After more than eight months of planning, organizer Crystal Tallio said she couldn’t have been happier with how the 2016 Junior All Native Basketball Tournament turned out.
Bella Coola and the Nuxalk Nation hosted the tournament in Williams Lake from March 13-18 where 21 girls teams and 17 boys teams of players aged 13-19 from around the province competed.
“We started back in August [of 2015] and we’ve been going full swing since then,” Tallio said.
She stressed the importance of the tournament in providing a positive environment and experience for First Nations youth around the province.
“It was a really great turnout and all in all a really great week,” Tallio said. “We really wanted to represent our kids and uphold our youth, as well as represent our community.
“The basketball was all really good calibre and all the kids played their best. We had lots of good feedback from the other teams.”
The Nuxalk Nation, meanwhile, entered teams in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions.
On the boys’ side the Nuxalk Nation defeated Lil’wat (Mount Currie) in its first game before falling to Prince Rupert in round two. Wednesday, despite a valiant effort, Bella Coola was eliminated from the tournament by Port Simpson.
The girls downed Skidegate in its first game but lost to Greenville, the tournament runner-up, in game two. They then advanced after a win over the Gitsegukla Predators, before being knocked out of the tournament by Van City (Vancouver).
Prior to the tournament teams had expressed hesitance about travelling to Williams Lake due to a recent rise in violent crime in the city.
Tallio, however, said everyone’s preconceived notions were put to rest after spending time in the city and thanked members of the RCMP for being visible around the tournament’s three venues and for spending time with the kids.
One of the most memorable moments of the tournament came when RCMP members, dressed in uniform, played an impromptu pickup basketball game at the court outside Lake City Secondary School’s Williams Lake Campus against players from Hesquiaht (northwest of Tofino).
“The RCMP were visible and made themselves well-known around the tournament,” Tallio said. “There had been a lot of bad publicity about a lot of crimes in Williams Lake [before the tournament]. The RCMP pulled to together and were around the games and it was great to see.”
In the boys’ final the Nanaimo Native Sons repeated as tournament champions after defeating Syilx (Keremeos) 95-81 in the final.
In the girls’ division Syilx knocked off Greenville 71-40 to claim its third consecutive Junior All Native Basketball Tournament crown.
Tallio thanked the 50-plus volunteers who put in countless hours, and the tournament’s sponsors, First Nations Health Authority, Nuxalk Nation, Acwsalcta/NAALS, Nuxalk Forestry Ltd. Partnership, A&A Trading and Aboriginal Sport BC, for helping make the tournament possible.
Nuxalk Radio was onsite broadcasting live from the games. Local hosts Nuhawhawta (Sheldon Tallio) and Qwaxw (Spencer Siwallace) provided fun, professional and engaging commentary throughout the event, making it fun to follow along for those left behind.
Next year’s Junior All Native Basketball Tournament will be hosted in Kelowna.