Indescribable: one word that encompasses the feeling of walking onto a court, bleachers packed with adoring fans; chants heard on both sides; face paint and drums. The beat pounds in the hearts of those who have come before them and those who will undeniably lace up to play long after they’re gone.
There’s a tension in the air, but not the usual one that people shy away from. Actually, the tense feeling is inviting—tempting, even.
A sea of purple and red clash against faded gymnasium walls in what can only be deemed the greatest rivalry in BC high school basketball (at the moment). The Vancouver College Fighting Irish versus the St. George’s Saints: two of Vancouver’s all-boys private schools competing for more than just bragging rights in the locker room.
“One of the things when you’re involved in sport is you want to be involved in big events. That’s the excitement of it,” said St. George’s head coach Bill Disbrow. “You live for those times.”
Coach Disbrow is in his seventh season with the Saints and says there isn’t much in this world like the rivalry they share with the Irish.
“There’s the BC championships…that’s huge. But this is also something that very few kids in high school get to experience. Almost no other schools have this kind of a situation.”
During his time at Richmond High School, Disbrow experienced a similar contention with Steveston High. For 40 years, every single game between the two teams was a sell-out, drawing huge crowds and crazed fans. The rivalry stretched further than the game of basketball, with hilarious pranks against each other’s teams, including a kidnapping of a coach—all in good fun, of course.
Aside from the funny business, the rivalry torch that was once held by Richmond and Steveston seems to have been passed down to St. George’s and Vancouver College.
“It was amazing,” Disbrow recalls of his Richmond days. “And now that happens here. It doesn’t happen a lot of places, so these kids get to experience something that very few kids do and the whole school cares and is passionate about it. It’s fun. That’s part of what sport [is] about. Few people get to go on that kind of a stage.”
Luckily for Van College’s Hunter Cruz-Dumont, his brother Jack—a former baller for the Irish—was able to prepare him specifically for that special stage.
“It means a lot [to play in this series]. I’ve been battling with these guys for four years; watched these games growing up. Whenever we play Saints, we know it’s going to be a battle,” he said.
Prior to the first game in the VC/Saints series, Hunter’s big bro called him up to give him a few tips.
“[Jack] just told me to enjoy it. Those big games can be nerve-racking sometimes, but he just said, ‘Just forget about the nerves and just enjoy it.’ He looks back on it and he wants me to have just as good of memories as he did.”
In the epic battle at the Irish’s home court, Cruz-Dumont and the VC boys defeated the Saints by just one point.
“Seeing Jack underneath the baseline during the game was great and after, when we shared that moment after the final buzzer rang…it was great.”
The brothers embraced each other in a post-win hug, one that showcased the passionate bond that sports create between all those involved.
“Winning that game felt great in front of our home fans. All your friends are at the game, your family, it feels like everyone in Vancouver is there. And to win that game, it’s really special,” said Cruz-Dumont.
Teammate Logan Hale, a senior guard for the Fighting Irish, agrees that the first round against their biggest rival was one he’ll never forget.
“It was awesome. We got out to an early lead and then Saints brought it back. And in the fourth quarter it was just crazy experience,” Hale boasted. “And then Callum had those free throws with 10 seconds left, I guess. And when he hit the first one, the whole bench just went crazy…the fans went crazy. Once we got that rebound after to finish the game, it was just wild.”
The crowd of fans seemed to mimic the intensity of the game by putting on a show of their own, too.
Van College’s head coach, Lloyd Scrubb, says the fandom is all in good fun for both teams.
“I think it’s a lot of the player’s friends that want to come out and support because they I guess have bragging rights with the Saints’ fans. It’s always good, healthy rivalry. The kids…at this age want to act crazy, paint themselves, or find any excuse to be silly, so this is always a good excuse. And I guess for them, it helps when we win on the scoreboard.” he said.
Scrubb has been coaching at Vancouver College for 14 years—some of which he shared with current Saints head coach, Disbrow. Both agree that the fan base is unlike anything you’ll see at a typical high school basketball game.
“It’s the crowd that’s the most fun. They get so into it. And they’ve got great chants back-and-forth trying to bug each other, but it’s a lot of fun,” Disbrow laughed.
With Game 2 of the rivalry underway on Wednesday, February 6th—this time at St. George’s spectacular home—the Saints are polishing their armour for what they believe to be their greatest battle of the year (aside from the provincial championships, that is).
“The boys at St. George’s love the game of basketball,” said Saints’ star guard Jerric Palma. “[This series] is not something you really want to miss. All our practices have been revolving around how much energy we bring every practice and coming to practice mentally ready. I believe by Wednesday, we should be fuelled: we all know what to do, we all know our matchups, keys to the games, strengths and weaknesses. So this second game definitely should be a big turn around for us.”
Despite the outcome on the scoreboard, the two-part series is a definite reminder of what the game of basketball—and any sport, for that matter—is truly all about.
“I’ve been on both sides of the rivalry and I think it’s just an awesome experience I’d say for both groups of kids. It’s just…it’s something special,” said Disbrow.
“Before the [last] game, Jack Dumont—who was their star last year and is now at UBC—he came over to talk to me. And I just asked him, ‘Do you miss this?’ and he said, ‘Oh man…’ and I said, ‘There’s nothing like high school basketball when you get the crowds like that.’
It’s the passion that you have. And especially kids like [Jack] or some of our guys that have grown up. They’ve been at the school for a long time, some of them since Grade 1. And they’ve been watching these games forever. Now they get to be a part of it,” Disbrow paused.
“They get to run out on the floor with all that noise and live a dream.”
Be sure to catch the second game in the rivalry series between the St. George’s Saints and the Vancouver College Fighting Irish at St. George’s Senior School on Wednesday, February 6th at 7:30pm.
Slap on some face paint and we’ll see you there!
Written by: Crystal Scuor
Photos: Nick Bondi