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Excitement builds for 2024 All Native Basketball Tournament

A brief history of the ANBT with tip-off just 10 days away
Skidegate’s Landon Dircks takes a shot over Prince Rupert’s Rylan Adams during the Intermediate final at the 2023 All Native Basketball Tournament Feb. 18 in Prince Rupert. (Melissa Ash photo)

The countdown is on with the 64th All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) just three days away and the excitement in the city of rainbows has grown to fever pitch.

In 1958, a group of friends organized a small soccer and basketball tournament in Prince Rupert for the Easter weekend.

Sixty-five years later, the All Native Basketball Tournament is one of the biggest sporting events in B.C.

“It started as a sporting event with the intermediate and senior basketball teams. It very quickly became a social event where everybody marked it on their calendar to meet old friends and just renew local acquaintances and make new ones,” said tournament chair Peter Haugan.

“Then it became a cultural event. We introduced the craft fair with all Native crafts, Native foods and opening ceremonies.”

The competition has also gradually expanded over the years. In 1993, after years of calls for masters and women’s divisions, the ANBT grew to four divisions.

Next year it will add a fifth division bringing in women’s masters (age 35-plus) teams for the first time.

The history of the event has not been without its financial troubles. When the ANBT splashed the cash to celebrate its 50th annual event in 2008, it was left on the brink of bankruptcy.

But it resiliently bounced back and was going strong again until the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down for a year in 2021.

While money issues stressed the organizers, Haugan said any financial challenges they have had were met with a strong community support.

With COVID, that response included help from Community Futures Pacific Northwest, an organization that helps local entrepreneurs and non-profits navigate the world of finances.

Community Futures shepherded ANBT through the federal Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) program to secure a $40,000 loan.

John Farrell, Community Futures general manager, said his organization was happy to be able to facilitate the loan for ANBT.

“We’ve always been a big supporter of the All Native Basketball tourney. Not only is it a unique gathering event, but it produces economy for [the city]. Everybody gets a chance to serve and provide products and services to not only the athletes, but all the different communities that gather in Prince Rupert for the games.”

The $2 billion RRRF was targeted to businesses and non-profit organizations that did not qualify for other forms of COVID-19-related assistance, particularly those like ANBT that rely on putting on events that were curtailed by the pandemic.

“I’m really glad that they could use the funding and that they were able to pay it back within the deadline because it also allowed them to have a portion of their loan forgiven,” Farrell said.

ANBT only had to pay back $30,000 of the $40,000 loan.

COVID also impacted participation in the tournament, so in 2022 to kickstart it again, organizers eliminated the qualifying tournament attracting 52 teams. Last year and this year it did the same and when ANBT 2024 kicks off on Feb. 10, there will be 60 teams in the field.

This will be the last year for direct entry into the main event, however.

With 60 teams, the tournament is at capacity and next year, with the addition of the women’s masters division, ANBT will be going back to the qualifier, said committee member Thomas McKay.

How many teams enter the qualifying tournament will determine how many teams have to be dropped from each division for 2025.

“We’ll have to set how many team entries in each division it will take in to accommodate time slots in the draws,” said McKay.

The other big recent announcement for the 2024 tournament was the addition of two new committee members, Memory Brown and Vern Barker.

Brown managed the Old Massett Masters team for six years, winning that division in 2013 and 2014. She has also been involved as a vendor for several years along with her husband James Sawyer, an artist.

Barker is a long-time supporter and participant in the ANBT. He has coached and managed the Prince Rupert Cubs, who won the Intermediate Division last year, for 10 years and still plays on the Prince Rupert Trojans masters team.

“Today, the tournament is big in a lot of different ways. It’s the largest cultural event in our country, it’s one of the largest basketball tournaments in our country,” Haugan said.

“And the fact that it’s been happening in this community… for 65 years, shows the strength and commitment of communities to come back and watch every year. Because without the fans, I don’t know how you would run this.”

Haisla’s Mary Ann Amos (white) breaks for the basket against Similkameen’s Jasmine Montgomery (tournament Women’s MVP) during the Women’s championship game at the 2023 All Native Basketball Tournament Feb. 18 in Prince Rupert. (Thom Barker photo)
After winning the Intermediate Division title at the All Native Basketball Tournament against the Skidegate Saints, tournament MVP Rylan Adams of the Prince Rupert Cubs rushed into the stands to celebrate with his grandparents. (Thom Barker photo)

Thom Barker

About the Author: Thom Barker

After graduating with a geology degree from Carleton University and taking a detour through the high tech business, Thom started his journalism career as a fact-checker for a magazine in Ottawa in 2002.
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