Organizers are preparing for what could potentially be the largest All Native Basketball Tournament ever.
The event, which features Indigenous intermediate men’s (21 and under), women’s, men’s and masters (35 and over) squads from across British Columbia, was not held this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
But officials of the annual tournament, which is always staged in Prince Rupert, announced earlier in October that they have started to accept registrations for the 2022 event.
The tourney has been staged annually since 1960.
As of Wednesday, Oct. 27, tournament chair Peter Haugan said 37 clubs had registered to take part in next year’s event, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 13.
“It doesn’t surprise me how many we’ve got already,” Haugan said. “Everybody is pretty excited about taking part.”
Haugan said even though the pandemic was ongoing, organizers had thought about holding a tournament earlier this year as well. But they had to follow health authorities who limited the number of people for gatherings.
“We wanted to have the tournament,” Haugan said. “But if you can’t have fans, you can’t have a tournament.”
As for the 2022 event, one major change is that some squads will no longer have to participate in a November qualifying tournament in order to earn spots into February’s main draw.
That switch was made as organizers were unsure what capacity limits, determined by provincial health authorities, would be by next month.
Since any club that wishes to participate in February’s tournament will be able to do so, Haugan is anticipating a massive turnout.
“We’re looking at it and think it’s going to be bigger than ever,” he said.
The current record number of participating clubs is 64, which occurred a dozen years ago when the tourney celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The registration deadline for the 2022 tournament is Jan. 13.
Haugan added many of the squads that traditionally place among the Top 5 in various categories are not among those who registered early.
“Most of them haven’t even signed up yet,” he said. “They never sign up this early.”
Haugan said historically many participating squads express their interest around late December.
He added there will be no limit on the number of entrants. If need be, organizers would extend the week-long tournament by adding a day or two to the start of the event.
The only Nuu-chah-nulth team that has registered thus far is the Hesquiaht Descendants, a women’s squad founded by Mariah Charleson in 2015.
The Descendants, who have participated in most of the tournaments since then, registered their best finish thus far, fourth place, at the ’15 event.
Charleson, who continues to play for the squad, thinks they could fare very well at the February tournament.
“If everybody trains and if they work hard, then I really believe we have the potential to be in the top three,” she said.
A major challenge facing the Descendants is that those who will be named to the squad do not live in the same community, thus limiting team training options.
“Ninety per cent of the players live away from home,” Charleson said, adding she herself lives in Nanaimo. “We haven’t even met as a team yet. Players are doing their own training. There is the potential though for some players to get together and train together.”
The Hesquiaht team is currently only open to members of the First Nation.
Charleson said no official tryouts will be held, adding prospective team members are for the most part well acquainted with each other.
“We have a massive talent pool to choose from,” she said. “There’s well over 50 women’s players (from Hesquiaht). We all know each other. We all grew up playing together. And we have a solid group of experienced players.”
Meanwhile, Ahousaht First Nation traditionally enters squads in the men’s and intermediate men’s categories.
Though they had yet to do so, those clubs were expected to register for the 2022 tournament soon.
For more information, or for those looking to enter the tournament, contact Haugan at (250) 624-1690 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org