From Oakland, CA. to his present home in Williams Lake, B.C., Willie Hardeman draws on lessons learned through sports and in life to spread positivity to those around him.
“A lot of the stuff I do, it’s so somebody is there to talk to the kids, whether it’s basketball, hockey, baseball — I want to build these kids to be successful at every level in sports and life,” Hardeman said.
Now an active member of the Williams Lake sporting community, Hardeman regularly volunteers his time coaching, speaking to and mentoring young athletes in the region after competing, himself, as a youngster at a high level in various sports.
Growing up in the inner city of West Oakland, Hardeman, now 66, said sports kept him busy and out of trouble as a youth.
Beginning his foray into the sporting world in elementary school, Hardeman got involved with a local, youth softball team in West Oakland, before finding a love for the sport of basketball after attending junior high at Lowell Junior High.
“This was a great time in my life, both physically and mentally, and where I developed faith, a belief system, an attitude, all of the above, when I started playing basketball,” he said.
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Hardeman recalls walking across the street from his house in the evenings to an empty playground where he would practice his shot in the dark under the illumination of a single street light.
When he reached senior high school, Hardeman’s mom, Alma, and his three sisters, moved to a home in East Oakland where Hardeman attended Fremont High School and suited up for the Tigers under the tutelage of legendary coach Leo Allamanno.
“That guy was grooming people to become men, and I’m grateful for that,” Hardeman said, noting he carried those lessons he learned on the court with him in life, however, not before leaving high school in his senior year to work with his uncle in Oakland.
After returning to finish his high school diploma, Hardeman attended Chabot College in Hayward, CA., before, stints at University of California – Riverside and then a scholarship at Southern Oregon University.
Excited to play at the NCAA division two level, Hardeman was devastated after he fell just shy of the required academic credits to carry on his scholarship.
“I started partying and all that stuff. I was heartbroken,” he said. “I went into a little depression, and decided I wanted to change my life and put that stuff behind me, so I got sober and started volunteering as a basketball coach at the Eastlake YMCA.”
Through his work at the Eastlake YMCA and then the downtown YMCA, Hardeman linked up with the legendary Harlem Crowns clownball basketball team. The Oakland-based squad travels throughout the country, and even to Canada, spreading an anti-drug, anti-alcohol and positive message to youth in schools.
During a trip with the Crowns to Canada in 1999, Hardeman met his eventual wife, Lisa Michel Hardeman of Williams Lake First Nation, while playing at Anne Stevenson secondary.
“When she walked in the door, everything stopped,” he said. “It was crazy. We met, and then went to church the next day and from there it was a love story. Twenty years later I’m still here, loving the Cariboo, loving Canada. Here I am — I grew up in the Bay Area — and I couldn’t believe the separation [between people, outdoor spaces] here.”
Allamanno’s guidance and coaching, meanwhile, always stuck with Hardeman, who now looks to pass the advice along to youth in the region.
Hardeman currently lives at 150 Mile House with his wife, where he works semi-retired as a security guard with WLFN at Enbridge’s 150 Mile House compressor station.
Hardeman has been a basketball coach at Lake City Secondary School in past years and works with Williams Lake First Nation and other Indigenous communities in the province to host basketball clinics for children. In 2020, he was the recreation supervisor with Williams Lake First Nation. He’s also worked as a councillor at a local Indigenous treatment centre, with the school district and at Mount Polley Mine.
Throughout, he’s continually involved with annual basketball camps hosted through the Cariboo Community Church and participates in various men’s sporting leagues in the city. If there’s ever a chance for Hardeman to speak to or practice with a youth sports team, he will leap at the opportunity.
“I’ve seen it. I’ve done it,” he said of his life.
“I’m looking at these youngsters I talk to and work with, and off the court I’m looking into their lives a little bit deeper to do everything I can to help guide them, help them make better life decisions. That’s what I’m all about.”