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Historic B.C. basketball tournament cancelled for first time in 66 years

Alberni District Secondary’s Totem tournament is longest-running high school hoops event
A Totem basketball wears an ADSS non-medical mask. The 66th annual Totem tournament is the latest casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. (PHOTO COURTESY ADSS)

The longest-running high school basketball tournament in the province has been cancelled for the first time in its 66-year history.

Alberni District Secondary School’s (ADSS) Totem tournament was set to celebrate its 66th year in 2021. However, the three-day tournament will have to be postponed to 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

ADSS athletic director Mike Roberts said the biggest reason for the cancellation is the fact that there are currently no competitive school sports taking place across the province. In Port Alberni, basketball teams haven’t even been able to take to the court for practices.

“In other schools, they may still be practicing, but they’re not allowed to have exhibition games,” said Roberts. “We [at ADSS] were close to entertaining the idea of having our teams back, but then the new restrictions came down.”

Totem is “kind of a big deal,” as the tournament’s slogan states. The event began in Port Alberni in 1955 as a four-team boys’ basketball tourney, expanding to eight teams in 1982. The tournament expanded again in 2011 when female teams were included, and in 2015 grew again to eight teams on each of the boys’ and girls’ sides.

Over the years, Totem has evolved into much more than a basketball tournament. It involves almost the entire student body at ADSS, with dance and cheerleading teams, a pep band, a Wall of Fame ceremony and a Totem Spirit competition. Each year, the excitement grows in late December and early January as the event approaches. Home games often have hundreds of spectators in the audience.

READ MORE: Totem 65 biggest event yet, ADSS organizers say

This year, all that has changed.

“It’s a big void for our school,” said Roberts. “This time of year, I would be spending hours making sure every detail of Totem is ready to go. You don’t see any of the posters in the school, the buzz in the school. It’s weird, it’s eerie. It’s sad, honestly.”

This is the first time a Totem tournament has been cancelled in the game’s 66-year history. During Totem 50, in 2005, a snowstorm threatened cancellation of the tournament, but the school managed to pull together a “fragmented” event with fewer teams than usual.

“This is altogether a different story,” said Roberts. “Never has it been cancelled.”

The news is especially sad for the school’s senior students, some of whom have been looking forward to the tournament for their whole high school career.

“If you’re a senior, [Totem] is sort of your last chance to go out and have fun,” said Roberts. “It’s something that the whole school completely buys into, and it’s been taken away.”

Despite the fact that the tournament won’t be happening this year, Roberts said several senior leadership students are still planning a few “theme days” in the New Year. Students can still take part in this event while following social distancing rules.

“They want to try to keep the notion of Totem alive,” said Roberts. “You could call it a ‘glimmer’ of Totem.”

The Totem planning committee met in the summer to discuss a few different game plans, but the cancellation was “unavoidable,” said Roberts.

“In the end, when you can’t even have your teams practicing, it’s a pretty easy decision,” said Roberts. “The decision was made for us. Even if we had our teams playing with nobody in the stands…what fun is that? It’s the atmosphere we want. We want 700 people yelling in the crowd.”

As the athletic director, Roberts is “cautiously optimistic” that school teams might be able to begin practicing in the spring. “So they’re a little bit prepared for next year,” he said. “But I don’t foresee competition or leagues. All these kids lose a year of playing. We lose a potentially pretty competitive senior boys team this year,” Roberts added. “Maybe one of the best we’ve had in years.”

Last year, Totem 65 organizers called the tournament their “biggest event” so far. Roberts is hoping the community can come together in 2022 for an even bigger tournament. Although Totem won’t be taking place this year, he is calling the event “postponed” instead of cancelled.

“We’ll just have Totem 66 happen next year,” he said. “It’s become a community event. I think we owe the public a thank you for supporting us. We look forward to having them back next year.”

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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