LANGLEY — Brien Gemmell has already thought about how he’s going to be spending some key moment this coming weekend.
“Hopefully, I’ll be watching our (senior varsity football team) win at B.C. Place, and I’ll be live-streaming our (senior) girls (volleyball team) on my phone while they are doing the same at their B.C. championships,” the co-athletic director at Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School said early Thursday, looking ahead to this Saturday, one of the two busiest days of the B.C. high school championship season.
No. 5 Lord Tweedsmuir meets No. 2 Vancouver College in that Subway Bowl AAA final under the dome. Meanwhile, the school’s volleyball team began its three-day run at the B.C. senior girls Quad-A championships with the hope that it could qualify for the title match Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
The girls volleyball final starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by the football final at 7 p.m.
Yet if you take the Cloverdale-area school’s senior Class of 2020 back to the start of their collective K-to-12 careers in 2007-08, you’d have found very little that year to distinguish the accomplishments of Panthers’ student-athletes from the rest of the provincial pack.
Yet come this Saturday, Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary becomes just the second public high school in B.C. high school sports history, and the first this century, to have played in consecutive, top-tiered football and boys basketball championship games in at least the last 53 years, and likely ever.
When a Panthers’ football program which wasn’t even launched until 2004, defeated Vancouver’s Notre Dame Jugglers 26-14 last Saturday to earn its first-ever Subway Bowl B.C. Triple-A championship game berth, it was following in the footsteps of the school’s senior boys basketball team, which last March beat the Kelowna Owls in a 91-86 thriller to capture B.C. Quad-A title.
Whether the championship game appearances came in the same academic year, or in connected spring-fall seasons spanning two academic years, the top-tiered football-basketball title-game appearance double-double is so challenging that only one other public school has managed to pull it off.
Richmond Secondary’s Colts, in fact, have done it three times, most recently with the only three-straight streak (winning basketball in March of 1998 with bookend football titles in 1997 and ’98).
The Colts also pulled the double-double by winning the basketball title in March of 1987 then losing in the football final that December; and in the same academic year of 1983-84, they lost in both the football and basketball finals.
Vancouver College, a private school and Lord Tweedsmuir’s foe in Saturday’s Subway Bowl final, has accomplished the feat twice, with a basketball title in March of 1967 and a football championship game appearance the following December, and a football title in 2010 followed by a basketball title in 2011. Football records do not indicate runner-up schools from 1934-65.
“Obviously, things like this don’t happen overnight,” continued Gemmell, “and it’s not just about the football and basketball programs, but about having a dedicated core of coaches. You need the support of your athletic department and your administration. That stuff goes a long ways.
“If you don’t have the right people in place, the ones who don’t just develop individual skills, but put it all together into a team program, you don’t get to this point.”
From a football standpoint alone, the CV is impressive: A Subway Bowl B.C. senior AA finals appearance in 2005, Subway Bowl B.C. JV titles in 2005, 2016 and 2017 as well as Grade 8 Quadra Cup B.C. championships in 2010, 2011 and 2014.
In boys basketball, a 2018 B.C. junior varsity championship game appearance was followed by last season’s senior boys Quad A provincial championship win.
In girls basketball, Lord Tweedsmuir won the 2017 B.C. senior girls top-tiered Triple A title.
And this weekend, while football chases its first senior varsity AAA title, the senior girls volleyball team does the same at the Langley Events Centre, coming off a season in which it was ranked No. 1 in the final top-tiered Quad A poll.
PANTHERS FOOTBALL ROLLS WITH THE CHANGES
Saturday’s Subway Bowl main event championship final is the first meeting between the two programs since Lord Tweedsmuir opposed Vancouver College in the 2017 B.C. junior Triple A junior varsity title game.
Yet when you read the Varsity Letters’ game report from that contest, won 23-13 by Lord Tweedsmuir, you discover just how much change there has been to the Panthers’ roster since that day.
“We’re a public school, and a lot of times, kids come and go,” begins Lord Tweedsmuir head coach Kurt Thornton, now in his 15th straight season at the helm of the football Panthers.
“A guy like Colton Cameron is now off playing hockey for the Prince George Spruce Kings,” said Thornton of the star running back who rushed for a pair of scores in that 2017 game.
“Then there’s a guy like Jackson Corneil, who has focussed on volleyball and basketball,” added Thornton of the 6-foot-6 standout, who that day booted a key field goal, who last season was huge in helping lead the basketball team to its B.C. title, and who is so ‘across-the-board’ talented that volleyball is set to be his collegiate focus.
“And then Noah (Anderson) had a broken ankle that year and didn’t even play in the game,” sums Thornton of the valuable running back who this season has teammed with Haydn Stomperud and Tremel States-Jones to form a dangerous three-headed offensive backfield.
Through it all, Lord Tweedsmuir has turned in an exceptional campaign in going 10-2 overall, its only losses coming against Kelowna and St. Thomas More.
Yet it has been all the more impressive in that as the playoffs began, the Panthers elected to make a most substantial switch by changing their starting quarterback.
Senior Terrel Jones, a receiver by trade who is also a free safety and place-kicker, took on the job of QB-1 and made 10 straight starts, including the wild-card playoff round against Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Hawks.
Yet early in that game, Grade 11 understudy Key’Shaun Dorsey, a newcomer to the program, was forced into action and performed so well that the coaching staff realized, that to become deeper and more dangerous, it was time to make the switch.
“Terrel started the Mouat game, but he got his helmet ripped off and had to come out,” remembers Thornton. “So we put Key’Shaun in and he made plays right away.”
Dorsey, a former Terry Fox Ravens quarterback, had moved over the summer, but showed up so late for Tweedsmuir fall camp that Thornton and offensive coordinator Nick Kawaza had already planned to have Jones as their starter in 2019.
“When Key’Shaun moved here over the summer, we had already game-planned for the first game of the year,” Thornton continued, “and so it was hard to throw someone in who didn’t know the terminology. Plus, we were heavily invested in Terrel Jones. He played quarterback because the team needed him, but the decision (to go with Dorsey) was coming. We just weren’t sure if or when it would happen this season.”
The move has made the Panthers a different football team very late in the season, with Jones fattening up the receiving core with his size, smarts and desire, and Dorsey bringing more of the prototype skill set to the pivot.
“Having Dorsey at QB gets another weapon on the field, and putting Jones at receiver makes them more dynamic on the edge,” said Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett after Dorsey went 14-of-22 for 178 yards, including a picture-perfect roll-out strike to States-Jones for a 22-yard touchdown strike against Notre Dame last week. “It’s like having Thanksgiving Day dinner delivered to your door when you were about to sit down to pizza. Pizza’s good, but turkey and all the sides? Come on now, it’s no contest. So just in time for the playoffs, Lord Tweedsmuir has this full compliment of delicious options show up.”
Adds Tweedsmuir’s States-Jones: “Having Key’Shaun and Terrel on the field at the same time has expanded what we can do with the offence. It really opens up the playbook.”
Of course, the change at quarterback can’t be undersold, if as much for simple fact that it introduces an element of the unknown.
“We may use both of them, but we don’t know, it’s still early in the week,” Thornton said Monday.
And it just further illustrates how different a Lord Tweedsmuir team this is than the one which beat the Irish in the 2017 junior final.
Bernett puts it all into perspective.
“The previous match-up in 2017 was an emotional test for both teams, but I don’t think it is any more relevant than that,” he said. “They have a right to feel bolstered by that win, and our guys feel motivated to redeem themselves. But beyond that there is not much relevance. A lot has happened since then in terms of scheme, player growth and development, and response to coaching.”
“…THINGS LIKE THIS DON’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT”
If you’ve taken in a Lord Tweedsmuir football game over the past few seasons, you’ve no doubt seen Brien Gemmell holding the microphone, not only announcing the plays along with the down-and-distance, but doing his best to make high school sporting events an inclusive part of the Tweedsmuir experience for the entire student body, and alums.
Ask him about all that has gone into making Tweedsmuir one of the province’s top public school’s for the team-centred student-athlete experience, however, and he drops that mike in salute to the loyalty and dedication of a massive group of Panthers’ coaches.
“So many of the football coaches, like coach Thornton and coach (Jordy) Cameron have been there for so many years,” says Gemmell, himself the president of the B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association. “We have people who are passionate about our community. They love what they are doing. They are dedicated teachers, but they are also dedicated parents who coached as their own kids came through the programs, but then just ended up staying for years.”
Gemmell reels off a list of names like Drew Gallacher, Gary Pawluk, Jenni Robinson, Sarah Corneil, Raj Bagry and Mike Mitro, the latter his co-athletic director, and knows that there are many more he has missed.
Before the big day even gets here, however, all of those who have carry a heartfelt investment in Lord Tweedsmuir athletics can take pride in the fact that over the last dozen or so years, their efforts to create a true high school sports culture at their Cloverdale campus has already made them winners.
So come Saturday, as Gemmell says, it will be time to cheer for championships.
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