Prince George Polars senior boys basketball head coach Tyler Burbee, who took in last week's B.C. championships at the LEC, was happy to spread the word about the program's unique Bear Claw Classic invitational set for next season. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2022. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

The Bear Claw Classic: Varsity Letters’ high school sports nickname story sparks new and unique boys basketball tourney for Prince George Polars!

LANGLEY — Do a quick web search with the words ‘bear’ and ‘B.C.’ and in a split second, you get information like ‘Most of B.C. is considered bear country.’

Bears, of course, are so much a part of our provincial heritage that they have logically been absorbed into our lexicon of sports team nicknames.

Last spring, Prince George senior boys basketball coach Tyler Burbee was reading a series of stories right here on centred around B.C. high school sports nicknames.

One of those, of course, was an alphabetical listing of the nicknames of 314 B.C. high school sports teams (Click here to read).

Another, whimsical in nature, grouped those nicknames by their subject (Click here to read).

That story, headlined: “Invitation by nickname alone…” grouped schools and potential invitational tournaments by their nicknames from cat schools, to those named after devils and demons, to saints, kings and queens, acts of nature… you name it.

One of those, under the sub-head of ‘Bear Claw Classic’ listed 13 schools named after species of bears.

When Burbee saw it, an idea was immediately sparked.

Langley Township’s Credo Christian Kodiaks, a perennial Single-A powerhouse, would be greeted warmly into the Polars’ den each year at PGSS’s Bear Claw Classic invitational. (Photo by Wilson Wong property of UBC athletics 2020. All rights reserved)

And thus, the idea was hatched for the newest tournament of the upcoming 2022-23 B.C. senior boys high school basketball season.

“The hardest part is going to be starting up with the first one,” explained Burbee, a Prince George native and a 1992 Duchess Park grad. “But after that, I think it will snowball.”

Burbee has set the dates for the inaugural eight-team tournament to run Feb. 10 and 11 of 2023, and says he is just now in the process of sending out invitations to B.C.’s bear-named boys high school basketball programs.

Boiled to its essence, the Bear Claw Classic might embody more of the tenets of what makes high school sports so entirely unique from every other type of youth sport competition around.

It actually creates a moment for its student-athletes to think about their nickname, about what it actually stands for within the cultural history of our province.

It erases the boundaries that tiering and geography so often bring to the game by simply bringing together a group of teams which under virtually no other circumstances would find themselves together on a tournament draw.

At a time of the season where playoffs are just preparing to get underway, it provides a getaway for its non-Prince George entrants to have some true fun and hit the re-start on their own team chemistry and camaraderie.

And, of course, there are some very, very good bear-named squads out there.

“We think the name of the tournament is perfect, and the teams would stretch all the way from the north to south to east to west,” says Burbee. “People think of Prince George as the north, but we are right here in the centre. And there are bear names everywhere, including two right here in Prince George in the Shas Ti Kelly Road Grizzlies and us, the Polars.”

G.W. Graham Grizzlies fans mob seniors forward Zach Klim in the aftermath of program’s 2020 B.C. Triple-A championship final win at the LEC. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Vancouver Sports Pictures 2020. All Rights Reserved)

The complete list of eligible teams?

The most popular form of bear name is actually Grizzlies, a nickname sported by four of the schools.

G.W. Graham in Chilliwack and North Peace of Fort St. John both wrapped up play at the B.C. championships on Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.

Other Grizzlies dwell at Brockton in North Vancouver and Hagensborg’s Sir Alexander Mackenzie.

Three schools are known as Kodiaks, including two in the Greater Vancouver area at Port Moody’s Heritage Woods and Langley’s Credo Christian. There’s also the Tumbler Ridge Kodiaks, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near the B.C. -Alberta border.

Two schools are actually known as Bears, and they hail from Kelowna’s Mt. Boucherie and Abbotsford’s St. John Brebeuf.

There’s also two known as Bruins from Vancouver’s Britannia and Bodwell of West Vancouver.

Terrace is the home of the Caledonia Kermodes, a sub-species of the black bear, and the official mammal of B.C. Kermodes are also know as spirit bears.

And then there are, of course, the largest of all bears, the Polars of PGSS.

Beyond all of that?

Here’s betting there are also a lot bear-named schools in Alberta, and if you really want to get ambitious try Montana and Idaho. But Burbee isn’t looking past his own province.

Prince George Polars senior boys basketball coach Tyler Burbee wants to make his city a destination for invitational basketball just before the playoff season hits each year. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2022. All Rights Reserved)

And while he is aware that his city isn’t looked upon as the No. 1 destination for visiting west coast teams late in the high school basketball season, Burbee feels that with a committee dedicated to providing a great student-athlete experience, and the atmosphere provided by what has always been a great hoops town, that it can make its mark and become an annual fixture.

“You need to make it a party, something worth the trip and I understand that it’s tough to sell a trip to Prince George in February,” said Burbee, “so we need to make it worthwhile, we need to make it exceptional… one with true professionalism.”

As well, Burbee notes he is hoping to be able to offer visiting teams an additional game in Prince George on the day before the Bear Claw Classic, suggesting match-ups like perhaps a renewal of the 2020 B.C. Triple-A final between Duchess Park and G.W. Graham, and a blue-chip calibre Single-A clash between two perennial provincial contenders in Credo Christian and Prince George’s Cedars Christian.

“I am confident that it will sell itself when a team comes up here and gets to experience our gym and our fans,” adds Burbee.

If you’re the coach of the one of the aforementioned Bear schools, check you’re emails for a message from Burbee.


(Now corrected as of 3:30 pm, 03.16.22 — If you haven’t gotten one and you’re one of B.C.’s special dozen, Burbee can be reached at

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2 thoughts on “The Bear Claw Classic: Varsity Letters’ high school sports nickname story sparks new and unique boys basketball tourney for Prince George Polars!

  1. Just wanted to compliment Howard and his fellow reporters for the excellent coverage of the recent season-ending tournament at the LEC. As a former player (MEI, 1962, 1963) and also a former reporter who has covered many basketball games, I was impressed by the high level of skill shown by so many teams at all 4 tiers, and also by the insightful coverage on Varsity Letters. Great pictures, too. I was able to watch several games in person on Friday and Saturday, but I still went to Varsity Letters to pick up nuances that I missed from the stands.

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