Home Court Advantage

It’s a reunion for the ages. On Sept. 24–25, three decades worth of Bison basketball alumni will come together for two days worth of festivities, celebrating one of the most successful periods in all of Manitoban basketball.

Former players from Bison teams of 1955 to 1976 will travel across Canada, some even from the far reaches of the Arizona and Atlanta, to meet with their fellow basketball brethren and share stories of past glory. There will be some dining, some golf, even an informal shoot-around, but above all else the main objective of the event will be to reminisce.

A former all-Canadian and three time conference all-star, Ross Wedlake is helping to spearhead the reunion effort and was involved in the genesis of the event itself.

“The last two or three summers we’ve had a golf gathering involving several basketball players from that era and the talks started from there,” said Wedlake, a member of the Bisons from 1966 to 1971. “We thought because this is the Manitoba homecoming year and because that weekend is the homecoming weekend it would be an appropriate time to do it.”

The choice to gather members from this particular period of Bison basketball might seem arbitrary upon first glance but a quick look at the accomplishments and accolades the Bison team was able to collect over that period makes the picture all the more clear.

“[The time period was chosen] in part because the people involved in that era of basketball are still reasonably well connected. In all honesty, too, that era of Bison men’s basketball was [ . . . ] no question the most successful era of Bison men’s basketball,” said Wedlake.

From 1955 to 1976 the Bison men’s basketball team accumulated one CIAU National Championship, numerous CIAU Player of the Year awards, two national Coach of the Year awards, and numerous All-Canadian, All-Conference, national and Olympic team selections. The team was also a two-time national finalist in that period and would have several members later inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame.

The appeal of the reunion is simple — meet up with old friends, socialize with past teammates — but there is somewhat of an ulterior motive behind this grand Bison basketball meeting. Sept. 24, the night of the reunion banquet dinner, will also serve as the inaugural presentation of the Jack A. Lewis award, named in honour of the former coach who led the Bison during the glory years.

“Jack Lewis was, first of all, a very successful coach record-wise, but more so [ . . . ] he was someone who was really in it for the right reasons,” said Wedlake. “He knew that winning was important but the most important thing was the people and he did a great, great deal to support and encourage not only the people on the basketball team, but many students in the faculty of physical education.”

The honour will be handed out annually, beginning this month, and will award a member of the men’s basketball team a prize of at least $1,000. Discussions of creating the Lewis award began earlier in the year when, prompted by the passing of the prolific coach, former players decided to pool their efforts and pay tribute to their mentor.

The event itself will also be decorated with a wide array of photos, videos, clippings and various other memorable artifacts former players will be bringing with them to show others. Each invitation actually comes with a reminder to bring any basketball mementos or collectables as the goal is to have a visual collection — including uniforms, trophies, even programs — that spans from the ’50s through to the ’70s.

Overall, the effort behind this reunion is quite impressive and there is little doubt once the celebration is over Manitoba’s basketball community will be stronger for it. Following the night of Sept. 25, students, athletes and fans alike will be able to view a new plaque on the third floor of the Investors Group Athletic Centre commemorating Jack A. Lewis and the Lewis award.