After a couple years of COVID-caused cancellations and postponements, the Surrey RCMP Classic is back for five days of basketball action starting Sunday (Jan. 8).
The all-Surrey boys tournament will be played at Enver Creek Secondary and other school gyms in the city, with 48 teams involved in senior and junior divisions.
The seniors get going Sunday with qualifying-round games at Langley Events Centre, with finals to follow Saturday, Jan. 14 at Enver Creek Secondary.
Last winter, the 2022 tournament was delayed by a month, and no spectators were allowed in the gym for the final game, due to pandemic gathering restrictions.
In February, a fired-up Fleetwood Park Dragons team won their first Classic tournament championship with a 87-81 victory over Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers, the defending champs. The Dragons led 45-41 at the half and held on for the win.
Prior to 2022, the last Classic tournament was held in January 2020, a few months before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. That year, Tweedsmuir scratched their way to a 67-64 win over Tamanawis Wildcats in the senior division final, played in a gym packed with spectators.
The gym at the Bear Creek Park-area school will this year host a big banquet, new to the tournament. More than 400 guests are confirmed for the Jan. 9 event, according to Rob Rai, Surrey Schools’ director of School and Community Connections for Safe Schools.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities during COVID, and the pandemic really isolated kids when it came to sports and tournaments like this,” Rai said. “So we really want to celebrate a couple things — people getting back together, kids playing sports again, and we really didn’t have a chance to properly celebrate the 30th anniversary (of the tournament), either.”
The very first Surrey RCMP Classic was played in the fall of 1991 at Queen Elizabeth Secondary. The three-day tourney saw eight teams compete (Earl Marriott, Frank Hurt, Guildford Park, Lord Tweedsmuir, North Surrey, Pacific Academy, QE and Semiahmoo). Semiahmoo won the championship game, 63-36 over Frank Hurt.
This year’s banquet will be popular among all the players, coaches and others involved in the 2023 tournament, Rai predicted.
“We want to go really big with it, and we already have 409 athletes and coaches confirmed for the banquet,” he said on Dec. 21, “so I think everyone thinks it’s a great idea, the coaches and players, everyone. It’ll be pasta, Caesar salad and garlic bread, banquet style. We’ll do it right because we have to, to get everyone to come back the next time we do it. We’ll talk about the tournament history, we’ll have RCMP members who once played in the tournament to talk about that, so it’s about coming back full-circle.”
While planning the banquet, Rai and others have looked at the three-decade history of the tournament.
“It’s a Surrey cultural event, now, and (the tournament) is now part of Surrey’s identity, a big deal in the basketball world,” Rai confirmed.
“We’re finding old programs, and we have a lot of original shirts from the back in the day, so it’s been fun looking at all that stuff, all the history, old photos,” he added.
Rai never played in the Classic because he went to high school in North Delta.
“But I did coach multiple years at the tournament, at Tamanawis, both senior and junior levels,” he added. “We never won, but we had top-five finishes in senior and junior as well. Those were good years, and this year it’ll be great to have spectators back in the gyms for all the games.”
For 2023, the senior tournament will be played a week earlier than the juniors.
“Mainly that’s done to have enough refs for all the games,” said Rick Inrig, tournament co-founder and co-chair. “We actually did that last year too, because of COVID and also because of playoff schedules.
“Getting back to normal, it’s nice,” Inrig continued, “and it’s great for the kids because now they have the opportunity to be playing basketball like they should, and not losing out like they did for a couple of years, not playing full schedules. It’s a healthy environment to get back doing it right again.”
Scholarships will again be handed out, and the competition will be stiff, Inrig said.
“Fleetwood and Enver Creek are going to be strong, and Tamanawis,” he elaborated. “Fleetwood are defending champs, and they have a strong club still, so we’ll see how they do. And Tweedsmuir will probably be hanging around, you never know with them. It will be a competitive tournament, for sure.”
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Three former players at the Surrey RCMP Basketball Classic are now working as police officers in the city.
Cpl. Dan Lowe, a 20-year officer with Surrey RCMP, played in the inaugural Classic back in 1991-92.
“I am very proud of the legacy our tournament has created over the years,” Lowe said in a February 2022 news release that included “then and now” photos of the three police officers.
“Having played in the very first tournament, I am excited to participate again, this time as a police officer, for the 30th anniversary.”
Among B.C.’s largest basketball tournaments, Surrey’s Classic assists student athletes with scholarships and also connects the young players with the local police community.
Insp. Harm Dosange, Surrey RCMP Community Support and Safety Officer, currently oversees a variety of units including the Surrey RCMP Youth Unit. He played in the Classic back in 1993.
“(The tournament) was a marquee sports event for me as a youth,” Dosange said last February.
“Now that my own kids go to school in Surrey, it’s even more meaningful to me to see this sporting tradition carry on.”
Sgt. Mandeep Atwal participated in the tournament in both 1992 and 1993.
“It was a great way to connect with other basketball players,” he recalled.
“I had positive interactions with Surrey RCMP officers and seeing members of law enforcement at the tournament really hit home for me. It motivated me to get involved and influence youth in a positive way.”