towards the Calgary Surge NET GAINZ Program to buy new affordable sneakers that kids can customize themselves. 

“We’re doing this for the kid who doesn’t know that they have the potential to play professional basketball. The kid that doesn’t know that if there isn’t opportunity there, that there are programs and community supports and mentors who will help them get there,” said Ribeiro.

The original Walmart shoes before Busby painted them. CONTRIBUTED.

Local artists get involved

Billy Rae Busby, a Calgary-based artist who has also worked in the sports industry for over 20 years, was asked to participate in customizing sneakers for the auction.

“I have a huge passion for sport. I have a kinesiology and an art degree, so being involved with sport is really important to me,” she said. 

Busby’s artistic style is abstract paintings of Canadian landscapes, and have been featured at Canada’s diplomatic mission in London and as part of the corporate collections of TC Energy.

Her sneaker design reflects the northern lights moving in the night sky. 

“Even though I had never done custom painting on sneakers before, and I mainly paint on canvas or on murals, I thought this would be a great challenge and a good way to work with the Calgary Surge,” said Busby. 

The supplies Busby used for her design were the inexpensive sneakers from Walmart and fabric paint.

She said that the shoes show kids that they don’t need to spend a ton of money to have cool shoes. 

“I hope they can see that you can make some really dope shoes with a little bit of paint and … some creative ideas,” said Busby. 

Busby said that this project reminded her how great it feels to give back to the community and how many unique ways there are to support others as an artist. 

Other ways Calgary Surge is involved in the community

The sneaker auction is set to take place later in late August or early September.

The Calgary Surge said they are involved in a number of other projects that are intended to engage the community and support kids who want to pursue basketball. 

“At a time where our city and many cities across the country have gone through a few tumultuous years, bringing the community back together in a positive light through the Calgary Surge community has been extremely important to us,” said Ribeiro. 

Another project that the team has engaged in is raising funds to bring kids and deserving families to their games completely free of cost.

In the span of a few months through their partnership with Kids Up Front, $150,000 has been raised to send kids to their games.

Ribeiro said that his greatest memory from this season was seeing two buses of Eritrean youth be able to attend their game.

The most important thing for the team, he said, is to make sure that all barriers are dismantled before a child comes to the game whether that be transportation barriers, food barriers or whatever else.

“Seeing these kids screaming, crying like so happy to see our players, so happy to be a part of celebrating and knowing that this program is the thing that unlocked that memory for those kids, for our organization, for our staff, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

“There is no separation between community and the business here.”

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Isabella West is a fourth-year Journalism student at MRU. She completed her work term over the summer of 2023 at LiveWire Calgary in partnership with the Calgary Journal.