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Last chance at basketball glory

Team Sask took advantage of their free throws, and took home a silver medal./Marvin Loeppky
Team Sask took advantage of their free throws, and took home a silver medal./Marvin Loeppky

Loeppky brings us home the silver!

The Canada Games are the pinnacle for junior-aged wheelchair basketball players across Canada. I was one of the chosen twelve to represent the team in green at this year’s games in Prince George, British Columbia. Here are the details:

I could say that the journey began with the only flight I have ever taken out of Regina that wasn’t delayed; I could also lie and tell you that the journey began at the beginning of the season; but, in reality, our campaign towards gold at Canada Games began (for me) four years previously, on our country’s opposite coast, in Halifax.

Last time we won bronze and the time before we also secured third place. Sufficed to say, we were looking for an upgrade. In fact, no Saskatchewan team had ever managed better than third. Watching Quebec win the gold in 2011, I remember thinking that, next time around, I was going to be in that position. Forget that we were losing a lot of our team to graduation, ignore the fact that we were not known as a wheelchair basketball powerhouse, I was going to have a medal around my neck that signified Saskatchewan history.

Fast forward, it’s the first game of the tournament, we are missing our best player (Nikola Goncin, a national team athlete who is currently finishing up his collegiate playing career at the University of Illinois) because of fog and delayed/canceled flights between Toronto and Prince George, we are shooting below thirty percent from the field, and the game is tied at 19-19. Our opponent? Ontario, the rebuilding but still dangerous reigning silver medalists. Did I mention that we went into the tournament as the number one seed? A little bit of pressure there.
We were all worried at that moment. Worried that all of our time spent in the gym, the countless hours of preparation, were going to be ruined because of some pesky air traffic control scheduling and a busy athlete’s schedule.

In the second half, however, we showed how we could play, even sans our superstar, and came away with a 49-31 win. We all breathed a sigh of relief and got to relax before our next couple of contests.

But, as always, it wasn’t all about what happened inside the gym. First of all, the people of Prince George were amazing hosts. We were able to meet athletes from all over the country in a variety of different sports (so blame it on the Canada Games council if I try downhill skiing next) and bond as a squad in a way that is just not possible during regular tournaments. The opening ceremonies were a hair-raising experience and the whole city was buzzing with the excitement of the event, often quoted as the largest of its kind to ever be held in the city.

Wheelchair basketball is a small community. You’re on a first-name basis with almost everyone, so grudges are almost impossible to hold, and friendships resume as soon as the final whistle is blown. With that being said, everyone in the gym was cheering for someone to beat Quebec, who were seeking a four-peat, having dominated the competition since it made its debut in 1995. It just so happened that we were the ones who got the chance to do so.

They say that you lose silver, implying that you failed in coming second, but we, the members of Team Saskatchewan as well as our supporters, won that silver and made Saskatchewan history. What a way to end a tournament, what a way to end a career.

 

About John Loeppky

I am an athlete with a writing problem, or a writer with a sports problem, you decide. When I’m not editing, playing wheelchair sports, or advocating for the disabled, you can find me de-stressing with friends.