Sad to say goodbye to Telus basketball tournament

Friday, November 29, 2013 – Submitted by Tony Gallagher, The Province

Steve Podborski — Canada’s Olympic chef de mission at Sochi next February — couldn’t have been terribly surprised by the latest Edward Snowden revelations about the National Security Agency monitoring the G8 and G20 conferences in Canada.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, the Canadian downhill legend said that he expects every call he makes while in the Russian host city will be monitored by one or more parties, but in the case of this chat he wasn’t wearing his Olympic hat.

He was talking in the capacity of his more steady job, that of national director of community sport for Telus. Podborski lamented the impending passing of the corporation’s high school basketball classic, which winds down with the grand finale a week from Saturday night at UBC after a 14-year run of putting more than $800,000 of scholarship money into the pockets of students entering post-secondary educational institutions.

“It’s really tough when you’re talking about something that’s been so great,” said Podborski about the tournament, which Telus has funded for five years after they picked up the title sponsorship from HSBC. “It’s done so much good over the years. I understand completely (why Canada One Foundation, which oversees the tournament, is moving on); it’s just that we could use someone to keep it going.”

Both Telus and HSBC have realized the outstanding work in the community the tournament has done, because they’d both still be willing to continue their present roles. And why not? When you watch the enthusiasm around the massive cheer and dance competition at Richmond Olympic Oval, as well as the hoops competition for developmentally challenged youth, you quickly realize this is affecting people’s lives in a huge way. Certainly far more than anyone realized would be possible when Translink COO Doug Kelsey sat in his office long after hours planning the tournament with his brother Howard, Ron Putzi, the late Randy Sung and a few dedicated people determined to get the tournament off the ground to give back to their community.

It started out with just high school boys — with scholarships being awarded to 20 players based on academics and community involvement — and mushroomed over the years to the massive undertaking it has become.

“We started with HSBC but we had another sponsor in the wings (Save-On Foods) and where there’s a business case for an event, which there is for this tournament, it needs champions to step up,” said Doug Kelsey. “It was always about giving back, and hopefully someone will keep it going or pick it up again some time in the future.

“We had a lot of help from a lot of good people, like Lars Hansen, Paul Eberhardt and Randy Clark, when we went around and explained our vision to all the schools. It was a tremendous amount of work, but all for the right reasons.”

They sold the idea and it blossomed quickly, growing mostly while the NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies were still in town, Doug Kelsey and many others feel the model works best in an NBA city. At the moment, nobody has come forward but there are some possibilities.

“We’ve left it with the Vancouver Police, UBC and Basketball B.C. to see if any of those would like to take the tournament forward,” said Howard Kelsey, who heads Canada One Foundation, he and Misty Thomas having done most of the work with a legion of people helping generously over the years. “We’re putting our focus on the March tournaments with Telus, which is the junior and senior level high school boys and girls championships, all tiers. So it’s not as if we’re vacating the scene.”

The last tournament begins Saturday with the Youth with Developmental Challenges division at New West high, with the junior girls starting next Monday at Surrey’s Fleetwood Park, and the junior boys at Vancouver College. On Wednesday it’s the senior boys and girls starting at numerous locations, with the semifinals Friday at Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill, and finals in both the dance (Richmond Oval) and all basketball divisions at UBC’s War Memorial Gym on Saturday.