Among the desert-like mountains and melting snow, the city of Kamloops has a calming ambiance. It is, however, evident that each resident takes great pride in the sports community.
With hockey sticks for Humboldt standing tall on nearly every doorstep, and hundreds of people donning their favourite jerseys in support of the Broncos hockey team, walking into the gymnasium at South Kamloops Secondary School was a clear indication of just how much sports mean to the city.
On April 6th, 2018, the Humboldt Broncos junior team was on its way to hopefully find victory in their own journey to a championship game. Sadly, the bus collided with a semi truck at a rural crossroads, killing 16 and injuring another 13. The accident devastated the entire country, but reminded us all that sports can unify us even through the most troubling of times.
And while the South Kamloops Titans girls and boys basketball teams came together to celebrate their historical provincial championship wins on April 12th, the same day as Jersey Day — a Canada-wide initiative to show support for the victims of the crash — the entire school and student body honoured the Broncos first and foremost before revelling in their own accomplishments.
The banner raising ceremony began with South Kam’s Athletic Director Corey Yamaoka’s powerful speech dedicated to all those who were affected by the Humboldt bus crash. In a sea full of jerseys, Yamaoka led the audience in a moment of silence. To see a whole school so selflessly respect another team before their own is truly indescribable.
For South Kam, winning both banners in the 2017-2018 with both their boys and girl’s basketball teams was also indescribable.
“It was just indescribable. The group of girls that I was with was just absolutely amazing so it just made it that much that I got to win with the group of people I consider to be my family now,” said Max Koptyko, Grade 10 guard for the Titans.
Her teammate Lauren Walkley agreed.
“It felt so incredible and then seeing the guys win too was just so crazy. I’m so proud of my team; I’m so proud of both teams.”
For only the second time in BC basketball history, both the girls and boys brought home the banner to the same high school.
“I’m a basketball guy and this is just a tremendous accomplishment for South Kam Secondary,” said Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian. “But it also reflects the culture of basketball in the city of Kamloops and our relationship with the school district as well as with the university. To see these kids in their deportment and their maturity and their athleticism is just so good.”
Prior to the highly anticipated banner raising portion of the assembly, many guest speakers took the stage, including past South Kam alumni, Kamloops MLA Todd Stone, and even Thompson River University Athletics Director Curtis Atkinson.
Atkinson welcomed both Walkley and Nick Sarai of the boy’s team to TRU, since both recently committed to the university. He also commended each basketball team for their achievements.
“Sport is larger than any of us individually. It really has an incredible ability to unite. We’ve seen that across our country this week. We see it in the gym today. And sometimes it’s in tragic ways and sometimes it’s in a way where we can celebrate it. So I hope you really enjoy this moment, because sport is incredible at uniting all of us. What you’ve done leaves a lasting legacy on the school that will carry on forever,” he said.
Each player and coach was given a championship photo and a bundle of flowers to commemorate their own role in bringing the banners back to their hometown. As the speeches and handouts came to an end, it was finally time to send the banners to the roof.
“We Are The Champions” by Queen blared out of the speakers and the royal blue banners shot up with all each athlete from their respective team smiling below. Some held the rope, while others held each other. But in reality, every one of these boys and girls now hold a special place in the Kamloops community indefinitely.
“That’s history right there,” said Titans Evan Jumaga. “It’s something great to be part of. I know we’re the second school to do that, both boys and girls, and kudos to them, it’s awesome.”
Sarai, who will join the Wolf Pack team next year, commended both teams.
“It just shows how hard both our teams worked, all the sports team here at South Kam, the amount of work and time we put in to what’s happened here, winning provincials. It’s just remarkable.”
South Kamloops girl’s head coach Del Komarniski was overjoyed.
“I think Kamloops is thrilled. Here’s a couple teams that represent our city quite well. We’re competitive in this city. There’s lots of basketball games played here. For us to go and put a couple banners up speaks well to the community, the kids in our community, the support in our community, the coaching in our community, the parents. It just speaks well for basketball and what’s happening in basketball in this town.”
“It felt like a dream. It just felt unreal to us,” said senior guard Reid Jansen. “That’s creating history right there—and it was amazing.”
To all of those who were involved with this tremendous victory, congratulations! Thank you for letting us all experience a piece of history, and for showing us just how much sports can unify a community — but more importantly, every single person that sport touches.
Written by: Crystal Scuor