As Dalhousie and Halifax prepare to host the 2017 U SPORTS Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championship, I often reflect on my passion, history and attachment to this event.
As a young basketball enthusiast, I vividly remember my dad taking me to the Metro Centre (now Scotiabank Centre) to watch the finest basketball in Canada. More importantly, I quickly developed my own heroes…Eli Pasquale of the great University of Victoria teams being among the first. Through an old friend or colleague, my dad often found a way for me to get up close to the student-athletes, providing an opportunity for that all-important “high-five” or an autograph. My fascination with these basketball giants lead to a love for the game of basketball and a thirst to play at that level one day myself.
As my love and aptitude for the game grew, the Final 8 became a goal that seemed a little more attainable in high school. Guys I scrimmaged against in the summer were now playing on the Metro Centre floor and winning national championships (St. FX in 1993). The electricity in the building was electric and something to which we all aspired. Watching fans storm the court and celebrate an AUS school as “national champs” was so incredibly cool. It also created a question in my mind:” will I get that chance”?
Well I got that chance in 1996. As a member of the Dalhousie Tigers, I had the good fortune of being part of a group that won Dalhousie’s first AUS Championship in school history leading us on to represent the AUS at the Final 8. Before I go any further, it must be stated that I had very little to do with our championship run! I was, at best, a hard-working point guard who didn’t shoot the ball very well and wasn’t gifted with incredible athleticism, but I loved being part of that team! To be blunt, bench towels were for waving and cheering on my teammates, not wiping sweat off my face when I came off the floor. That year, we met the University of Toronto in front of seven thousand fans and took a lead into intermission, but it wasn’t our day. We bowed out in the first round and our national championship dream came to an end, but the experience of playing in the Final 8 in my hometown representing Dalhousie was something I will never forget.
My experience with the Final 8 continued as I completed my MBA at the University of Alberta. Coach Don Horwood welcomed me to his coaching staff and in 2002, I traveled back to Halifax as a member of the University of Alberta Golden Bears. What struck me while in Alberta was the incredible fondness the coaches and players in Canada West had for Halifax and the Final 8. It was not simply about getting a crack at a national championship; a trip to the Final 8 was a cultural, social and educational experience that people longed for! As a Haligonian, I took great pride in the fact that “our people” created such a welcoming environment for coaches, staff and student-athletes from around the country…and it was appreciated! That Final 8 experience had a storybook ending as we went on to defeat the University of Western Ontario to capture the national championship.
As I started my career in Toronto, the Final 8 soon found a new home outside of Halifax. Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver all have had the pleasure of hosting this great event. Like many from our region, I was heartbroken to see it leave Halifax. It felt like a little piece of our town had been torn away with no indication it was going to return for an extended period. I have often said, the Final 8 is an important thread in the fabric of Halifax.
Now in my third year as the Director of Athletics at Dalhousie, I am thrilled to be part of a group that has brought the Final 8 back home where it belongs. Our partnership with Acadia University and Sport & Entertainment Atlantic is a great demonstration of collaboration, vision and leadership. I believe our city and region benefits significantly from events like the Final 8 on multiple levels. I hope our community understands the opportunity before us and supports this event like we did for decades. If we do a great job of hosting and supporting this event in 2017 and 2018, we will position Halifax as a home for this event for years to come.
As I reflect on my relationship with the Final 8 and the various touch points I have been fortunate to experience, I can only hope that the same opportunities are provided to others. The autograph an 8-year-old receives from his favourite Dal Tiger on Thursday, March 9th may be the spark that sets him or her on a path that has a few bricks that say “Final 8”.
Athletic Director, Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia