When it comes to volleyball, it’s definitely worth the drive to Mississauga

By DAVID WINER

Sharone Vernon-Evans hasn’t always taken the easy route in life, instead taking a road less traveled.

For example, while other youngsters blessed with the gift of height picked up a basketball, the Scarborough native showed a preference for volleyball.

And when it became logical to locate a volleyball club close to home, Sharone, with his parents’ blessing, made the unlikeliest of choices by opting to travel 30 miles west to Mississauga.

That’s 30 miles each way, up to three times a week to attend practices at Mississauga’s Pakmen Volleyball Club.

“I watched Pakmen teams play for years because my daughters played volleyball,” explained Sharone’s mother Althia. “I was not only impressed with their skill level, even at the younger age groups, but also their diversity.

“I was not only impressed with their skill level, even at the younger age groups, but also their diversity.

“I wanted him to be in an environment that promoted development regardless of your background. This, coupled with their dominance in the boys program, made them a great fit.”

Club founder Kelly Smith, who promoted club diversity from the start, takes great pride in the fact, “We are Canada’s largest and most diverse youth volleyball club, with players and staff from all socio-economic, ethnic and cultural groups, as well as players and staff with special needs.”

Smith still fondly recalls when Sharone first stepped on the Pakmen court four years ago as a Grade 8 student.

“Sharone was a likable kid from day one,” said the club’s founder and president. “He was always polite, willing to learn and thanked you every time you gave him some instruction or a suggestion.”

It wasn’t long before the instruction and Sharone’s desire and willingness to learn began paying dividends with provincial and national accolades in both the indoor and beach settings.

Just in the last few weeks, the 16-year-old was named to the U18 Ontario all-star team, competed and won gold for Ontario Black at the National Team Challenge Cup in Edmonton, and joined six other Ontarians on the 12-member Canadian U18 all-star team for a trip to the USA High Performance Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

When Vernon-Evans finally had the opportunity to kick back and take his shoes off, he teamed with partner Parveer Jhajj to win the men’s U18 Ontario Beach Volleyball Championships and the men’s u18 National Championsips at Toronto’s Ashbridge’s Bay.

“(We) went to Pakmen because I believed they were a great fit, (and) now I know they are the best choice,” said a very proud and happy Althia. “Pakmen is so much more than a volleyball club that wins, it is a brotherhood.

“Everywhere you look in the organization, you see former players giving back as coaches, but above all else, mentors.  Let’s face it, every club is capable of putting together a winning team. There are a lot of talented players and coaches, but Pakmen has been able to give that little extra, which has allowed them to be very consistent.”

While Vernon-Evans is delighted with all the awards, medals and honors that have come his way, he is not shocked, especially considering the support of such a successful club.

“This is a huge award for driving to Pakmen all those years because they gave me the training I needed to make it to the next level,” explained Sharone. “I still have areas to improve on, but they have elevated my game a lot helping me get recognized for these types of opportunities.

“I used to watch Kelly’s 95’s when I first got introduced to volleyball. It drew me in, and since then, I have always dreamed of playing here,” continued the Agincourt Secondary School student.

“Since I have been here, the coaching and players have kept me here. It is really an amazing thing being a Pakmen, it is like a brotherhood. Everybody supports everybody and everyone wants everyone to succeed. Being in that type of environment allows you to grow as a player knowing that everyone is behind you and wants you to make it. By being a brotherhood it makes you want to help the younger kids like Spikes and get into the program so they too can share the experience you had.”

In hindsight, Althia thinks all those long drives out west were well worth it.

“I am on my second car and I haven’t even thought about the mileage,” said Althia. “I am having too much fun…it’s worth it!

“To be honest the long drives are the best part,” added Althia. “With three kids playing sports we have a very busy lifestyle so the drive gave us a chance to have uninterrupted conversations.”

Initially, those drives would include Sharone, and sisters Theanna and Kadeisha, who played their ball in Scarborough for the Toronto Diamonds.

“In the earlier years the girls were able to attend more practices,” said Althia. “Theanna played middle so she would focus on his front court, and Kadeisha was a libero so she was all over his passing. But, as the girls got older scheduling made it harder to attend, so their was a lot more one-on-one time.”

Now Theanna, 20, is Majoring in Social Works while attending Ryerson University and playing OUA ball for the Rams, while Kadeisha, 18, can be seen playing for the Cenennial College Colts in the OCAA.

“I am extremely proud of all my children’s accomplishment so far,” said Althia. “Sharone continues to work hard, he understands there is a lot of work to do if he wants to make it to the next level.”

Having grown 13 inches in stature since joining the Pakmen, one can argue Sharone has eclipsed more than one level, but mom Althia is most proud of how Sharone has grown inwardly.

“His physical change is probably what everyone will talk about,” says Althia. “At 14u he was about 5-foot-8, at 17u he is 6-foot-9 (with shoes) — that’s a big difference. However, his growth was steady and he was able to keep his mobility by playing both indoor and beach.

“While everyone looks at the physical growth, I am more impressed with his individual growth, especially over the last season.  He has really matured as a player and leader on the court. He now has a greater understanding of the importance of team first and his role within the team.  He also takes nothing for granted and knows he has to work hard every day to develop his skills and knowledge of the game.”

And with one more year of high school at Agincourt Collegiate and one more year of eligibility remaining with the Pakmen, it won’t be long before Sharone will be following in his sisters’ footsteps and attending college.

Until then, Smith and his fellow Pakmen coaches and players will savor one more year of indoor play from their 6-foot-9 tower of power.

“His mom drove him all the way from Scarborough during rush hour and he was grateful to her and to everyone at Pakmen,” said Smith. “Sharone is also a very loyal person; loyal to his teammates, his coaches, and his club. He is everything Pakmen stands for. He’s one of the good guys. He didn’t change when he grew and became such a standout player. He’s confident, yet humble. I’m proud of him and like him very much.  Everyone likes him.”

That loyalty works both ways. With Althia recently taking on a night shift at work, Sharone’s Pakmen teammates have picked up the torch by picking up Sharone and taking that long drive along the 401 to Pakmen practices.

“Thankfully his teammates, the Sorras in particular, have been great in helping him to get to and from practices,” said Althia. “Had it not been for their help, it would have been a very difficult situation because playing for any other club but Pakmen would have been unthinkable.”