The countdown is on for the 62nd annual Totem Basketball Tournament at Alberni District Secondary School.
Senior girls’ and boys’ basketball games begin on Thursday, Jan. 5 and run until Saturday, Jan. 7 in the Alberni District Secondary School gymnasium and across the street from the school at the Alberni Athletic Hall.
Sixteen senior basketball teams—eight boys and eight girls—will take to the courts of both gymnasiums to play for top spot in front of notoriously large crowds.
“It’s the longest running high school tournament in the province,” said ADSS athletic director Mike Roberts. “Other teams come here and they can’t believe what they’re seeing, this doesn’t exist anywhere.”
Beginning in 1955, Totem has grown since its inception. Only four basketball teams took place in the tournament until 1981. In 1982 the tournament grew to eight teams, and it remained that way until 2014. Girls’ teams were added to the program in 2010.
“There was a lull in the boys’ program globally so we thought what are we going to do to salvage Totem, because honestly we kind of saw it sinking a little bit,” said Roberts, who has sat on the Totem committee for 10 years.
“We had a really strong girls’ team at the time and [Greg] Freethy was coaching them and said why not have girls involved.”
Roberts said adding the girls to the mix allows for two feature games instead of just one.
On Thursday, the Armada boys kick off the tournament against Ballenas at 5:15 p.m. in the ADSS gym. The Armada girls play next against Kwalikum at 7 p.m. in the ADSS gym.
Folks can visit https://www.facebook.com/totemtournament/ for a full weekend schedule.
The three-day tournament, Roberts said, continuously offers ex-grads and Totem alumni a dose of nostalgia as they cheer on the teams from the crowded stands.
“Totem is far from a school event now, it’s a community event. We’ll see people here that they just come because it’s Totem, they come every single year and they continue to do so,” Roberts said. “I get a kick out of watching the out-of-town teams coming here for the first time… and they see 500 people sitting here and it’s really positive.”
With 14 teams visiting the Alberni Valley for the Totem weekend, Roberts said the local economy will without a doubt benefit from their presence.
“They’ve got to sleep somewhere and they’ve got to eat somewhere.” Roberts said.
Totem is also the biggest basketball fundraiser for the high school.
“Although it’s a senior tournament, the benefits of Totem fundraising are more than just for the seniors, the juniors also benefit,” Roberts said.
The tournament is more than basketball, though. Totem spirit, on it’s 52nd year, pulls from many facets of the school to highlight different groups and raise awareness for Totem.
Totem Spirit is a competition between Grade 12 students with a goal of raising the most awareness for the tournament and getting the community involved. A winner will be crowned after the final game is played on Saturday night.
On Friday night, before the feature game at 7 p.m., four ADSS alumni will be inducted into the ADSS Athletic Wall of Fame.
The four inductees include Kylee Dawn for badminton, Jason Hubbs for basketball, Ty Shannon for rugby and Andrew Sturgeon for basketball.
Roberts said the inductees have achieved great success during their post-secondary athletic careers, of four or more years, or competed at the national level.
“We do [the ceremony] at Totem because it’s our biggest audience, so there’s a lot of eyes that get to see,” Roberts said.
Once Totem wraps up on Saturday night, Roberts said planning for next year’s tournament will begin.
“Within a week we review everything…it’s definitely a full year of planning.”
Tickets are $5 for all on Thursday night, $5 for ages five to 11 and $8 for 12 and up for Friday and Saturday. A Totem pass is $10 for ages five to 11 and $15 for 12 and up. Kids under five get in free. Tickets can be bought at the door or at ADSS.
Boston Pizza, Totem 62 official headquarters, will be the Friday night feature game sponsor and will have fan-related giveaways at the door.