Hoop dreams: Alberni player beats the odds

Coby Felsman,16, has earned a spot on North American Indigenous Games U-16 Boys
Coby Felsman,16, has earned a spot on North American Indigenous Games U-16 Boys' Team B.C. roster. Felsman has excelled in sports and academics despite against tremendous personal challenges.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

On a breezy Sunday afternoon, Coby Felsman Jr. shoots some hoops using an old net outside his house on a quiet cul-de-sac near Beaver Creek.

Standing five feet six inches tall, Felsman, 16, darts to the net, changes direction like a water spider then sinks his shot—all with an old basketball.

When finished, he walks back to his house while still bouncing the ball on the dirt driveway, goes inside and gets ready to help his grandmother Peggy Tatoosh with some chores.

Felsman walks with a little more pep in his stride these days and he has a lot to smile about.

He is one of five Vancouver Island players selected to play on the U-16 boys Team BC basketball roster that will compete in the North American Indigenous Games in Regina, Sask. this July.

The North American Indigenous Games is a multi-sport event involving Aboriginal athletes from across North America. Athletes compete in sports such as basketball, softball and soccer, as well as canoeing, volleyball and lacrosse.

Athletes try out for regional teams for each sport in each province.

Port Alberni will also be represented by Tseshaht’s Memphis Dick, who is on Team BC’s U-14 Girls team. Jesse Vissia, who hails from the Hupacasath First Nation but is now living in Keremeos, will compete on the boys’ U-19 team.

The accomplishment is no small feat for Felsman, who is one of the youngest if not the shortest member of his team.

What makes the achievement more special are the obstacles Felsman has overcome to not only succeed in making the team, but also to succeed in life.

Felsman was born in Port Alberni on Jan. 1, 1998. His father Coby Sr. was born in Idaho and maintains dual citizenship. His mother was born in Utah.

Life was difficult for Coby Jr. from the time he took his first steps.

Coby senior and juniorHis parents split and he was raised by his paternal grandmother, Peggy Tatoosh. “We’re the only family and this is the only home he’s ever known,” Tatoosh said.

Felsman’s earliest basketball memory is learning to play the game in Grade 5. But he was schooled in the finer points of the game every day at an old hoop outside his home by his uncle Earl Tatoosh III, a former standout with the ADSS Armada.

Earl Tatoosh is 10 years older, five inches taller and more than 100 pounds heavier than Felsman, but he possesses quick reflexes and a deft shot despite his size.

Tatoosh played hard but fair against Felsman when he was learning how to play the game, and taught him to always stay in the fight.

“He never let me win—ever. I always wanted to win, and playing against him made me more competitive,” said Felsman.

“When I started to beat (Tatoosh) he said it was because he was tired and wanted to go back inside.”

Felsman graduated to junior high then high school basketball. His Grade 9 coach was Harold Lefty Williams then Dave De Jong in Grade 10. The pair rounded out Felsman’s offensive and defensive game. “They ran us hard with conditioning drills,” he said.

Felsman was a standout on the Grade 10 team, so much so that he got called up to play with the senior team during Totem in January 2014.

Felsman stands out for another reason: academics. He maintains good grades and lists his favourite subject as math. He’s also in jazz and concert band, and he has made the high school honour roll.

“If he wants to play ball then he has to do well in school, that’s the rule and we hold him to it,” his grandmother said.

Coby at TotemWatching Felsman at Totem were his grandparents and uncle, who have been rocks of support for him while growing up. His father just finished a lengthy prison sentence in Utah but because of parole conditions can’t come across the border to see his son.

The two have stayed in touch though with Coby Jr. often describing his games to his father over the phone in prison.

Felsman has been to Utah to visit his mother but their relationship has been distant, he said.

During the high school basketball season Felsman felt the urge to up his game and find out what exactly he could do at the next level. With that, in December he tried out for the boys U-16 team that will compete in the 2014 North American Indigenous Games in Regina.

There were 24 players who competed in the two-part tryout in November and December. The calibre of players was consistently good, Felsman said. “Everyone was good and the level of play was higher. It was pretty intense.”

When the final cuts were made Felsman was named as one of three alternate players on the 15-man roster. But in May, Team BC officials notified Felsman that he was no longer an alternate; he is now one of 13 starters.

“I was at the skate park with my friends and my grandma came and told me. I was pretty ecstatic,” he said.

He looks forward to the competition, saying competing at a higher level is part of his bigger picture.

“I want to play in college or university one day, either here or in the US,” he said. “It’s a big step but I’m used to that.”

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