ON YOUR MARKS: THE VICTORIA CHRISTMAS TOURNAMENT STARTS THE SEASON OFF WITH A BANG!
Whether it’s the pistol fired at the start of a race, the lighting of the torch to signal the beginning of the Olympics, or announcer bellowing “Let’s Get Ready to RUMBLE!” as boxers prepare to fight, there are events that take place the announce for everyone involved that something big is about to happen. For the last 25 years, the Victoria Christmas tournament has served as an announcement that the BC Senior Girls basketball season is officially underway.
Although the season officially starts a few weeks earlier, because many players are still finishing their fall season provincials and students are completing their final assignments before Winter break, for many teams this is the first weekend that they are playing as a complete unit.
Each year, teams from the Okanagan, Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, and North Island (as well as several teams from out of province) pile into busses, board ferries and planes, and pack themselves into cars and journey to the provinces capital to compete in one of the longest running and most cherished tournament of the senior girls season.
For veteran coaches like Sandy Chambers (Mission Roadrunners) and Anne Carre (McMath Wildcats) the tournament serves as a perfect opportunity to get their teams away from their school environments and do some team bonding. For out of province coaches, like Jillian Humbert (Walter Murray Marauders) who brought her team from Saskatoon, it’s a chance to get tough competition from teams who they won’t face in their own high school league.
Regardless of the reason, the tournament, with its array of competition, and it’s host city, with its picturesque views and historic landmarks, offer everything that a team could want in an early season trip. Tournament founder Brett Westcott started the event as a way to get games for his team without having to travel, but now he recognizes that the tournament has grown into an event that attracts 48 teams in three different division from across Western Canada playing almost 90 games in numerous high school gyms. “For two days, it’s like we take over the city.”
All you would have to do is witness the waves of school embroidered basketball hoodies and sweat suits roaming the Tsawwassen ferry terminal at 7am on the Friday the tournament begins to see what Westcott is talking about. According to Paul Chiarenza (Southridge Storm, head coach of the Gold Division winners from Surrey), that is one of the most cherished parts. “Driving onto the ferry and racing to get a spot in the cafe line or a section to hangout with your teammates marks the beginning of competition between these teams.” And while some teams, battle with others for White Spot Pirate packs or soft serve ice-cream, others, like Anne Carre’s McMath Wildcats, use this as their first real opportunity to bond. “We’ll often give our girls scavenger hunts to complete in groups as a way for them to work together.”
While some schools are establishing team goals and roles, others are visiting the island for their first time. The coastal capital, with its mountain and ocean views, serves as a welcoming destination for teams hoping for more than just a tournament. As her team held crackers and bread crumbs in their hands to attract seagulls, Mission coach Chambers explained, “this is the first time some of my girls have been on the ferry.” For Humbert, the historic buildings adorned with Christmas decorations were problematic: “These girls have never seen anything like this. The ocean and mountains. The buildings. I’m not sure I’ll be able to convince them all to come home with us.”
And that is what Dani Sinclair likes to hear. As the head coach of the University of Victoria’s Women’s Basketball program, Sinclair likes the opportunity show off the UVic campus: “Not only do I get to see some of the best [players] in BC and Alberta, but it’s also a chance for interested players [and their families] to tour our campus.” Having all this talent in her backyard, makes recruiting a lot easier.
As the final games come to a close in UVic’s CARSA Center, Westcott has a chance to reflect on times when running the tournament wasn’t so easy: “Between snow and wind storms, fire strikes, and city wide power outages I’m never sure if the tournament will actually go on.” But, as several coaches will confirm, each year Westcott and his tournament volunteers put on an excellent event that keeps teams returning year after year. “I don’t even feel like the season has started until it’s Saturday night and I’m sitting in the ferry buffet on my way home,” says Chiarenza as he savours his team’s Gold Division title and the buffet’s Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice. For so many High School Girl’s teams this weekend has not only provided a glimpse of their basketball future but has also, more significantly, served as the source of cherished team memories onto which they will fondly look back.
The BC Senior Girls Basketball season has officially begun. Safe travels to all teams traveling this Winter Break and good luck this season to all players and coaches!
Written By: Winston Brown