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Luther Invitational Tournament a community mainstay

Author: Matt Wincherauk | Editor in Chief

Now that's the definition of community/Brett Nielsen
Now that’s the definition of community/Brett Nielsen

64th edition of the tournament draws community fans

I

n its 64 years, the Luther Invitational Tournament has become a staple of the Regina community, with hundreds of people coming out every year to watch the longest running and most prestigious high school basketball tournament in western Canada. LIT is a constantly evolving event, with new features being added every year, but despite the changes, so many things have stayed the same.

After 64 years, LIT has a truly extensive history, and it’s something that the school and its alumni value. Former Luther player and coach Dick Stark talked about what it means to come back to the tournament, and witness it evolve since the first tournament all the way back in 1953.

“It’s a great time, and I get to see so many people that I haven’t seen from last year! It’s good fun, and the basketball is great. I can’t say how much it means to me.”

Former Tournament Director, and current Co-Director Dave Hall talked about the legacy that tournament founder John Chomay, and so many former students and faculty have left behind over the years.

“As many changes that everyone sees, there’s so much that stays the same. Those foundations were set many years ago by the founder John Chomay, but once students got involved back in the ‘70s under the leadership of Gerry Harris and Dick Stark, and when the students took ownership of it, that’s when it really changed into something unique,” Hall said with a smile. “It’s still about friendship and sportsmanship, but the students doing a lot of the work and taking pride in it, that’s what changed. And we’re happy that that continues to be the case. The bonds that are made between people are the really fun part of the tournament.”

A shot of the LIT Blitz/ Brett Nielsen
A shot of the LIT Blitz/ Brett Nielsen

So, what’s changed for the 64th LIT? The biggest addition was the girl’s Challenge Cup transitioning into a full four-team tournament. Talking to Tournament Director Troy Casper, the school couldn’t have been more excited seeing the girls get their opportunity to shine.

“The way that this tournament has evolved, to allow the female program to keep evolving and involve them like the guys is huge. Having them involved just makes so much sense, and they deserve it. It’s the right time, and we can’t say that we can’t do it,” Casper told the Carillon.

An added benefit of having the girls tournament means that the school could incorporate the Merlis Belsher Centre back into the tournament, which had seen so many LITs until it transitioned into the Semple Gym last year, which means a lot to former alums like Casper.

“Before the logistics weren’t there with the one gym, but now we have the opportunity, and we think it’s the right time. And what it does is bring the Belsher Centre back into it, which is huge for us, and alumni. Let’s use that facility.”

But Casper and the Luther staff aren’t satisfied with just a four-team girl’s tournament, and are aiming even higher for future LITs. It might not happen right away, but those involved in the tournament are fully expecting to see the girl’s tournament expand to match the boy’s side. Hall expressed his elation in seeing the girl’s side of the tournament continuing to evolve in the future.

“With the girls tournament, it was nice to build on something that had a long tradition, in keeping eight boys and adding more girls was fantastic. I think it’ll expand in very quick order to eight and eight.”

The Luther senior girls certainly did not disappoint in this inaugural girl’s bracket, taking home the championship over the LeBoldus Golden Suns. Doing so puts them in special company, having won the first tournament, like the Luther boy’s team did back in 1953.

The Luther girls team in action/ Brett Neilsen
The Luther girls team in action/ Brett Nielsen

What hasn’t changed for LIT is the passion that the students, faculty and staff have for the tournament that they put so much time and effort into every year. Luther teacher and former senior boy’s basketball coach Drew Hunter talked about how important it was to the students to get involved, even if they aren’t on one of the basketball teams.

“It’s a way for every kid to get involved. You have the players who get into the action, but this is something where everyone can pitch in and get involved by decorating things and creating the atmosphere for the tournament and we really take pride in what they do.”

Coach Stark echoed the sentiment that Hunter put forth about the students, noting the sportsmanship that LIT has become so famous for.

“I can’t say enough about what the students do, they’re phenomenal. They were when I was here, and they are now. They’re generous with their time and considerate of everybody, and I haven’t heard a visiting team say a bad thing about the tournament. And the sportsmanship. I don’t think it’s been just at our tournament, but in Regina basketball in general.”

Fans show their support/ Brett Neilsen
Fans show their support/ Brett Nielsen

While the students have a certain sense of ownership over the tournament, putting their own unique stamp on LIT each year, the faculty enjoy their time working on the tournament just as much. Director Casper compared the challenge of directing such a large endeavor to that of coaching, something the physical education and wellness teacher has done for many years.

“[I]t’s allowing people to be creative and allowing them to do all sorts of stuff that they want to do. You just need someone from the school who can say that you can do it, making sure that it’s cost efficient, bringing ideas to the group, and making decisions,” Casper said. “A good example of this is the theme. If I ask 75 kids what the theme is going to be, I’m going to get so many different answers. So the committee heads come back as a group with three ideas each, we then have a vote with the heads, and then they go back to their groups and start brainstorming. And after that, the ideas just keep flowing. It’s all about keeping things on pace, and being someone they can speak to, so it legitimizes what they’re thinking.”

While the faculty help to mold and guide the tournament, the students and players are the heart and soul of the tournament, shaping LIT with their creativity and passion. Luther Lions senior girl’s guard, and a member of the first girl’s tournament championship, Jaden Cook, talked about what it was like to be a part of LIT with her teammates, and always have the memory of being the first champion.

“This is such a fun team. We are a family, and a community, and it was so much fun to win with them,” Cook said with a big smile on her face. “We can always have [the LIT championship] for ourselves, and it shows that the girls tournament really is a big thing.”

Senior boy’s guard Callan Willimott shared the same feelings towards LIT, talking about how much of an honour it was to play in the tournament that he had been attending ever since he was a little kid.

“It was unreal. I’ve been watching LIT since I was a baby and being able to play in it, and wear the uniform, was an honour. I loved it.”

While the love for basketball is quite apparent with Callan, there’s also a sense of pride when it comes to the work that his fellow students put in to the tournament, whether they’re working for a committee, or even just working at the Ackbar Snack Bar concession booth.

“I think it really sums up what we’re about here at Luther. Most of the student body is involved in some way, whether you’re playing or on a committee, or even helping out at the concession booth, and that involvement sets us apart as a school.”

Even those who don’t play basketball have a love for the tournament and get involved in any way that they can, whether that’s helping to create the wonderful art that lines the walls of the gymnasium, setting things up at blitz night as the hours until the tournament tick down, or getting involved with any of the numerous student committees. One such student is Mikey Key, the chair of the Odd Jobs committee, whose responsibilities range from security to clean up after everyone has already left. Key talked about the excitement surrounding the tournament, and why getting involved was so important to him.

“I got involved in LIT because it’s a community-based tournament, and project, and mostly all of the Luther students get involved, whether it’s blitz night, or volunteering. And during the games they bring so much hype, and they enjoy it so much.”

One of the major changes over the last few years is the presence that social media has had on the tournament. As social networks have continued to expand, LIT and the media committee have done their best to keep up, and make sure that the tournament gets out to as many people as possible. Head of film studies Jay Willimott talked extensively about the role that media plays in making LIT the unique experience that it is.

“There’s always been media relations, where they do press releases, typing them up and mailing them out. Today we have every kind of social media outlet, including a Facebook site, our own website, as well as Twitter updates going out in real time. As far as the media committee, we have a group that U-Stream the game coming from the Semple Gymnasium that goes out worldwide, being picked up by alums and others that live around the world. The big difference is that the technology allows us to bring the game to those who can’t come to the gym. It’s still great to be in the gyms, but if you’re not here, you can keep track of what’s going on.”

Current Luther Lions player, SRC President, and member of the media committee Brock Lumbard helped to put together the website, and run the many social media accounts for the tournament. According to Lumbard, social media has become a major part of the tournament recently, and allows many alumni and fans who aren’t at the tournament, to stay updated in a number of different ways.

“The website is our centre, but to be honest, not really many people visit the website. We have Twitter, Facebook and SnapChat, and we find Twitter and SnapChat are the most frequently updated, with the scores being updated on Twitter every half. It’s something that is a lot of fun for media, because we’re all people who are interested in it, and we’re in high school so of course we know about social media! It becomes a lot of fun, and hopefully it keeps people who aren’t here engaged.”

Being an alumni of Luther College High School, I’m always astounded with the work an effort that the students and faculty put into LIT. Coming back every year to watch the games, and to awkwardly attempt to play basketball in the annual alumni game are things that I always look forward to participating in. Being a part of LIT is a special privilege, and seeing the traditions that I had been a part of for four years is something that I will always cherish.

The Luther alumni also took to the floor/ Brett Nielsen
The Luther alumni also took to the floor/ Brett Nielsen

At the end of the day, the LeBoldus Golden Suns took home their second straight LIT championship over the John Taylor Pipers, and continuing their incredible run of three straight finals appearances. The Suns exemplified the high level basketball, and sportsmanship that has become a staple of LIT for so many years.

With LIT over for another year, Co-Director Hall expressed his gratitude to the students, faculty, staff, players and community for being a part of another very successful tournament.

“Thank you to all the students who put in so much hard work, and thanks to the faculty and staff who made it possible. The players were great sportsmen, and thank you [to] the people of Regina who continue to support the tournament. It’s just a nice event for the school, and we appreciate all the support given to the school.”

While LIT may have ended for the year, the staff and students of Luther are eagerly anticipating the next tournament, a sentiment that Callan Willimott made evidently clear.

“I cannot wait. I wish it started tomorrow!”

And with that, we’ll see you at the 65th annual, LIT.

Until next time!/ Brett Nielsen
Until next time!/ Brett Nielsen

About John Loeppky

I am an MFA candidate, writer, editor, and administrative firefighter.