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Catholic Vancouver Feb. 14, 2019

Former court foes put rivalry behind them  

By Bria Marchenski

Rivals no longer, the Clarke family (Jessica, mom Tracy, and Rebecca Clarke) are now onside with the Cutler family (Gemma and mom Joanne.) (Submitted photo)

Thirty years ago, two B.C. Interior girls were regular opponents on the basketball court, battling for victory against each other on their rival high schools. Joanne Cutler and Tracy Clarke recall how their first head-to-head meeting was at a tournament that sent their respective teams, J.L. Crowe Secondary in Trail and Vernon Secondary into a triple overtime game.

No one remembers who won – probably a good thing, because today the towering opponents are cheering for the same team as their daughters play together on North Vancouver’s St. Thomas Aquinas Senior Girls Basketball team.

Inheriting their mothers’ height (well north of six feet), Rebecca and Jessica Clarke, daughters of Tracy, and Joanne’s daughter Gemma are key players on the squad, currently ranked #2 in the province and just coming off repeating as champions at the BC Catholic Provincial Basketball Championships.

Their connection on the court wasn’t always so friendly. The North Shore families were initially adversaries like their moms, with Rebecca and Jessica competing for Holy Trinity Elementary  against Gemma at St. Anthony’s Elementary.

Then came high school, with all three girls attending STA. The longstanding family rivalry came to an end as the three hoopsters became teammates playing for the St. Thomas Aquinas Fighting Saints squad.

“It’s great to see them finally be teammates and not opponents,” said STA Principal John Campbell.

Battle on the boards from 30 years ago. Tracy Clarke goes for a rebound with Joanne Cutler (#14) challenging. Today the two are moms whose daughters play on the same side. (Submitted photo)

The girls have had a number of coaches who helped develop their passion for basketball. They’ve also had to invest an abundance of hours and dedication in order to thrive as athletes and as students. Learning how to balance and prioritize school work and practice schedules are skills they can take with them to the next level like their mothers. It seems to be paying off, as all three girls are currently being scouted by universities on both sides of the border.

Campbell said it’s fascinating to see how a desire for Catholic education united not only the girls, but also their mothers, both of whom teach in the Catholic school system – Tracy at Notre Dame in Vancouver and Joanne at Holy Trinity in North Vancouver.

“Looking back, it is funny to see how God has brought these two women together,” said principal.

He noted how faith and community have helped the families come through challenging times, such as when Tracy in her teen years had to cope with her mother’s extended battle with cancer. “Her mother’s courage and grace through those years made an impression on Tracy that she never forgot,” he said.

The Catholic community that has supported the families through various difficulties has “led them to stay part of the Catholic system” in the hope their experiences will be passed down to their daughters and future generations, Campbell said.

“Catholic education is so important in how it can shape us and build our communities,” Campbell said.

“St. Thomas Aquinas has been just that for both Joanne and Tracy, a place where their families and community could grow in faith together, while getting a good education … and playing a little basketball on the side.”

Bria Marchenski is the Alumni Engagement Officer at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary in North Vancouver.