From the family sofa to the Durham Lords’ sidelines, the LaFontaine family works together to bring basketball success to Durham College (DC).
Heather LaFontaine is the head coach of the women’s basketball team and is joined on the Lords’ coaching staff by her two sons, John, 29, and Danny, 27, along with daughter Kauri, 32, who also played for Durham as recently as 2014.
For the DC women’s basketball team, success means approaching this season’s playoffs with a near-perfect record.
Sitting at 10-2, the Lords’ only losses have been to the perfect 11-0 Algonquin Thunder and 8-3 George Brown Huskies.
The coaching bug starts with mom.
Born in Guelph, Heather has been coaching women’s basketball, mostly at the high school level, for more than 40 years in Durham Region. She attended the University of Toronto for phys-ed and later went on to teach the same subject.
Heather started coaching basketball at Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School in Oshawa before moving to Father Leo J. Austin Catholic Secondary School in Whitby in 1992. She coached the Austin Wildcats for nearly twenty years.
Heather was also a guidance counsellor during her time as a coach.
While at Austin, Heather founded the Whitby Wildcats’ basketball program, an affiliate of the Ontario Basketball Association.
“I enjoy the interaction with those young people, I love seeing them grow,” Heather says. “I’ve enjoyed doing and enjoy being a part of the Wildcats. I don’t see it so much as just giving back to the community, I see it more as an opportunity to enrich my life as well.”
Heather created the Whitby Wildcats to provide young basketball players an opportunity to play. Heather’s children were a large part of why she started the program.
Predictably, Kauri’s basketball career began with the Whitby Wildcats.
“My mom started the program essentially for me and my siblings to have the opportunity to play,” Kauri says. “There are a lot of Wildcats out there that the program had a pretty big impact on growing up and being a part of it at a young age was so amazing.”
While still with the Wildcats, Heather has been coaching the Durham Lords since 2013, winning her 100th collegiate game earlier this season.
“To be perfectly honest, I had no idea,” Heather says. “We’re home after the game against Centennial and Kauri goes ‘you just won your 100th game,’ and I could only say ‘OK, it’s great I won 100 games, but what’s next?’.”
Heather says she is able to use her skills from her time as a guidance counsellor to help her players as athletes but also as students.
“There are times where people come in and you know right away that they haven’t had a good day for whatever reason,” Heather says. “Sometimes it is just the ability to say, ‘hey, you OK? How’s the day going? Come on, we’ll have some fun here now!’.”
Kauri says she has been influenced by her mom’s coaching.
“I have always been so inspired by my mom and I am convinced my want to coach is because I watched her do it growing up,” Kauri says. “I have learned so much from her and continue to learn every practice and game.”
Before joining the Lords, Danny and John also coached lacrosse. Kauri says their lacrosse backgrounds adds a variety of opinions, but they have been able to use their different coaching skills to the Lords’ advantage.
“Different opinions and how people see things on a bench aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” Kauri says. “If you aren’t always willing to learn then coaching is not the right spot for you. With their lacrosse experience, they have some different drills and principles that we have been able to apply to basketball that has helped the team greatly.”
Heather says coaching with her children is something she looks forward to every day.
“When I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it 100 per cent and I have a passion for coaching,” Heather says. “I think that attitude has spilled over to my children and that kind of passion motivates all of us.”
Lafontaine and the Lords are nearing the end of the season on a seven-game win streak. The team sits second in the Eastern conference standings with four games remaining.
Durham’s next home game is Feb. 7 against Centennial at 6 p.m.