Basketball was alive and well in Agassiz over the weekend, as players dating back several decades arrived en masse to play in the Chieftains Alumni Tournament.
And the fans came out in equally impressive numbers, filling the high school gymnasium to standing room only.
“It was packed in here (Friday night),” said current AESS coach Kyle Dickey. And the same was true on Saturday night, when two teams of well-known former Chieftains took to the court for the final game.
That game was a nail biter, with a team of older alumna facing off against a handful of younger players. The scoreboard never saw more than a five point spread throughout the exciting forty minute game.
The younger players had a couple of chances to pull ahead late in the game, but ran out of time on the last shot, ending with a score of 40-39 for the older team. (For video of the game’s final moments, visit us online at www.ahobserver.com).
There were a dozen games over Friday and Saturday for the Chieftains, and one game on Saturday for their female counterparts, The Eagles. Both nights, the stands were packed with fans and family members, along with former players, coaches and referees.
Several alumni, including former players Andrew Putt and Taylor Roth, stepped up to referee for the two day event, while coach Dickey also laced up his court shoes to join in the games.
By the end of the tournament, dozens of players had already signed up to be informed of the details for next year’s event, already being planned.
About 60 past Chieftains took part in the games, along with more than a dozen Eagles.
Former Eagle Carrie Watts (Watson) took part in the weekend’s event, both playing and cheering on players. She said about eight ladies over 30 and nine ladies under 30 went head to head at the 11 a.m. game on Sunday. Even more former players were interested in coming out, but unable to make it.
“It was so fun playing with girls you graduated with,” she added. Like many former Eagles and Chieftains, Watts and her sister Kelly went on to play college level basketball. For many years, the basketball program at AESS churned out high level players, while the high school teams repeatedly brought home the win, locally, regionally and provincially.
But interest in basketball has waned over the past five years, Dickey said. He’s hoping this new annual event is one way to reignite the passion this community showed in past for the game — a game that was invented by Canadian Dr. James Naismith in 1891.
Many of the players over the weekend ended up playing in up to four games, as players dropped out with injuries throughout the tournament.
For Dustin Winstanley, the extra playing offered the chance to get a little more time on the court with players he looked up to while growing up at AESS.
“These guys were all my heroes,” he said of his teammates. “They were in Grade 12 when I was in Grade 6.”
Winstanley is another alumni who went on to play at a higher level, at Trinity Western University.
“It’s been so cool to come back,” he said. “I hope this will help a couple of the kids get into it.”
He said it was nice to see the stands full of fans, cheering passionately.
“I think there will be an even better turnout next year,” he said.
All the money raised through the $20 player registration fee went to supporting the senior boys basketball team.