Basketball stars, musicians and actors aren’t the people Barry Mungar talks about when he says local youth need role models.
Real role models might be a teacher or a police officer — or a staff member at a place like the Routes Youth Centre — who can change a young person’s life.
“It’s role models they interact with daily. People they can interact with who care – like at Routes,” Mungar said during an interview at the Routes Youth Centre.
Mungar, a 24-year veteran of Hamilton Police Service, a former basketball star and a member of the first class of inductees to the Dundas Sports Wall of Fame, is the guest speaker for the Feb. 28 Routes Youth Centre annual fundraising dinner and silent auction. The event will be held at the Dundas Lions Memorial Community Centre – where Routes found its new permanent home five months ago. Mungar didn’t hesitate to accept the speaking invitation.
“It’s a great fit,” Mungar said. “Hamilton Police support any initiative that encourages positive interaction with youth. It’s good for youth, and in the end, it makes our job easier.”
Mungar said police recognize sending a young person to jail is rarely a good option. They often come out with criminal contacts and plenty of frustration, or anger with society and the system they blame for their situation. In jail, they find a support system.
Instead, Mungar and staff creating links between police and places like Routes can support the success of diversion.
Mungar believes youth growing up in Dundas today face more challenges than he did as a teenager. The high school basketball player set his sights on making the NBA, despite the doubts of friends and onlookers.
But he went on to NCAA Division 1 St. Bonaventure, where he played five seasons and averaged just over 17 points a game in his senior year.
He was the only Canadian taken in the 1986 NBA draft, selected 82nd overall by the Washington Bullets. Mungar said he played a mini-season with the Bullets, but didn’t make it onto their final roster.
He moved to Italy and played professional basketball in Europe. He played for the Canadian national team, making a trip to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
The Canadians finished sixth, with a big 96-91 win over Spain to advance to the quarterfinal and Mungar averaged seven points a game – scoring 15 in a win over Egypt and 10 more in a loss to Brazil.
But the thing that comes to mind for Mungar more than 25 years later is Ben Johnson’s 100-metre gold and world record that was taken away when he tested positive for steroids. Mungar and two-thirds of the Canadian basketball team passed up free tickets to the 100-metre final race in favour of getting something to eat in the athlete’s village — something he regrets to this day. He was surprised by some the anger directed at Johnson at the time, noting we now know several other world-class sprinters were “juiced.”
But as back problems made playing the game at a high level painful, Mungar saw his basketball career ending before he turned 27 years old.
“I had a lot of regrets that my career didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” Mungar said. “I had big dreams.”
It took him some time to deal with the disappointment.
Back in Canada, Mungar was supply teaching with no goal to drive him. He applied to become a police officer, and that became his second career.
“There was no plan to be a police officer,” Mungar said.
He joined the Hamilton Police Service in 1990 and is currently crime prevention co-coordinator.
Sheila Chambers, a Routes board of directors associate, said it’s important for donors to know their money goes directly to the youth centre – only director Danielle Mably and assistant director Charlotte Shipley are paid.
“All donations go directly into the centre,” Chambers said.
The board includes several well-known and respected residents, including chair Gary Caldwell, vice-chair Art Samson and Secretary Warren Oda.
“I think having this facility is so critical,” Chambers said.
“The kids finally know where we are. My vision is we’ll outgrow this facility.”
Mably and Shipley both have extensive experience working with troubled youth – and are experienced with police diversion and restorative justice. Visit routesyouthcentre.ca for more information on Routes programs and activities and details on how to support the centre. For tickets to the Feb. 28 fundraising dinner call Samson, 905-627-4334, or Mably, 905-929-0572.