A school from a remote Nuu-chah-nulth community certainly defied the odds this year and was able to experience some on-court success.
Though Kyuquot Elementary Secondary School only has 40 enrolled students – that’s in Grades 1 through 12 – it was still able to have a senior boys’ basketball team this academic year.
The Kyuquot squad did manage to win a handful of its regular season contests. And the club then registered a victory during its three games at the North Island high school senior boys’ A qualifying tournament held Feb. 11-12 in Nanaimo.
Seven teams participated at the qualifying tourney. And the top four finishers advanced to the Island tournament, which begins Feb. 24 in Victoria.
The Kyuquot squad, however, did not place in the top four. It was eliminated from the double-knockout tourney after its second loss.
School officials though were thrilled that the team was simply able to hit the court this season. Although current school reps are unaware when Kyuquot last had a basketball club, it has not been in recent memory.
“I have heard that in the past we did field teams,” said Marty Szetela, who is in his fifth year as principal at the Kyuquot school. “But it’s certainly the first time in a long time that we did.”
Kyuquot is an unincorporated settlement located on northwestern Vancouver Island in the territory of the Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h' First Nations.
“It’s a feel-good story,” Szetela said. “It’s a small community that is isolated and it has kids getting an opportunity to play.”
High school senior teams traditionally feature students in Grades 11 and 12. Kyuquot’s 10-player roster this season included two individuals in Grade 8, one in Grade 9 and two others in Grade 10.
“Even though they competed as a senior high school basketball team, we allowed kids in the three other grades to be on the team,” Szetela said. “That was the only way we could field a team.”
Szetela himself got a taste of just how much the squad improved during the course of the season.
Szetela and staff members were edged 40-30 in a friendly game against the team early on during the year.
But when a rematch was staged later in the season, a blowout ensued.
“I think the score was 107-46 (for the students),” Szetela said. “They definitely improved.”
Szetela was also pleased to see the club fare better against its peers as the season progressed. During the team’s first tournament of the season in Campbell River, the Kyuquot team failed to win a game and was defeated by more than 70 points in each outing.
“I’ve never met people with more heart,” said the team’s coach Matthew Thompson.
That’s because he said he never heard his players complain, even when they were being convincingly defeated.
“We got rocked,” Thompson said of his team’s early-season tournament losses. “But the players were saying ‘We’re here to learn and we’re going to get better.’”
At the North Island qualifying tournament, the Kyuquot club registered a victory against a Gold River team. And its losses were against teams from Campbell River and Comox.
“They were playing against teams that have been practicing five years straight,” Thompson said of his charges. “And we put up a fight.”
Thompson added the gym at the Kyuquot school does not even come close to featuring a regulation-sized basketball court.
“That was a huge hurdle for us,” he said. “It was like a quarter gym.”
The Kyuquot team also had some travel challenges just to play their opponents. Their nearest rivals are from Zeballos.
A trip to that school first required a 35-minute ride via a water taxi. And that was followed by a 50-minute drive on a dirt road.
To get to Campbell River, the Kyuquot club had an extra two-hour drive after arriving in Zeballos.
Thompson added despite all the obstacles they faced, his players were keen to continue and improve.
“I was super proud of all of the kids,” he said. “They practiced super hard all year long. And we got better.”
School officials are also hoping to have a senior boys’ team next season. And they might have some company.
“Our girls would like to have a basketball team,” Szetela said. “And based on the model this year, we may give it a whirl.”
The two Grade 8 students on the Kyuquot roster this season were Eian John and Blayke John.
Caleb Hansen was the lone Grade 9 student on the team while Calvin Hansen and Ei-Rae Atleo were the two Grade 10 players.
And among the actual senior students, Desmond Bell was the only Grade 11 on the club. The Grade 12 students that were team members were Adam John, Daylin George, Kei-Shawn Charleson and Ethan Blackstone.