Sports

Tournament helps to create lasting memories

Clockwise from top left: Jason Winslade (with ball), Dave Coutu, with his MVP award, Mal Gill and Logan Kitteringham, who were both all-stars at their respective tournaments, all starred at the B.C. AAA high school senior boys
Clockwise from top left: Jason Winslade (with ball), Dave Coutu, with his MVP award, Mal Gill and Logan Kitteringham, who were both all-stars at their respective tournaments, all starred at the B.C. AAA high school senior boys' basketball championships during the tournament's long and storied history. The 66th edition of the tournament will be at the Langley Events Centre, beginning Tuesday (March 15).
— image credit: photos courtesy of B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association

While the games never quite ended the way he would have liked, it was still an experience Jason Winslade hasn’t forgotten to this day.

In both his Grade 11 and 12 years at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary, Winslade was known for his great outside shot, which kept defences honest and prevented them from collapsing to the inside.

While not a starter, in his last year of high school he was typically the first guy off the bench.

In those days, 1984 and 1985, the first couple of days of the B.C. high school senior boys’ basketball championships were played elsewhere, before the final few days were played at the PNE Agrodome.

Winslade was lucky enough to make it to the Agrodome both years.

“I grew up going to the tournament for many, many years, as did many of the guys I played with,” he said.

“We would make an annual trek down to watch the high school championships and watch the finals and always wanted to be there so it was huge to actually make it.”

Winslade, in his role as the Township of Langley’s general manager and deputy administrator, was involved in bringing the AAA tournament to the Langley Events Centre this year.

He is more than happy for future generations of high school players to experience the same feelings he did when he stepped onto the Agrodome floor.

That first year, Centennial lost in the semifinals to the eventual champions from Steveston. In his final year of high school, the team advanced to the final, but lost to Richmond.

“Playing in front of a sold-out crowd, Richmond High versus Centennial, that was huge,” he recalled.

“At that time, they used to let the fans pack right around the floor. Basically the centre court line was the division (between the students).

“The students were seven, eight, nine, ten deep, yelling at each other. It was a great atmosphere.”

*****

Dave Coutu never played at the Agrodome — the championships were not held at that site until the mid 1970s — but he definitely left a lasting impression on the tournament history.

Coutu, who is a district principal with responsibilities for Aboriginal education and counselling for the Langley School District, played high post for the North Delta Huskies.

The Huskies were not steeped in basketball tradition, but Coutu helped put them on the map.

In his Grade 11 year, despite his team finishing sixth at the tournament, Coutu was named the tournament’s most valuable player. The Huskies lost to the tournament champion MEI Eagles of Abbotsford, who were led by George Bergen, now the coach of the Walnut Grove Gators.

The following year, North Delta completed the journey, winning the school’s first title.

In those years, the final few days of the tournament were played at the Pacific Coliseum, which was just a couple of years old.

There were anywhere between seven and ten thousand fans in the stands.

“The thing I remember most about the final is that typically, you are kind of nervous in the change room,” Coutu described. “But (those feelings) start to unwind as you warm up and then when the game begins, you are focused.

“I was focused on the game, but I was also nervous the whole game. I had butterflies.”

The nervousness came from the fact that this had been the goal for so long.

“We were prepped from Grade 8 that we were going to the B.C.’s and were going to win it,” Coutu explained.

*****

The Mission Roadrunners may have been the underdogs, but they relished their role as the giant-killers in 1986.

“We were the number four seed coming out of the Valley, and the three teams we beat were all number one seeds,” said Mal Gill, a guard on that Mission team, and now the principal at Brookswood Secondary.

The Roadrunners would place third in the province that year, Gill’s final year of high school.

“It was exciting for sure, being out there on the court, feeling like an NBA player because you are in a mini-Coliseum.

“That was our goal from the time we started as a high school team together; just to get the opportunity to get there and play.”

Gill recalls the team just getting on a roll at the right time.

“Getting into it, we were cocky little teenagers,” he said. “We figured we would be in the final, but deep down inside, if you had asked me, (I knew) we were in trouble.

“We were fourth in the Valley and had gotten our butts handed to us by Maple Ridge in one of the games. I remember thinking we have a long way to go.”

The team knocked off Vancouver College, Spectrum and Kelowna, with the only loss to Vernon.

“Looking at the draw, I didn’t think we had a chance, but with each game, we gained more and more confidence,” he said.

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It was just 11 years ago that Logan Kitteringham remembers stretching at centre court of the Agrodome underneath the bright lights, while the rest of the stadium was relatively dark just before game time.

“It truly was the big dance,” he said. “It felt very special.”

Back then Kitteringham was a star for the Walnut Grove Gators, leading the team to a fourth-place finish at the tournament, the school’s best-ever finish. These days, after playing at Trinity Western University, Kitteringham is a teacher and assistant coach at Walnut Grove.

“Back then we sent busloads of students down to the ’Dome,” he said. “It was amazing with all the fans, mascots and school banners surrounding the arena.”

Despite an environment they probably were not used to, the players were able to focus on the task at hand.

“When the game started, it was still just the game of basketball,” he said. “You were only aware of the special surroundings when you were on the bench before the game and during timeouts.”

And with the Langley Events Centre obviously much closer than the Agrodome, he figures the Gators will have a great home-court advantage.

*****

Landing the tournament for the Langley Events Centre was a major coup.

“The economic development, the tourism, all that is fantastic for Langley,” said Winslade.

“But when it comes down to it, it is really about the kids in the tournament.”

While they may not sit around and listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days, these are the lasting memories of high school, which they will look back upon.

“I am still best friends with most of the guys I played with,” Winslade said.

“We all live in different areas of the Lower Mainland but we still get together.

“The basketball is one thing, but it is about the friendships and experiences that really last.”

Most years, Winslade and his teammates still attend the tournament. They have even become friends with some of their fiercest rivals.

“We see people we played against and it’s funny, people we couldn’t stand when we were in high school, specifically the guys from North Surrey, I am friends with all those guys now,” he said.

“Those were our biggest rivals when we played them in the Fraser Valleys, now they are great friends.”

Gill played for a year at Fraser Valley College before deciding to quit in order to focus on his schooling.

He did get into coaching and received a reminder just how important the provincial championship tournament really is.

“I remember coaching against Vancouver College years later and the coach was a player I had played against, I didn’t even know,” he said. “And the team I had wasn’t very strong and they kept (full court) pressing and pressing us and I couldn’t understand (why) until the end of the game and he came to me and said: ‘that’s for beating us in provincials.’”

Coutu went on to play at Simon Fraser University.

He and his North Delta teammates still meet once or twice a year.

Many times they gather to watch the tournament together, and this year, they will watch from a private suite at the Langley Events Centre, as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of their championship.

The Magee Lions, champions in 1961, will also be on hand, celebrating their 50th anniversary.

That is what this tournament does: leaves the student-athletes with a lifetime of memories.

*****

John Buis, a teammate of Coutu’s in North Delta, and now the long-time director of the tournament, says they were very happy at the Agrodome, but the time had come to move on.

And one of the biggest challenges they will face is re-creating the electric atmosphere of the Agrodome. Moving to the Langley Events Centre, that is the great unknown.

“We don’t know what it will be like,” he admitted. “But we are preparing to make sure we can re-create the same atmosphere.

“It is a bit larger — the capacity is about 6,700 people as opposed to 4,800 to 5,000 at the Agrodome — so if we can put in as many people as the Agrodome, or more, I think we can re-create it.”

*****

The 66th edition of the B.C. Boys AAA basketball championships, presented by Telus, kick off on Tuesday and run until Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.

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