“The main purpose is to let them know that there is no gap. We’re trying to close that gap between police and the community,” Kevin Graham said.
The Ottawa Police HoopStars are a basketball team made up of Ottawa Police officers who go around the community to play basketball against local community schools, or play basketball at local parks around the city with the children in that neighborhood.
Prior to 2017, the team was named the Flatfooters. Beginning in May of 2017, the team rebranded themselves by coming up with the name of HoopStars and creating an Instagram page where their fans can keep up to date with them and request to meet up for a game of basketball or a visit to a school.
Kevin Benloss and Graham are two members of the HoopStars. They are both patrol constables and emergency responders with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS).
“It started in May 2017, we were in Montreal for a tournament, it’s an annual tournament for the remembrance of an officer who died in the line of duty in Toronto. So, the memorial weekend in May, all police forces in Ontario form a basketball team and we do a tournament and the tournament goes from Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and throughout the province,” Benloss said.
“So, it started in May 2017, I think it was May 5th, that weekend in Montreal we decided to start doing Instagram and we created, the Ottawa Police Hoopstars,” he added.
Benloss has been a part of the team since 2006 when it was still called the Flatfooters, while Graham joined the HoopStars a year and a half to two years ago.
“So, I joined them while they were in stride of their community actions,” Graham said.
Throughout the year, the HoopStars attend various community events. Many of these events include entering into elementary, middle, and high schools to host talks and play basketball games and activities. Other events include showing up at parks and engaging in basketball games with the children.
“It’s a mixture. So, a lot of the events we do right now are, we enter into schools for youth and interact with not only the youth, but also the teachers as well that teach these youth. Other times we may just be in a park or in a community environment outside where we just show up, I know I’ve shown up to parks in uniform while I was on duty and just interacted with youth there,” Graham said.
Prior to joining the HoopStars, Graham and Benloss have had previous basketball experience.
“I played at the Ontario Basketball level, from Toronto, and traveled to many locations in the United States and played against competition there, and I had an opportunity to coach as well. But yeah, I’ve been playing since I was eleven years old,” Graham said.
“I started really late because I grew up in Jamaica, so I played mainly soccer, and I moved to Canada when I was 17, so, I wasn’t exposed to basketball. When I was exposed to basketball, I would say I was maybe 20 years old. So, I’ve never played in an organized fashion except for joining Ottawa Police,” Benloss said.
So far, while a part of the team, Benloss and Graham have many memorable moments. But one specific moment really stands out for them.
Last summer, the HoopStars took a group of children from the west end white water rafting with Ottawa City Rafting, and it allowed the officers and the children to have a fun day away from the basketball courts. It’s an activity which the HoopStars would like to make an annual occurrence.
“I feel like that was a huge moment for us as Hoopstars, because we’re used to the basketball court or we’re used to bringing kids down to a police car or a police station and showing them around, but going rafting, I’ve never done it either, so I had to step out there as a leader for the youth and say I’m going to do it too. And I think that was a huge thing for them because they were able to step into an element that they weren’t used to,” Graham said.
In joining the HoopStars, Graham has said that the reason he joined is because he loves the sport and he loves the chance to interact with the children, so, for him, it’s the best of both worlds.
“So, the Hoopstars is right up my alley. I love interacting with youth. Having that connection with them and having those conversations with them are key, and when I was asked if I wanted to join, I thought it was something that was beneficial not only for the youth, but for me as well,” Graham said.
While being a part of the HoopStars, Benloss and Graham hope to spread the message that even though the team is comprised of police officers, they are just like the children that they meet up and play basketball with.
“One of the main messages is to say hey, we’re just like you, you’re just like us, we’re all citizens, it just turns out we’re with the Ottawa Police Organization and we have the expertise,” Benloss said.
“You know, they have expectations of us and we’re trying to fulfill those expectations in terms of going out and saying hey, what’s going on, it’s me, it’s Kevin, rather than Kevin the police officer or Kevin in the uniform.”