This year marks the 64th annual Totem basketball tournament at Alberni District Secondary School, making the tourney the longest running in B.C. history. It is also the second oldest boys’ basketball tournament in western Canada.
The tournament began in 1956, after basketball coach Elmer Matthews cooked up the idea to host a four-team tourney featuring high school teams from around Vancouver Island. Totem now features eight boys’ and eight girls’ teams competing over three days.
On Friday, Jan. 11 Elmer was posthumously inducted into the ADSS Armada Athletic Wall of Fame as a builder.
“We are grateful for Elmer’s vision and initiative, which have morphed into a Valley treasure known as Totem,” said Jim Seredick, formerly a basketball coach and tournament director with Totem.
The first tournament featured four teams: Vic High Totems, Oak Bay High, Cumberland and the Alberni District High School (ADHS) Chieftains. A newspaper article from the Alberni Advocate in 1956 noted that “the tournament favourite is a toss-up between the Victoria Totems and the ADHS Chieftains.”
Matthews was coaching the Chieftains at the time. The Chieftains won the tournament in “heart-stopping fashion”, with a dramatic last shot basket to edge Vic High 67–66.
Alberni teams have won the Totem tournament 17 times in 64 years. The girls’ side of the tournament started in 2011 and Alberni teams have won the girls’ title three times.
Since its beginnings, Totem has evolved to encompass the Totem Spirit competition, cheer and dance teams, music, cultural groups and other entertainment. The event draws students and members of the public as well.
Elmer died in 2009. His grandson Jayson accepted the award from tournament director Mike Roberts. Jayson Matthews is a forward with the ADSS Armada boys’ team this year.
Jayson then walked across the gymnasium to where his grandmother, Donna, was sitting and presented her with Elmer’s builders’ plaque and Totem Wall of Fame scarf. They shared an emotional hug while surrounded by family and to the cheers of a packed ADSS gymnasium.
“Elmer Matthews wouldh have been justifiably proud knowing the tournament he started 64 years ago has grown and thrives today,” Seredick said. “This tournament and Elmer are forever linked.”
Donna Matthews has also reached a milestone, tournament director Mike Roberts said. “She’s been to all 64 Totems.”
Basketball action continues Saturday, Jan. 12 with the finals happening at 4 p.m. at Alberni Athletic Hall for the girls, and 4 p.m. at ADSS gym for the boys.