Howard Kelsey’s group winding down Telus high school tourney

Friday, December 6, 2013 – Submitted by Elliott Pap, Vancouver Sun


VANCOUVER – Howard Kelsey and his pals from the Canada One Foundation are leaving the Telus Classic pre-season high school basketball tournament behind them but they aren’t leaving high school basketball.

They have decided to wind down the December tourney, which will end its 14-year run Saturday night at UBC, and turn their full attention to the March provincials. It was just time, Kelsey explained, to shoot the ball in a different direction.

“We’re going to pull back here in December and focus on March,” Kelsey said in an interview Thursday. “It’s better to get off the wave on top of the wave. We’re content with where we’ve got this tournament and now we’re going to let it go wherever it goes, if it goes anywhere. We’re leaving with a great taste in our mouth.”

Kelsey, now 56, was a founding father of the December event, along with his brother Doug, Ron Putzi, Misty Thomas, Lars Hansen and the late Randy Sung. It was known as the HSBC Classic for its first 11 years before Telus assumed title sponsorship in 2011.

It was the Kelsey group’s vision to begin the basketball season in a big way and Kelsey admitted he sometimes wondered how they even managed to get it off the ground, given the countless hours needed to stage an event of this magnitude.

“I was actually thinking about it the other day and I’m not sure, if we had to do it all over again, could we pull it off?” Kelsey chuckled. “In the beginning, I didn’t live here in winter. I was in Mexico. Doug was in Kamloops. Ron was in Switzerland and Misty was coaching women’s basketball at UBC. Lars Hansen was only person on the ground. I still don’t know how we did it.”

There were sponsors to be secured and venues to be nailed down. The schools and their team coaches had to come on board. Divisions were established for senior boys and girls, junior boys and girls, youth with developmental challenges, plus cheer and dance. According to Kelsey, more than $800,000 in scholarships have been awarded over the life of the tourney.

“With Telus and HSBC coming in, it’s brought major multi-nationals to the table to support high school sports where before, other than the Subway Bowl for football, it hadn’t been done,” said Kelsey. “So that’s opened up corporate opportunities. As well, I think it’s given kids a big-time atmosphere to play in. Before, the only one you had was basically at the AAA boys or AAA girls provincials in March. This created a big-time atmosphere in the pre-season.

“Now it’s time for our group to step aside,” he continued. “We’ve had discussions with two or three groups about maybe having them continue it but the question is: do you have the energy to put into this and can you get the sponsorships? We’ve said we’d gladly advise anyone interested.”

Former Kitsilano Blue Demon star Luka (The Bazooka) Zaherijevic, now a freshman at UBC, played in three Telus Classics, winning it last season. He thinks the event will be missed.

“From my experience, I just loved it,” said the Bazooka, who has yet to play for the Thunderbirds due to a knee injury. “It’s a prestigious tournament – right? – and all I can say is I kind of feel bad for the players coming up. They’re not going to have that experience of being on centre court at UBC like we were last year and holding up that trophy.

“I think this is the second biggest tournament other than the provincials. Howard Kelsey and all his staff have done a great job over the years organizing everything. So I’m definitely going to miss it.”

Long-time Kitsilano coach Randy Coutts has been involved in all 14 years of the tournament’s run and his school has served as a host site for the opening and quarter-final rounds.

“I’ll definitely be sorry to see it go,” Coutts said. “It’s been a mainstay in high school basketball for the last 14 years but things change for a reason. The key thing is Howard had a lot of corporate influence and connections and that’s what really signified this tournament.

“There have always been tournaments all over the place but ,with Howard’s ability to create corporate sponsorships, he’s given a lot of opportunities for a lot of kids to get scholarships. Maybe somebody else will step up and take it over. That would be awesome. If not, life will go on.”