For a mythical mug, The Howie is still pretty heavy. (Graphic property of Dan Murphy 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School University

The Howies: Our mythical, season-ending awards celebrate the author’s Top 25 moments of the 2018-19 season

LANGLEY — The idea to hand out a mythical set of season-ending awards called The Howies was first hatched in this corner way back in the winter of 2005.

Back then, during my days at The Province, it was my way of honouring the top men’s and women’s university basketball talent playing at B.C.’s then-CIS schools.

The fun continued for five seasons.

This season, we’re bringing back The Howies, this time as a way of honouring, from this author’s corner, the Top 25 B.C. high school and university sports memories of the 2018-19 season, as told through the stories published since this past September right here at VarsityLetters.ca

First, my thanks to former co-worker Dan Murphy, the brilliant cartoonist at The Province, who loved The Howies so much that he personally presented me, over a decade ago, with the piece of art you see below.

Cartoonist Dan Murphy’s rendering of the mythical Howie Award. (Illustration/graphic property of Dan Murphy 2019. All rights reserved)

And secondly, to appreciate the countdown below with the proper perspective (as well as the actual ranking numbers, which like my many favourite late-night snacks are open to weekly if not daily revision), it’s important to remember that nothing about it purports to be definitive.

It is, I feel, very representative of the best moments of our season just passed.

Yet that being said, it’s one person’s humble opinion, a collection of events which to me, strike a chord of significance on several different levels, regardless of the order they are presented in.

That’s just me.

So to the athletes, coaches, parents, teams, administrators and organizers who all play a part in keeping this special community so vibrant, I offer you this levity-filled description of the mythical nature of The Howies, liberally borrowed from my 2009 awards story…

How ’bout them Howies!

Like a hymn that hums ‘It’s him, it’s The Howie,’ the cherished chalice is back.

Today, to honour the best moments of the 2018-19 season, we’ve minted our usual mountain of the mythical mugs.

Yes, The Howie is hardly heavy.

Yet when we set out to hail the Herculean heights of our hallowed student-athletes, our hunt for hardware hit a hurdle.

Oscar. Tony. Juno. ESPY. Emmy. Heisman. Grammy. It had all been done before.

So how, we hypothesized, could we hand out an honour that refused to weigh you down, that never lost its shine, that called your heart its home?

Hence, The Howie.

And so to our 2019 recipients we say ‘Don’t think of The Howie as the trophy you never got.’

Instead, think of The Howie as the feather in your cap, the foam on your latte, the squeak in your sneaker.

But most of all, remember that Happiness is a Howie.

Hope you enjoy and catch you all back here at VarsityLetters.ca for the start of the 2019-20 season!

— Howard Tsumura

THE 2019 HOWIES

Mychal Westman, the bespectacled longtime referee has finally retired after 47 seasons. He’s captured above chatting with Vancouver Fighting Irish head coach Todd Bernett during a high school football game this past September. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

MYCHAL WESTMAN

You know what? Before we start the actual countdown, here’s one that doesn’t have a number. It’s a bonus Howie for a person we didn’t feature in Varsity Letters this season.

Yet if you have spent any amount of time watching high school basketball or football over the decades, the face of Mychal Westman is likely familiar to you.

Now, the ageless wonder is retiring his stripes.

After officiating for the past 47 years, the 2018-19 season was officially his last.

As we speak, tributes are being planned for one of the most unique and passionate members of our amateur sports community.

He will be missed.

Prince George Polars’ Braden Reed rose from obscurity over his senior season and finds himself headed to Queen’s University next season. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

25 A POLAR IN ORBIT

The kid almost no one in B.C. high school football knew anything about at the start of this past season will begin his university football career in the fall at Queen’s University.

It’s a special part of this job to be able to watch stars emerge, and in the case of Prince George Polars’ Braden Reed, do it while playing outside of the so-called power-base spotlight of the Lower Mainland.

Reed, who will play linebacker at Queen’s, did everything for his Polars, including rushing for 272 yards and five touchdowns in his team’s opening-round Subway Bowl playoff victory.

How did he get his Howie? Click here to read his story!

Tupper’s Tyler Duldalao (3) is flanked by the Tigers’ three Syrian-born players (left to right) Mohammed Suliman, Ahmad Suliman and Nadim Alrefai. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

24 A PLACE WHERE DREAMS ARE POSSIBLE

Three students, each of whom came to Canada as Syrian refugees, have quite suddenly discovered a place to reach their potential.

Success on the rugby field at East Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Secondary, has been the driving force behind their renaissance.

How did the Tigers earn their stripes (and their Howie?). Click here to find out!

John Barsby Bulldogs head coach Rob Stevenson makes playing at B.C. Place Stadium each year a ‘Dream Goal’ for his team. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca)

23 WELCOME TO THE TREASURE DOME

Sometimes you don’t even need to write the stories. All you have to do is ask the coaches to do the job for you!

On the eve of the 2018 Subway Bowl provincial championship semifinals, I asked the head coaches of the four Double-A tier teams what it meant for them to bring their teams to B.C. Place Stadium.

The answers were so heartfelt, especially the comments of John Barsby Bulldogs’ head coach Rob Stevenson.

How did these coaches win a Howie? Click hear to read their stories!

Trinity Western’s Aaron Boettcher put shoulder surgery and a missed 2017-88 season behind him as helped lead the Spartans to the U Sports national title. (Photo by Scott Stewart property of Trinity Western athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

22 A SHOULDER TO LEAN ON

Sometimes, the challenges are more than physical.

Trinity Western’s middle blocker extraordinaire Aaron Boettcher admitted as much as the Surrey native and Elgin Park Secondary grad battled his way back from a severe shoulder injury to win a most special national title in his final season with the Spartans.

How did he win his Howie? Click here to read his story!

Lord Byng coach Mike Mallette led the Grey Ghosts to a B.C. title 20 seasons after its last provincial triumph. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

21 IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO TODAY…

From the moment the final whistle sounded, and the Lord Byng Grey Ghosts began to celebrate their first boys rugby title in exactly two decades, their passionate head coach Mike Mallette hit at just what makes high school sports such a special world to belong to.

Why do the Grey Ghosts deserve their Howie? Click here to find out!

Centennial’s Dom Parolin celebrates his team’s OT victory over Vancouver College with assistant coaches (left to right) Lucian Sauciuc, Alan Kaselj and dad Dave Parolin. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

20 IT NEVER GETS OLD

The 2018-19 B.C. senior boys Quad-A basketball season was so chock full of parity that maybe it should have surprised no one that after the first day of competition, two of the top four seeds were already on the outside of the championship’s tournament window looking in.

Yet to watch such games unfold will never cease to be a spectacle. Here’s to Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Kodiaks and Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs for not getting caught up in seeding numbers!

How did these two league rivals each win Howies? Click here to find out.

VIU’s CCAA tourney MVP Landon Radliff embraces emotional head coach Matt Kuzminski in the aftermath of capturing a CCAA national title last March at the LEC. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

19 LEADING WITH A BEGINNER’S MIND

Success does not happen by accident, yet it’s also enhanced by keeping an open mind to learning each and every day.

The importance of those two axioms were apparent as I interviewed Vancouver Island Mariners’ head coach Matt Kuzminski on the eve of the 2019 CCAA national men’s basketball championships this past March at the LEC.

What struck me most was how easily Kuzminski was able to relate the importance of mentors in his development as a coach, and how just days after that interview, his team capped three straight days of comeback wins and brought a national title back to Nanaimo.

As we present a well-deserved Howie, click here for the story we wrote before the nationals, and click here for the story right after they won it.

UBC Thunderbirds’ sophomore Jamie Hennessey posted one of the fastest NAIA times this season in the 3,000m steeplechase, despite her Type 1 diabetes. (Photo by UBC athletics copyright 2019. All rights reserved).

18 NO LIMITS

An example to those of what can happen when perseverance and self-belief take over, UBC Thunderbirds’ middle-distance runner Jamie Hennesey, a Maple Ridge Secondary grad, posted one of the fastest times in the NAIA’s 3,000m steeplechase and earned her ticket to the national championships despite having to manage her Type 1 diabetes.

How did she win her Howie? Click here to read her story.

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Arjun Samra is carried around the court at the Langley Events Centre last March prior to being named the 2019 B.C. Quad A tournament MVP. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2019. All Rights Reserved)

17 SAM, I AM

It’s rare when the MVP of the B.C. senior boys Quad-A basketball championships makes his choice of schools based solely on academics.

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Arjun Samra, one of the best high school players in B.C. this past season, is prepared to chase his dreams of a career in medicine at UBC, even if it means having to close the book on his university basketball career before it even begins.

How did he win his Howie? Click here to read his story.

Fraser Valley’s Veronica Kobes was the Canada West’s surprise of the season. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

16 #KOBESBRYANT

She just couldn’t shake her case of Basketball Jones.

Despite being everyone’s version of an academic all-star, it was just as important to UFV’s Veronica Kobes (and her 4.3 GPA) to keep challenges alive in her life, like refusing to give up as a walk-on with the Cascades basketball team.

With that kind of perseverance, perhaps it’s no surprise she fashioned a most unexpected season on the court.

How did she rise from the shadows to win her Howie? Click here to read her story.

The faces of victory are apparent after the SFU Clan knocked off the No, 1-ranked team in all of NCAA Div. 2 basketball last season. (Photo by Brad McLeod property of Simon Fraser athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

15 WHAT IT TAKES TO BEAT NO. 1

The most dramatic home-court victory in the entire NCAA-era history of Simon Fraser Clan women’s basketball came in late January when the ice-veined locals knocked off the No. 1-ranked team in all of NCAA Div. 2 women’s basketball. 

How did they win their Howie? Click here to read the story and click here to watch!

Heritage Woods Kodiaks’ senior point guard Gavin McMahon dishes a pass during last month’s Tsumura Basketball Invitational at the Langley Events Centre. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

14 IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY, HE NEVER BLINKS

Ever since suffering a serious eye injury during his youth soccer career, Gavin McMahon of the Heritage Woods Kodiaks has battled a serious case of double vision.

Yet even with his depth perception severely compromised on the basketball court, he dished the rock, knocked down the trey and just generally inspired all of those around him.

Facing adversity in sport and in life at a young age, the courageous senior showed us all a different definition of focus.

How did he win his Howie? Click here to read his story!

For the first time in its program’s history, the UBC Thunderbirds track and field team won two NAIA men’s and women’s national championships on the same day. (Photo by Jeff Sargeant property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

13 A WEEKEND FOR THE AGES

There was a distinctly Canadian spin on one of the largest by-the-numbers team championships in the U.S. collegiate sports system.

In fact, you could narrow that down to a B.C. spin and be almost completely accurate.

The UBC Thunderbirds enjoyed their greatest single day as a team this past May, winning the both the men’s and the women’s overall titles at the NAIA national track and field championships in Alabama.

How did they win their Howie? Click here to read their story!

 

Diego Maffia of Oak Bay finished his senior season as a man of many stories. (Varsity Letters photo by Howard Tsumura)

12 THE WIDE, WIDE WORLD OF DIEGO MAFFIA

Oak Bay Bays basketball star Diego Maffia was one of the most thought-provoking and discussed high school athletes I have ever encountered.

So much so that as I read over a season’s worth of stories, I realized that I had featured him on many occasions and on different topics as well.

I interviewed his volleyball coach Al Carmichael on what made him so intrinsically special.

I asked the question “Is he the greatest scorer in B.C. high school history?” on the day he set a provincial single-game scoring record with 94 points.

I uncovered, later in the season, another player — Sparwood’s Tanner Barclay — who scored 83 points on the very same day.

And before the provincial championships, I got a chance to discover the respect he and North Delta Huskies’ superstar Suraj Gahir held for each other.

How did he win his Howie? By making news in four distinct ways! Here’s one, two, three and four different perspectives.

Led by its resident superstar Kiera van Ryk, but saddled with a No 8 seed at U Sports nationals, the UBC Thunderbirds somehow found a way to win what was perhaps their most unexpected national title ever. (Photo by Don Voaklander/Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

11 EIGHT IS JUST A NUMBER

There is an old saying about the fact that you can never underestimate the heart of a champion.

Even if there have been so many roster changes that chemistry seemed non-existent for huge stretches of the season.

And even if, at an eight-team national tournament, you’re seeded No. 8.

If there was any university team in the nation which leaned on its history, as well as each other, to play their best at the precise moment it mattered most, it was the odds-defying UBC Thunderbirds women’s volleyball team.

How did they win their Howie? Click here to read their story!

Byrne Creek head rugby coach Moreno Stefanon not only launched a boys rugby program at the Burnaby school this season, he also led the Bulldogs to the B.C. AA Tier two title game. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

10 THE CREEK’S GONNA RISE

It’s hard to find a coach who believes in his sport more than Moreno Stefanon believes in rugby.

So much so that while inspiring a near 100-per cent rookie crop of senior varsity players to join in the formation of the new rugby program at Burnaby’s Byrne Creek Secondary, he both taught them the meaning of team and led them to the B.C. Double-A Tier 2 championship final match.

How did Moreno Stefanon win his Howie? Click here to read his story!

With exciting new additions like Jas Singh, Simon Fraser’s men’s basketball team turned itself into a rising program within the GNAC. (Photo by Paul Yates property of Simon Fraser Clan athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

9 DETAILS OF THE RE-INVENTION

You’ve heard of turnarounds before, but how about matching the win total of nearly their entire past four seasons in one magnificent 13-game stretch, and fittingly, riding that to the program’s first playoff appearance in nine seasons?

In 2018-19, Clan men’s basketball got the awakening so many had hoped for after a near decade-long silence.

How did their rise earn a Howie? Click here to read their story!

Mt. Douglas Rams senior quarterback Gideone Kremler authored a storybook ending to his high school career. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

8 GIDEONE’S CHAPTER AND VERSE

I’ve said it many times and I will repeat it: Gideone Kremler quarterbacking Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams to the 2015 B.C. Triple A Subway Bowl B.C. high school football championship as a ninth grader is perhaps the most stunning achievement in B.C. high school sports history.

A slew of injuries would later dog Kremler and threaten to make that accomplish a distant memory, however in ways only true champions can seem to muster, he turned that narrative on its ear.

The soon-to-be SFU recruit instead led the Rams back to the top of the mountain this past December with a surprising book-end championship title which brought resolution to all of those frustrating middle chapters.

How did he win his Howie? Click here to read his story!

Magic was in the air the morning Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators departed for Kelowna and the start of the 2019 B.C. high school track and field championships. (Photo property of Walnut Grove athletics 2019. All rights reserved)

7 BRING HOME THE BACON

When it came to karma, this story took the cake.

A chance meeting between a coaching legend and a team looking to make its most indelible mark yet at the B.C. high school track and field championships produced a most glorious result.

How did the Gators, with some special karma from a coaching legend, win their Howie? Click here to read the story!

In a stirring comeback from a horrible leg injury, South Delta’s starting fly half Niall Cummins was the embodiment of inspiration on the rugby pitch. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

6 THE MIGHTY NIALL

As a Grade 11, South Delta’s Niall Cummins suffered as horrific a leg injury as your ever apt to ever see on the field of play.

As a Grade 12, the Sun Devils’ stoic fly half returned and showed a level of grit, courage and leadership that is hard to define.

How did he win his Howie? Click here as we try to explain!

UFV’s Amanda Thompson refused to let multiple knee injuries snuff her love for the game of basketball. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property Fraser Valley Cascades athletics)

5 SCARRED, NOT SCARED

The 2018-19 season marked my 36th consecutive season as a sports journalist in B.C.

Over that stretch of time, I have covered many stories of comebacks from knee injuries.

I am not sure, however, there has been an athlete who had to overcome more setbacks over such an extended period of time than Fraser Valley Cascades’ rising fourth-year guard Amanda Thompson, who this past season returned to the Canada West as a full-time starter, averaging double-digits in points.

How did she win her Howie? Click here to read her story!

Clad in pink with the ‘We Are One’ slogan across their hearts, Sir Charles Tupper Tigers players took a stand for the social causes they felt most important. (Photo by Sir Charles Tupper Secondary 2019. All Rights Reserved)

4 THE POWER OF PINK

The power of high school sports teams to make powerful statements was never so evident as it was this season.

Just before Christmas, the senior girls basketball team from PoCo’s Riverside Secondary donned all-pink to strengthen their presence as the hosts of the annual cancer awareness fund-raiser A Tournament For Emily.

Riverside Rapids’ guard Tessa Burton and the rest of her teammates rocked the pink they would don for their own cancer-fighting fundraiser, A Tournament For Emily. (Photo courtesy Riverside athletics)

And then on March 1, East Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Tigers senior boys team boldly proclaimed We Are One! across their all-pink jersies to support not only the fight against cancer, but their united stand over all platforms of social justice.

It was reason to feel pride for our future leaders.

How did these two teams earn their Howies? Click here to read about Riverside, then click here to read about Sir Charles Tupper!

North Delta Huskies coach Bill Edwards got the attention of his team with an entirely different kind of ring tone. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

3 LORD OF THE RING

He kept his championship ring in its case for 29 years, never once feeling the need to wear it.

But when the school he had twice led to the B.C. senior boys basketball championship had a chance to do it again almost three decades later, North Delta Huskies hoops guru Bill Edwards listened to his heart and wore it on a proud, clenched fist.

The result made history.

To read about the Huskies’ Howie, click here!

After winning the boys B.C. Quad-A title, Lord Tweedsmuir head coach Drew Gallacher revealed a timely tip he had received by text the night before. (Photo by Wilson Wong 2019. All Rights Reserved)

2 AN INSTANT CLASSIC

Late in the third quarter of the B.C. senior boys Quad-A championship final game, Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers trailed the Kelowna Owls by 18 points.

Somehow, they rallied and won.

In the post-game frenzy, Panthers’ head coach Drew Gallacher detailed a most incredible text he had received the night before from one of our game’s true legends.

It was enough to insure the game’s fabled status literally minutes after it had ended.

How did this team win its Howie? Click here to read the story!

Marissa Rodde and the rest of the Yale junior Lions gave a performance for the ages at last March’s B.C. championships. (Photo by Howard Tsumura property of VarsityLetters.ca 2019. All Rights Reserved)

1 SALUTING THE POWER OF THREE

Some of the most unforgettable moments come at the most unexpected of times.

Armed with my trusty Nikon and in need of photographs with which to file my report that day from the B.C. junior girls basketball championships’ quarterfinal round, I had slipped into the smallest gymnasium at the Langley Events Centre to catch the second half of a game between two Abbotsford rivals: the Yale Lions and the MEI Eagles.

It was late in the fourth quarter of what had shaped up to be a tremendous battle and I was so intent on snapping a picture that wasn’t until the LEC’s media and communications manager Gary Ahuja pointed out that Yale was competing with just three players on the floor against MEI’s full complement of five plus their bench.

Amazingly, Yale’s Marissa Rodde, Taylor Hutton and Olivia Thind persevered with amazing courage, taking the game to double overtime before MEI was finally able to emerge victorious.

Now into my fourth decade of reporting and writing on basketball, it is one of the most special performances I’ve ever witnessed.

How did the Yale junior girls basketball team win a Howie and make No. 1 on my list of Top 25 memories? Click here to read their story!

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.

One thought on “The Howies: Our mythical, season-ending awards celebrate the author’s Top 25 moments of the 2018-19 season

  1. As always Howard, you capture the best of the best moments in BC school sport. You are a true treasure and I look forward to seeing your stories again next season

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