WBC announces Award Winners, inducts Joe Higgins into Hall of Fame
(Richmond, B.C.) – Five outstanding individuals were honoured Saturday night at Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s Awards and Hall of Fame banquet, highlighted by the induction of Joe Higgins into the Hall of Fame.
The award recipients include Team Canada’s Tara Llanes and Nik Goncin – the Female and Male Athletes of the Year. Additionally, Kyrell Sopotyk was named junior athlete of the year, while Karine Chicoine was honoured with the Leadership Excellence award.
“On behalf of Wheelchair Basketball Canada, I would like to congratulate all the award winners on their outstanding achievements and recognize their impact in moving the game forward,” said Wheelchair Basketball Canada Executive Director Wendy Gittens. “I would also like to commend Joe on his induction into the WBC Hall of Fame. Joe’s lifelong dedication to the game of wheelchair basketball at both the provincial and national levels makes him a well-deserving candidate for the honour.”
WBC’s Awards and Hall of Fame banquet took place Saturday evening as part of the festivities at the 2023 CWBL National Championship in Richmond, B.C.
A long-time leader, coach and mentor Higgins was inducted into the WBC Hall of Fame in the builder category in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the wheelchair basketball community.
“It was an incredible honour to get the call from Kathy Newman, a longtime supporter of wheelchair basketball and wheelchair sports,” Higgins said. “It was surprising and humbling, and it’s an incredible honour to be inducted into the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Hall of Fame.
“My first thoughts are what an incredible journey it is to be part of the wheelchair basketball family across Canada. The second thing that comes to mind is how much of a family the wheelchair basketball community is, and when you get a recognition like this, it is a family award.”
The 2023 Awards and Hall of Fame class:
Leadership Excellence Award: Karine Chicoine (Richelieu, Que.)
Karine Chicoine completed more than 50 hours of training over two months to reach the appropriate coaching certification level to assume the role of assistant coach with Quebec’s Canada Games team. She also served as the coach of the AA Aigles du Sud-Ouest, and Quebec provincial women’s and junior teams.
Karine is professional and determined but also warm and always smiling. She always answers the call, even to replace her son’s regular basketball coach for practices or games. She is a caring and supportive coach who encourages athletes’ development. Karine invested her time and constantly evolved as a club and provincial team coach.
She is involved with the athletes, not only on the learning side of basketball but also in life, guiding them on off‑court aspects to help them grow in their sport if they wish to continue their athletic career.
Wheelchair basketball and Parasports Quebec and its teams are lucky to have Karine in their ranks!
Junior Athlete of the Year: Kyrell Sopotyk (Aberdeen, Sask.)
Kyrell Sopotyk is a focused and hard-working athlete who proactively seeks feedback and clarification to improve his play and his team’s results. Additionally, the Aberdeen, Sask. native treats his opponents and teammates fairly and respectfully.
He is also active in athlete recruiting initiatives at local rehabilitation centres and awareness events at various sports facilities. Further, Kyrell is always willing to share his knowledge with new or less experienced athletes.
During the 2022 season, Kyrell was named a tournament all-star at the Junior National Championship, where he was part of a team of inexperienced athletes, frequently matching up with higher-classification opponents. However, his competitive nature and quick learning curve allowed him to perform well during the tournament.
Kyrell’s performance in Charlottetown also helped him earn a roster spot with Team Canada for the Under-23 World Championship in Phuket, Thailand.
Congratulations to Kyrell Sopotyk, the 2023 Junior Athlete of the Year.
Female Athlete of the Year: Tara Llanes (North Vancouver, B.C.)
A Senior Women’s National Team captain, Tara Llanes was part of the Team Canada group that both qualified for the IWBF World Championships and won gold at the 2022 Americas Cup in São Paulo, Brazil.
Two weeks later, Tara was back on the court at the inaugural 3×3 competition at the Commonwealth Games and helped Canada capture gold with a win over Australia.
Domestically, the North Vancouver, B.C. native was part of the Team B.C. squad that won gold at the 2022 Women’s National Championship Festival.
The following week Tara was a member of the BC Grizzlies at the CBWL National Championship in Montreal. Tara was named a Division I All-Star for her performance at the tournament.
Congratulations to Tara Llanes, the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Female Athlete of the Year.
Male Athlete of the Year: Nik Goncin (Regina, Sask.)
A member of the Senior Men’s National Team’s leadership group, Nik Goncin helped lead Canada to a bronze medal win at the 2022 Americas Cup in São Paulo, Brazil. A triple-double highlighted Nik’s performance at the Americas Cup as Canada defeated Colombia 77-73 to punch their ticket to the IWBF World Championships.
The Regina, Sask. native was named the tournament’s top scorer averaging 22.4 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game over the five games.
Domestically, Nik helped the Calgary Rollers to a bronze medal appearance at the 2022 CWBL National Championship.
Congratulations to Nik Goncin, the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Male Athlete of the Year.
Hall of Fame: Joe Higgins (Builder)
A passionate coach, leader and mentor, Joe Higgins has given over 35 years to wheelchair basketball, sharing his knowledge and passion for the game with Canadians and athletes worldwide.
Joe began his coaching career in 1987 with the Red Deer Rebels. He has served in various coaching roles in British Columbia, including with the BC Provincial Team program and developed a recreational city league in BC and the “Be Squad” program. In 2009 Joe created the Breakfast Club to help high-performance athletes practice team and small group activities.
With Wheelchair Basketball Canada, Joe has been an assistant coach with the Senior Women’s National and Junior Men’s National teams. He was also the head coach of the Senior Men’s National Team. He helped coach the senior women to a gold medal win at the 1992 Paralympic Games and led the senior men to a bronze medal finish at the 1994 World Championship.
Joe also mentored coaches with the International Committee of the Red Cross, encouraging social inclusion for people with disabilities affected by conflict through sport.
In 2021 Joe was inducted into the BC Wheelchair Basketball Society Hall of Fame in the builder category and received WBC’s Leadership Excellence Award in 2011.
In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the game of wheelchair basketball, please join us in welcoming Joe Higgins into the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Hall of Fame.
About Wheelchair Basketball Canada
Wheelchair Basketball Canada is the national sports governing body responsible for the organization of the sport in Canada. It is a non-profit, charitable organization committed to excellence in developing, supporting, and promoting wheelchair basketball programs and services from grassroots to high performance for all Canadians. Wheelchair basketball is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, competitive sport in which Canada is held in high esteem worldwide for winning a combined six gold, one silver, and one bronze medal in the last seven Paralympic Games. For more information, please visit wheelchairbasketball.ca.
For more information, please contact:
Communications & Digital Media Manager
Wheelchair Basketball Canada