Diversity Powered Volleyball

The Mississauga-based Pakmen Volleyball Club has become the envy of the Canadian volleyball community.

Published in the May/June issue (no.13) of the Mississauga Life Magazine
Words by David Winer. Photography by Rehab Nazzal and Debbie Lasala.

In just seven years, the Pakmen Volleyball Club’s various high school teams have captured 22 provincial championships and seven national titles! The Club’s many successes on the court have been fashioned by kids of all shapes, sizes and cultures. So much so that Kelly Smith, the founder of the Mississauga-based Pakmen Volleyball Club, sees diversity as the norm.

“It’s like a UN on each team,” says Smith, who initally started the club as an outlet for his sutdents at David Leeder Middle School in north Mississauga. Right from the get-go, Smith “reached out to those who traditionally don’t play volleyball.”

“We did entry-level volleyball dirt cheap,” he recalls. “We resisted the fancy uniforms and unnecessary gear.” Smith charges the lowest fees in the Ontario Volleyball Association, which cover a uniform, two to three pratices a week and six tournaments. “I try to look at it from a new Canadian’s perspective or a single parent’s perspective,” he explains.

The registration numbers have soared. The club now boasts an enrolment of 1,500 boys and girls playing both house league and rep ball, making it the largest youth volleyball club in Canada.

And while the differences are as plain as black and white – and brown – on the court, the players are as blind to it as Smith. “The parents discuss the politics,” says 14-year-old Parvir Jhaji, whose parents come from the Punjabi region of India. “We talk about school and athletics.”

Being part of such a religious mix was certainly an eye opener for 12-year-old Jordan Baric. “It’s different,” said Baric with a broad grin. “I attended a Catholic school, so I thought everyone was Catholic. Now, I have a wider variety of friends; new colours and races.”

A student at St. Christopher Elementary school, Baric and seven of his schoolmates were looking to join a club to broaden their talents. “My mother scouted practices and she was impressed,” said Baric, who comes from a Croatian background.

With the Pakmen reaching out to a larger base, the club has caught the attention of college and university coaches. Brenda Willis, head coach of the recently crowned Ontario Univeristy Association Men’s Volleyball Champion Queen’s Golden Gaels and the past president of the Ontario Volleyball Association, can’t say enough about the Pakmen. Her team captain, Niko Rukavina, is a graduate of the Pakmen program, and several more players have committed to her team for next year. “The Pakmen have single-handedly changed the face of volleyball participation in Ontario,” says Willis. She points to their sponsorship work as enabling participation and changing lives.

Wayne Wilkins, the head coach of the Humber College Hawks, who just won both the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association provincial championship and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association national championship (the first time in Humber history and only the second time ever that an Ontario team has won), applauds the Pakmen for being so diverse. Wilkins’ championship team was led by Pakmen legend Terrel Bramwell, the OCAA and CCAA Player of the Year and MVP at the CCAA National Championships Then there was Derek Quinn, their setter, who won MVP at the OCAA provincials.. Mack Robertson, Andre Smith and Jason Mascoll are also on the team.

With such success at the elementary, high school and university level, it’s no surprise the Pakmen are getting noticed on both sides of the border.
Pakmen graduate Kristian Kuld, for instance, recently accepted a scholarship to attend the number-one ranked NCAA school in the US: the University of California, Los Angeles. And the club was recently written up in American publication Volleyball Magazine, referring to the Pakmen motto of “Are you ready for this?” as “dripping in attitude.” Why not? The Pakmen have proven themselves ready to take on the volleyball world.