Whether she is in the classroom or on the basketball court, Roberta Edzerza always strives to make an impact both for her city and her family.
“I can’t imagine living or working anywhere else,” Edzerza said. “This is where my family is, this is where my community is.”
Edzerza is currently the district principal for Aboriginal Education in School District 52. She is also a longtime basketball competitor and member of several All Native Basketball Tournament championship teams in the women’s division.
She said that both passions were inspired by family early in her life, especially her mother Sandra Carlick.
Originally hailing from the village of Metlakatla, Edzerza says some of her earliest and fondest memories were of putting on her life jacket every morning to go on the ferry to attend school in Prince Rupert with Carlick, who was a teacher.
Carlick was also the one who introduced Edzerza to basketball and encouraged her to try out for her Grade 5 team.
Edzerza said her mother would also be the peacemaker for her and her younger sister, Judy, when they would play basketball against each other.
The two siblings would often play intense games against one another. Sometimes, the contests would start in the middle of the afternoon and continue until it was dark and the only light on the court came from the headlights of Carlick’s car.
“Our mom would be the coach and referee,” Edzerza said. “I did not take it easy on her and we pushed each other to be stronger and better.”
After playing basketball in elementary and high school, Edzerza went to Capilano college where she played on the varsity team.
Playing at the college level introduced Edzerza to a structure and discipline she carried with her for the rest of her basketball and teaching career.
“We woke up early, had practice in the morning, we’d go to school all day, have another practice and then would have shootarounds in the evening,” she said. “And then there was more travelling every weekend or more practicing on the weekend. It was continuous, but it was good. I loved it.”
In addition to playing for her college team, Edzerza was the first woman to play in the All Native Tournament on one of the men’s teams.
In 1992, Edzerza suited up to play for Prince Rupert’s senior mens basketball team.
“There was no rule saying that women can’t play and someone encouraged me to go and play so I did,” she said. “I asked the team if I could play with them and they agreed.”
Edzerza played a few minutes in one of the team’s final games, but said the point of her participation was not to try and score 30 points. Rather, she wanted to show the value that women could bring to the tournament.
“We were told that if we have a women’s division, there weren’t going to be as many people watching,” she said. “But over the years, we have just as many fans if not more.”
The following year, the All Native Basketball Tournament had a women’s division for the first time.
Edzerza played in that tournament with a club team from Vancouver Island that made it all the way to the finals. In the tournament’s final game against Kaien Island, Edzerza found herself matched up against her sister once again with her mother in the stands cheering for them both.
Even though Edzerza’s team lost the game, she said she was happy to be a part of that moment and proud of her sister for performing so well.
“I was probably the first one to go over and congratulate her on the victory,” Edzerza said.
In the years since then, Edzerza has returned to the tournament on teams from Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and Prince Rupert. Along the way, she has made deep runs to the tournament’s final games and won championships.
Sandra Carlick passed away before the 2018 tournament. It was hard for both Edzerza and her sister to play without their biggest fan, but neither could see themselves sitting it out and made a run to the finals with the Prince Rupert Rain.
“Mom would have been proud,” Edzerza said.
She also returned to the community she loved to follow in her mother’s footsteps as an educator. Edzerza taught and served as a counselor in School District 52 for 12 years before becoming the district principal for Aboriginal education.
She said helping young students grow as people and watching them develop has been one of the most rewarding parts of her job.
“Being in a small community, you can check in with them as they get older,” she said. “You remember their names and they remember you when they see you on the street or they might be working and the just come to you and share about their lives.”
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Matthew Allen | Reporter
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