Hesquiaht squad still eager to participate in delayed All Native Basketball Tournament

Nanaimo, BC

Mariah Charleson is disappointed she won’t be showcasing her basketball skills in Prince Rupert next month.

But Charleson, who founded the Hesquiaht Descendants women’s basketball squad in 2015, is hoping she will indeed have the opportunity to travel with her teammates to the British Columbia city this spring.

The Descendants had registered to compete in this year’s All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT), which had originally been scheduled to commence on Feb. 13.

Due to the ongoing pandemic and various restrictions in place across B.C., ANBT officials announced last week they were postponing the event until late March.

The plan at that point was to hopefully commence the tourney on Mar. 27 and continue until Apr. 2.

But on Tuesday, Jan. 11, tournament officials put out another Facebook post indicating the tourney is now scheduled to begin either on Apr. 2 or Apr. 3, depending on how many squads will be taking part.

“Obviously it sucks we can’t compete (in February) because of what is going on,” said Charleson, who still plays for the Descendants.

However, Charleson is pleased to see organizers are making the safety of all a priority.

Back in the fall Charleson said she felt her club had the potential to have a Top 3 finish in the women’s category at the 2022 ANBT.

The Hesquiaht club registered its best finish, fourth place, at the 2015 tournament.

Besides dealing with the ABNT postponement, the Descendants are also affected by local health restrictions, which are preventing the team from practicing together in Port Alberni.

Charleson said several team members had gathered for various shootarounds in November and December. At times they were joined by members of the AV Thunder, a new men’s squad.

But those get-togethers are on pause now.

“Everything is day-to-day now,” Charleson said. “We are just waiting.”

Though it remains to be seen what direction the pandemic will take in the coming weeks, Charleson believes tournament organizers are indeed keen to stage the 2022 tourney.

“From sensing of the language they are putting out, it does sound like they really want it to happen,” Charleson said of tournament organizers.

The ANBT is one of the most prestigious Indigenous hoops events on the B.C. basketball calendar. The event, which is always held in Prince Rupert, has been running since 1960.

The pandemic, however, did force the cancellation of the 2021 tournament. The 2020 tourney was held in February of that year, a month before COVID-19 became common in our vocabulary and lockdowns and cancellations started occurring, including for sports events around the world.

Besides the women’s division, the ANBT also features divisions for intermediate men’s (21 and under), men’s and masters (35 and over).

Squads traditionally travel from every corner of the province to take part in the tournament.

ANBT chair Peter Haugen previously said organizers had discussed whether to try to have an event in 2021.

Officials would have been required to follow the guidelines of health authorities, who were limiting the number of people for gatherings.

But since paying spectators play a crucial role at tournaments to help cover costs, Haugan said the decision was made to cancel last year’s event.

Coupled with last year’s cancellation, Haugan felt the basketball-hungry community in B.C. could witness the largest number of participating clubs for the 2022 event.

A record 64 clubs competed at the 50th anniversary of the tournament in 2010.

Organizers were also anticipating a possible record number of participants because some clubs were no longer forced to take part in a November qualifying tournament to get into the ANBT.

The qualifying event was cancelled because organizers were unsure of what capacity limits would be at the time.

Haugan felt registering directly for the ANBT could contribute to record participation.

But now it remains to be seen if this year’s event will indeed happen and if so, whether that number will be surpassed.

Comments on the ANTB Facebook page have been mixed since Tuesday’s announcement of the new proposed dates for the 2022 tourney.

While some are pleased organizers are still planning to stage the event, others believe it is unwise to do so considering the high number of COVID cases still in the province.

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