Liam McChensey (right) is off to an NCAA Div. 1 basketball career next season at Utah State. Before he gets there, however, he'd like to lead the Charles Hays Rainmakers to the B.C. Double A high school basketball title. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

Talking hoops with Prince Rupert’s old-school Rainmakers! Says star McChesney: “…we have the best chemistry in the province”

If you’re a B.C. high school boys basketball fan who slips into a nostalgic stupor upon simply hearing the name ‘Rainmakers’ then we’ve got good news for you.

While they are no longer the Prince Rupert Rainmakers, rather the Charles Hays Rainmakers, precious little else has changed about the northwest B.C. program which was old school before the phrase was ever even coined.

And based on the way they played this past weekend, losing to Quad-A No. 2 Terry Fox 84-80 en route to a second-place finish at the prestigious Vancouver College Emerald tournament, B.C.’s No. 1-ranked Double A team is a solid favourite to win the city’s first B.C. senior varsity title since longtime head coach Mel Bishop guided the then-PRSS squad to first-place finishes at the provincial Double-A championships in 1998 and 2001.

The original-vintage Rainmakers, of course, were the first team from outside of the Lower Mainland-Fraser Valley-Vancouver Island power base to win the B.C. title, capturing the 1964 crown under head coach Norm Vickery in what was then a single-tiered province.

And while every facet of our lives have changed in the 55 years since those Rainmakers would tackle the surrounding forests and hills to do their training runs, perhaps no team in the province has remained closer to its roots than the one hailing from the north coast’s port city.

Consider that there are only two gymnasiums in town, and that each year, when summer break arrives, all those with keys to the gymnasium at Charles Hays are required to turn them in.

With that, the doors remained locked until that first Tuesday after the Labour Day weekend as the city’s prime basketball-playing real estate is cut in half.

Last season’s senior guard Malcolm Brown sported the ink on his left arm that said it all: Family Is Everything. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Yet if it’s easy to see the negative side, there is also a positive one.

“You’ve heard of the All-Native Basketball Tournament?” asks Liam McChesney, the team’s 6-foot-9 star forward. “Well, the only other gym in Rupert is at the (Jim Ciccone) Civic Centre. The men all train there, so in the summer, we try to get into some games, and once we step onto the court, we battle, battle, battle. Afterwards, we’re all brothers.”

Think about that for a second, a high school team testing its mettle daily, for an entire summer, against seasoned players, grown men.

“If you’re taking it to the rim, you do so not expecting to have a foul called,” continues the NCAA Div. 1 Utah State-bound McChesney, 17 and one of the greatest talents the city has ever produced.

“It’s the most physical basketball I’ve ever played,” he continues. “They are so hard-nosed. They are just way stronger than we are. After a while, you have to find other ways to play.”

It’s like stepping into the fire and it’s built a level of toughness that has helped the Rainmakers start their season with a 15-2 record, including two wins over current Quad A No. 6 Kitsilano and another over former Quad-A No. 1 and current No. 7 Lord Tweedsmuir.

“We have shown we can compete at all levels which has been encouraging,” admits Ryan Bishop, 36, the assistant coach and the son of head coach Mel Bishop, 65. “What it comes down to is that they’re a good group of kids who are gym rats. There isn’t a whole lot to do sometimes in Prince Rupert so the kids put in a lot of time in the summer.”

A father and son team: Longtime head coach Mel Bishop (seated) is now 65. Son Ryan Bishop, 36, says he’s as thrilled as ever to be his dad’s assistant. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

TRAINS, PAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (FOR REAL)

Actually, they just put in a lot of time together. Period.

You’ve no doubt heard the stories of upcountry teams and their travel nightmares? Well, the Rainmakers have not been exempt.

Last season, wanting to get in some action prior to the start of Northwest Zone playoffs, Charles Hays had scheduled a Thursday-Friday twin-bill (Feb. 8-9) at Prince George’s Duchess Park Secondary.

The team boarded a train on the Wednesday morning prior, but it soon became delayed just outside of the city when a tree hit a break line and brought them to a halt for a number of hours.

Then, at about 11 p.m. that night, things ground to a halt again near Endako as another train became stuck on the midline. This time, however, it was more than a matter of waiting a couple of hours.

“We had to sit on the train in a siding for 33 hours,” remembers Ryan Bishop. “Finally, we got a bus to take us the rest of the way, making the trip a total of 36 hours before arriving in Prince George and having to play the next day in the afternoon, after not being able to play the first game because we were late arriving.”

It’s all part-and-parcel of being a Rainmaker.

“I think times like that bring us all together,” McChesney says. “It shows how we don’t get tired of each other and how our chemistry keeps growing. I think we have the best chemistry in the province.”

And oh by the way, after all the travails of their travel, the Rainmakers beat the then-No. 6-ranked AAA Condors 88-81.

Charles Hays’ Eric Lees (right) guards Clarence Fulton’s Nathan Banga on Day 4 action at last season’s B.C. Double A championships at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

THE RAINMAKER RULES

The Rainmakers’ results at last weekend’s Vancouver College Emerald tournament are perhaps the most remarkable series of performances in the B.C. boys high school game all season.

Charles Hays is, of course, an excellent team.

Yet they played only seven games against exclusive non-ranked competition over a span of 46 days from the time they lost to the Quad-A honourable mention Handsworth Royals Dec. 8 in the championship final of the Quinn Keast No Regrets tourney, until the week of the Emerald, which tipped off Jan. 24.

Kai Leighton brings a huge offensive game to the Rainmakers’ attack. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Nonetheless, they scheduled a pre-tourney game on the way down in Chilliwack, beating No. 9 Triple A G.W. Graham 69-50 last Wednesday.

They then proceeded to beat Lord Tweedsmuir 89-60 and Kitsilano 88-69 before their four-point loss to Terry Fox in games Thursday through Saturday.

How does a team that isolated from the mainstream power base of competition so ably maintain their edge after such extended periods of inactivity from actual in-game situations?

Like we said right off the top, they define a very mature, old-school belief system.

While McChesney’s vast talents (35 points-, 15 rebounds-, eight assists-per-game) have earned him the ability to test his skills against the best age-group talent in the world through his time this past summer with Canada Basketball’s Cadet team (a late groin injury during team camp in Mexico City forced him to miss a trip with the team to the FIBA World Basketball Cup in Argentina), the rest of the squad has simply made the best of everything available to them in their hometown.

Utah State proudly trumpeted the addition of Charles Hays’ senior forward Justin McChesney to its 2019-20 roster. (Graphic courtesy Utah State athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

“It’s a different approach money-wise for a guy to get down to Vancouver because it’s about $600 return from Prince Rupert,” says Ryan Bishop. “So they’ve had to find a different approach.”

As simply as it can be stated, it’s a template that can work anywhere.

This season’s team — featuring the likes of McChesney, Kai Leighton and Eric Lees — has taken another step forward from last season’s provincial tournament qualifier, a No. 4 seed which lost 91-80 to a senior-laden, No. 5-seeded Seycove Seyhawks team out of North Vancouver in the B.C. quarterfinals.

“At the end of the day, it’s about having confidence in every single guy to put points on the board,” says Bishop.

“We haven’t actually played a lot of Double-A teams, mostly Triple-A and Quad-A,” the assistant coach continues. “But that’s the thing about these guys. They don’t care about names, about rankings and whether they just played a No. 1 team or not. They are all-round players who take pride in their defence and are just confident that they will play their style of game.”

And of course, what would a story about an old-school basketball team be without an old-school comment, 

volunteered from the heart, by the team’s star player?

“We’re lucky that our coaches look at every single aspect of what it takes to make us better,” says McChesney, the younger brother of current UVic Vike Justin McChesney.

“We know that everything we have learned begins in practice,” he continued. “You can play as many games as you want, but you still have to be organized and know what you’re doing. We’ve all been blessed by the Bishop family.”

Somehow, being a Rainmaker has always seemed to be just a little bit special.

If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at howardtsumura@gmail.com.

4 thoughts on “Talking hoops with Prince Rupert’s old-school Rainmakers! Says star McChesney: “…we have the best chemistry in the province””

  1. The real adventures were flying into Alaska and trying to get home. 1960 it took about a week to get home as each time the two Gruman and Goose tried they hit a white out and had to go back to Ketchican. 1962 we circled and I thought we were going to hit a mountain. Both lanes turned to go back but pilots thought they would try again. I remember looking down and the other plane was in the water as pilot could not see he had landed in Venn passage or better know Metlakatla pass. Pilot turned to the players and said ” any one know how to get through here” the passage snakes around with many shallow spots. Dave Pitre said “I do” so became the co pilot and one they reached the Rupert harbour they took off again. As a Rainmaker coach I also had some interesting trips flying, ferries and driving teams in a mini bus.

  2. Great article. Anyone that has lived in Prince Rupert has always been proud of the Rainmakers and their accomplishments over the years. The Bishops coaching style works and they deserve a lot of credit, but it takes coaches and a team of dedicated players to make this team successful. I’m a proud Ruperite and proud of the present and past players accomplishments.

  3. Excellent story, Mr. Tsumura. I was a Rainmaker in 1966 when I think we placed 7th or something in the provincials. Rupert had no hockey rink, so hoops was it. Some great players have come out of Rupert, from John Olsen to Jim Ciccone, and so many amazing First Nations players in the surrounding areas. As the sports editor of the Rupert Daily News in 1967-68 and then later as editor I got to cover and photograph the games. The community support was amazing.

  4. Nice article, Howard. We are so proud of our heritage as Rainmakers and to see the team kicking ass is awesome. Having played three years on the Rainmakers in the mid-70’s, it can be understated how much we learned by playing teams north of us (Alaska) to give us a style of basketball that was tougher and made us all more dedicated. Good luck to Mel. He was my chaperone the first time I went to basketball camp and the most dedicated player I have ever seen. His dad was my boxing coach and tough as nails. Great to see his grandson live on the tradition.

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