Hamilton, ON – When Keith Stinson texts his daughter Amy after one of her basketball games, he keeps it short and simple. Great game, he’ll say. He doesn’t go into detail about anything else – unless she wants to.
His daughter Amy is a third-year forward on the McMaster Marauders women’s basketball team. A member of the OUA All-Rookie Team. Before that, she was a standout player and champion at Westdale Secondary School and the Hamilton Transway Basketball club. At university, she’s a growing leader and key player on one of the best teams in Ontario.
And yet…as Keith watched his daughter grow and reach new heights – his role remained simple.
“This is all about her journey,” Keith said. “If she wanted it, we’re happy to facilitate that but it had to be her choice.”
For Amy, her journey has been one of goal setting and ambition, leadership and compassion, competitiveness and enjoyment. One of deep family support as well.
Amy Stinson grew up three blocks away from McMaster’s campus. She grew up in the Westdale neighbourhood of Hamilton, where she would pretty much would stay all the way until now.
She had a drive to be great from an early age – taking on basketball because her older sisters, Heather and Kate, played. Soon, her drive surpassed her sisters’. She would be the one always wanting to go to practice, according to Keith.
Her height got her noticed – as did her coachability. Amy would shoot hoops with friends and play pickup at Dalewood Middle School. Playing with boys as well.
From an early age, her drive and ambition were setting in. “She internalized a lot of stuff,” Keith noted. “She would never necessarily stay this stuff till later on.”
For instance, if there was an award in middle school, she would make it a goal of hers, working towards it, not telling anyone. That goal setting has helped her, according to Keith.
“She’s always been driven that way,” Keith said. “And she continues to be.”
Spend time around Amy and those who know her and similar thoughts and images come up. Kayla Wilson, her assistant coach at Westdale Secondary School, remembers how Amy always looked happy – smiling, joking around, enjoying playing the game.
Theresa Burns, her head coach at McMaster, notices how she’s always laughing, pumping up teammates from bench and helping with tasks. She notices how she’s so modest, so unassuming – always happy all the time.
“The nice thing about her is that it’s not positive at the expense of like hard work or grit,” Burns noted. “She’s gritty. She’s tough. She can get out there and she competes hard but I think she has perspective.”
Burns called her one of the positive people she’s ever met.
For Amy, when she plays, it’s to have fun. Something she loves doing. “I’m lucky to have been raised with not a lot of pressure on me,” she noted. “So I go into basketball, like having fun, playing a game but I also obviously have a very competitive side to me that I want to win.”
Amy said she enjoys the positive relationships she has with her teammates – making it “way easier to be successful.” Some of her best basketball memories have been with teams where she’s been best friends with everyone. They would go out and win titles and celebrate together.
To understand who Amy Stinson is, you have to go back decades…generations even. Her grandmother Jean Stinson – Keith’s mother – was an ever-present figure in Amy and her family’s life.
Jean worked 18-hour workdays for 15 years at the Groaning Board restaurant and as “proprietor, chief cook and bottle washer, she befriended and inspired legions of customers and staff,” Keith wrote in a Globe and Mail story, shortly after her passing in 2017. She spent her “retirement years” with the Out of the Cold program at Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto, feeding hundreds of homeless and suffering families, according to her son.
When Keith thinks of Jean, he thinks of how she’s fiercely strong – in her physical strength but also her character. A mythical superhuman person Amy and her sisters would look up to. Compassion was at the core of who Jean was.
“Her passion in life was to help other people,” he said. “She did it without expectation of any sort of thanks or gratitude. It’s just because it made her feel better. My kids really learned from and strived to help as well.”
Being around Jean, Amy and her sisters noticed her compassion. They learned a valuable life lesson. “Life was sometimes about the difference you make in other people’s lives,” Keith said.
Amy’s carried forward that compassion during her time at Westdale and McMaster. Keith pointed out how she’s helped with Special Olympic swim meets, volunteered with KidSport – which helps kids be able to afford to play sports – and more.
Amy would support her previous teams: Westdale and Transway. Her Transway coach Blaize DiSabatino recalls Amy helping run virtual situations when she was at McMaster, being a role model for the younger players having once been in their shoes. She recalls how Amy was always encouraging them, telling them they’re doing a good job and to keep working. Amy told her how it made her feel good seeing the players improving and developing and being able to contribute to it.
“Amy really has that connection to other people and really wants to help other people,” DiSabatino said. Amy did so as a Transway player – encouraging her teammates when they’re having an off game – and did so with the future generation. DiSabatino said Amy knows she’s a role model and takes her role very seriously.
She won the JUEL title at Transway and won a city and OFSAA championship at Westdale. Back in 2021, Wilson remembers Amy and McMaster and Westdale teammate Jordan Denkers coming back to talk with the Westdale team ahead of the city championships. A sign of her character, Wilson called it. A sign of how passionate and supportive she is.
During that talk with the team, Wilson could sense the players’ energy and excitement that Amy and Jordan were there. “You could tell they were trying to like not show how excited they were but I could tell they’re all so excited to see her there,” she recalled.
Over the years, Amy grew up with a supportive family. Unlike some other players, Amy didn’t play basketball year-round. She would from September to May but would then spend her summers at the cottage with her parents, sisters, aunts and grandmother. Her close-knit family.
Keith said it helped her recharge, giving her a break. Balance became important. “She didn’t need basketball all the time. She needed other things in her life she could enjoy and incorporate and other friends to see,” he added.
Amy picked up other sports as well – water skiing and ultimate frisbee for example. She played on the Westdale volleyball team – which helped her learn different things and be re-energized, according to Westdale basketball head coach Frank Marof.
When it came to Keith’s role in her basketball journey, that became quite clear early on. He remembers participating in a parent-daughter basketball game and seeing 14-year-olds flying around him, scaring the crap out of him. It was then he realized they knew more about basketball than he ever could give them advice for.
He would default to supporting her. When Amy was sinking shot after shot at the driveway basket, he would stand, rebound and pass her the ball. On all those car rides to and from games, they would rarely talk about basketball. Instead, they would play music, talk about life in general…or anything else in the world but the game.
“I think to this day, she would say that she appreciated that there was never any expectation or pressure from us,” Keith said. “It was always: Are you having fun?”
Her family would always check in with her to make sure she was having fun and enjoying the game.
Her family passed along many life lessons over the years. DiSabatino calls them really positive people who have helped Amy through numerous things.
They’re a loosey-goosey family, according to Keith. Amy learned to laugh a lot growing up. “Laughing is important and making fun of yourself sometimes is important,” he said. “That also brings people together.” It came naturally to Amy.
Her mother Caroline would tell her not to worry about what people thought of her and just to have fun. Keith’s saying to her: Don’t stop being you. “She’s got a unique personality that I really love,” he said. “And I think her teammates love and will come to love.”
Part of who she is comes from Jean. Like her grandmother, Amy’s always been independent and strong willed, according to Keith. She’s self-driven. She wouldn’t need a coach or anyone else to tell her what to work on. She would do it herself. She would also have high expectations for herself as well – in sports and school.
So how does a father like him help her with her drive and expectations? His advice remains simple. It’s not rocket science, he would say. If you want to be better at something, keep working at it.
He talks with Amy about the expectations she puts on herself. She can sometimes be guilty of putting a little too much pressure on herself and not meeting her expectations, according to him. Then father and daughter would talk. Maybe those expectations were realistic. Maybe they weren’t. Nevertheless, a life lesson awaits.
“We all put expectations on ourselves and we hope to meet those expectations,” he said. “But you don’t always – and that’s okay. That’s part of life.”
Through Amy’s time and Westdale and Transway, she continued to learn and grow. Marof helped instill the value of hard work – the value of putting in the time outside of practice and games. “If you want to get better, you got to do it on your own,” he said.
They would talk about working on her speed. He also had her playing as more of a ball carrier, which helped give her confidence handling the basketball.
From her time at Transway, DiSabatino and others helped instill the importance of being a family. Amy found that family atmosphere among the players, coaches and family members.
“Blaize created this culture on the team that they were a family,” Keith noted. “You counted on each other and you had expectations and accountability for each other. And the whole team bought in. It was amazing to watch…they just became this unit.”
Their love for the game was evident. Their desire to want to spent time with each other was as well. Amy and Keith would always be leaving early for Transway games – wanting to be there early. At practices, Amy would be there early as well, working on her own, doing gym runs.
Through all the practices, games, days and years spent together, DiSabatino saw her smile, her love for the game. She thinks about how quickly the time’s flown by. How it was just grade six when she was coaching her and now she’s in university. Their relationship has now turned into a friendship.
Through all the years, DiSabatino would always talk to her about giving it her all, working hard, enjoying the game and all the moments that came with it.
When her Transway and Westdale careers were coming to an end, it was time to make her decision for university. Her family supported her decision to play basketball in Ontario. She chose to stay close to home.
Growing up, she would sit across from the team bench at McMaster women’s basketball games. She saw the team’s chemistry when they won their national title in 2019. She knew how they cared about her as a player and person.
“It was just those little things,” she said. “Being close to home. Knowing what the McMaster women’s basketball program is all about, that made it pretty easy for me to choose.”
Keith said Amy had a real connection to the place. She had known Burns and assistant coaches Danielle Boiago and Andrew Baillie from her time in high school. She also knew an assistant coach at Westdale who had once played at Mac…
The first impression Lexie Spadafora had of Amy was that she was going to go far in life. Like Amy, Spadafora played at Westdale before embarking upon a five-year Marauder career. She remembers the transition and challenges she went through as a younger player before becoming a veteran.
She got to know Amy like everyone else did. She got to see first-hand the person who was always laughing, joking, listening. The vocal and reliable person. The person she and the coaches could count on to relay a message to teammates, hit a shot, make a play and a smart decision The person living the moment.
That became something Spadafora learned as a player herself. You can’t live in the past. It’s always about the next play.
“Living in the moment and playing every game like it’s your last,” she said. “Like breathe, not overthinking things.”
When she’s watched Amy play and excel in her rookie season at McMaster, she saw that. She saw the numerous threes she drained, the rebounds she grabbed, the plays she made. She saw Amy shooting when she’s open, not hesitating. She could tell Amy’s confidence by her body language.
“She’s not overthinking things. She’s not dwelling on bad games. She’s not getting too high off good games,” Spadafora noted. “She’s playing every game like it’s her last and I think it’s doing really well for her.”
Throughout their time together, Spadafora gave Amy advice from her McMaster experience. They talked about the importance of good time management and making quicker decisions on the court. Spadafora remembers relying on the older players early on in her career. She knew Amy would have the same support from her younger sister Mia and the other veterans.
Go to the day when Amy told Spadafora she committed to McMaster. A great conversation, Spadafora called it. She was happy to see another Westdale player going to McMaster. She was happy to be able to watch her play in person and carry their relationship through her time at McMaster.
She also knew something else: the world and culture Amy would be entering. The closeness of the McMaster women’s basketball community. It comes from having family and friends at games. “It’s always great to look out into the crowd and see your family and friends there,” she said. Amy is starting to see the energy that brings, according to her.
One big source of that energy is a team tradition they call the Nest. It’s when family, friends, alumni and others interact, socialize and enjoy a post-game meal with the players and coaches. Spadafora called it a huge deal, including after losses – when you could feel how much people cared about you and supported you. After Amy didn’t have the Nest in 2021-22, she’s now experiencing it this season. Perhaps she felt the same energy and support Spadafora did.
“Oh my gosh.” That’s what Amy thought the first time she walked into a McMaster practice. She saw guard Sarah Gates – a star player on McMaster national championship team and an OUA All-Star. Now she was teammates with her.
Then, once she got to know Gates and her teammates, she started to realize what wonderful people they were. How they were there to have fun and get the job done. It was weird at first but then it turned out to be so nice, according to her.
Throughout her time at McMaster, she’s learned a lot from them and the coaches.
Four stand out as leaders: Gates, Mia Spadafora, Clare Sharkey and Arianne Soriano. She sees how Gates scores through so many tough defences. She learns from Spadafora how to stay composed and calm on the court while making good things happen. She feels Soriano and Sharkey’s energy and how they’re there for her as a person.
When she interacts with them – or her other teammates and coaches – she has a mindset to learn and grow. It comes from being a good teammate, being open to feedback and being a coachable player. It’s helped with her transition to university.
An open book, Burns called her. When you tell her something, she’s able to apply it to a situation very soon.
Here comes the time now where she becomes the leader that her seniors are. “Now I’m realizing that I am now the person that people look up to, like I used to look up to them,” she noted.
Amy’s no stranger to the role, having been a leader before on her Westdale and Transway teams.
In high school, she would lead by example, Wilson points out. She would be at practice on time and help everyone get warmed up. She took her leadership role seriously and knew her teammates looked up to her. In turn, Wilson said Amy’s leadership and positivity made everyone work harder and have more confidence in themselves.
Keith saw her leadership capabilities as well. He called her the glue guy on the team. The one who was friends with everyone. The one who could bring everyone together.
Being there. That’s what Amy focused on. That can come from exercising her vocal cords – cheering loudly for teammates. She was taught from an early age to talk to her teammates, be loud and be energetic. Be there for them.
“Being there for everyone is what’s going to help us succeed,” she said. “So, we just need energy on the bench. We need to lift each other up physically. And mentally, if someone’s having a down day, you just have to be there for them.”
For as much basketball knowledge and insight she’s gained over the years, she’s also learned that’s it’s about relationships as well.
When Amy thinks about being a leader, she thinks about her excitement and how much she loves it. She thinks about leading with her own actions by being a good teammate. By being more than a leader as well.
“If you’re a leader, making sure you’re still your teammates’ friend, rather than just the leader,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like younger girls on the team will be intimidated or something but at the end of the day, you’re a team and you’re all friends. That’s very important.”
As a leader, she said she doesn’t want to be too hard on her teammates and wants to make sure everyone’s having fun. At the same time, she’s taken pride being someone who will tell teammates “we need to get it together” and “do this now to succeed.”
In some ways, it’s symbolic of her own character and upbringing – of who she is. Someone who’s able to laugh, joke, smile and have fun while being competitive and driven to succeed.
Now Amy’s in her second season playing and third season overall at McMaster. At times, her scoring has dipped – her average points have gone from 11.6 to 6.9 – but other areas have risen. Her field goal percentage and her three-point percentage have gone up. She’s focused on that next shot mentality and all the other parts of her game as well – beyond shooting and scoring.
Keith sees how she’s gained confidence in life – although she’s always been pretty confident. How she’s become more comfortable in her own skin. “She’s just a pretty grounded, centered, confident kid,” he added. “Pretty much a joy for us to watch her and the woman she’s become.”
While she stayed at home in her first year of university, she’s moved out since and is now living with others, including some teammates. Those friendships can be vital and lifelong. Keith remembers meeting some of his best friends early on in university. Now, his daughter’s doing the same. Now, he sees his daughter laughing a lot and making Tik Tok videos.
Even though she’s away from home, Amy still comes to back to visit – keeping her family bond close. Sometimes to walk her family dog she loves. Sometimes to have dinner. Sometimes to do laundry. Sometimes to watch Toronto Maple Leafs games with her dad – something the two of them bond over as the only two Leafs superfans in the family unit.
After his other daughters moved outside of Hamilton for university, Keith said he loves having Amy around. He can walk to her home games.
When the subject of Amy’s future and potential comes up, everyone is quite positive and effusive. Spadafora talked about how Amy’s going to do great things.
Keith talked about Amy’s ambition – whatever she chooses to go into, she’ll be successful. He talked about being proud as well – of what’s she’s doing, how far she’s come and how far she’ll go.
“She’s content in her life – that probably helps her play great – but I think she also realizes that this is just the start,” he said. “She can’t get complacent. She’s got to continue to work hard because nothing in life is guaranteed. You’ve got to go up there and be a leader on the team and produce. So, hopefully she continues to do that.”
The opportunities are there to do so. At this moment, more games, more practices, more life lessons await in the days, months and years to come. More laughs, more time and more fun with teammates, friends and family as well.
Amy Stinson’s future lies ahead of her. Her journey awaits.
Featured Image: Laurel Jarvis/McMaster Athletics