BURNABY — They say that all great traditions, through the passing of time, seem to somehow take on the strongest characteristics of their creators.
Early Wednesday afternoon, as he walked out of St. Thomas More Collegiate’s packed and deafening gymnasium having just coached the school’s first senior boys Chancellor tournament game in two years, Aaron Mitchell couldn’t help speaking to the fact that this longest-awaited 55th edition of one of B.C.’s most enduring high school sporting events was living up to the name of its newly-dedicated namesake.
“It’s been a long road, but could you find a better guy to grind it out with… to have his name honouring this tournament?” began Mitchell. “Could there be a better a guy than Rich Goulet?”
Last January’s cancellation due to the late-and-rapid rise of the Omicron variant came on the heels of the COVID-cancelled 2020-21 season, and the cumulative effect has made the Chancellor a fighter, kind of like the late Goulet was himself throughout a half-century coaching career in which he regularly guided two-to-three different teams each season and refused to stop despite kidney complications, a stroke, surgery to implant a pacemaker, and later the amputation of his right leg.
Goulet, a true foundational force in the lifespan St. Thomas More Knights basketball, who later lifted the fortunes of the Pitt Meadows Marauders over a 35-year span, passed away in March of 2021 at the age of 74.
Weeks later, St. Thomas More announced that its Chancellor Invitational would, as of 2022, come to be known as the Rich Goulet Chancellor Memorial, forever honouring a man who was not only a part of his school’s first-ever graduating class in 1964, but also served as its first-ever valedictorian.
“It’s kind of poetic in a way, all the things he did, never for himself, always for the greater good,” continued Mitchell, whose team had just finished playing before an enraptured home crowd on its way to a convincing 91-25 win over the Marlins.
“(But) he probably cringed when we thought of it,” Mitchell smiled with respect towards Goulet’s tough outer-shell, one which housed a caring and humble heart. “And he was probably happy, with a little cackle, like ‘Haha, Mitchell, you had to wait two years.’”
On Wednesday, with all of that waiting over, the Triple-A No. 6-ranked Knights took to the court off the opening tip as if shot out of a cannon.
Led by the senior triumvirate of guards Timmy Gonzalez (19 points) and Tarrance Booker (13 points), and 6-foot-6 forward Chris Ainsley (14 points), the Knights opened the game on a 22-4 run and never looked back.
For Mitchell, the victory was even more satisfying in that it came in concert with his team continuing to gain a greater understanding of what tradition and sacrifice within a team environment is all about, and in how big a role Goulet himself played in setting that example to past generations of players.
“I think the most important part is having our kids understand who Rich was, and the rich history that he left behind,” continued Mitchell, who first got to know Goulet 17 years ago, apprenticing under him on the staff of the 2005 B.C. Under-17 team at the national championships.
“It’s important for them to understand the ‘why’ because they are all just so used to saying ‘Chancellor Tournament’. But they need to know about a guy who paid it forward, who gave of himself so that others could have great opportunities and memories. I know Rich wasn’t perfect. None of us are. I know some people judged him on his antics and his emotions. But the one thing you could always say was that his heart was in the right place. One-hundred per cent. And that is the reason why we are doing what we are doing.”
With the pre-game dedication delivered to a packed gymnasium — in fact in the very same although re-furbished gymnasium in which Goulet himself coached in some of the Chancellor’s earliest editions — and the student body as rousing as it has ever been for its Day 1 opener, the Knights took to the floor with a power and a confidence which seemed almost palpable.
In fact for them, Wednesday’s game must have been a little like one of Mr. Mitchell’s pre-practice history classes.
You know, the kind where they can actually immerse themselves into the narrative, like learning all about one of those so-called foundational fathers of your school, how he built a two-time provincial champion (1974, 75) and how his high school sports experienced provided the blueprint for the rest of his life.
Indeed it has been a tough two past seasons for everyone in B.C.’s graduating high school Class of 2023.
The moments along the way, however, have steeled them, and for the 2022-23 St. Thomas More Knights boys basketball team, that has made the good times, like Wednesday, all the more meaningful.
One year ago today, hopes were high that the very first Rich Goulet Chancellor Memorial would tip off that traditional first Wednesday of January.
But that was before the last-second, mid-December 2021 news broke from the provincial government that Omicron’s rise was putting an end to everything starting in the new year.
“I remember I got emotional last year when we were at the Oak Bay (pre-Christmas) tournament and they had just announced that there would be no more tournaments,” admitted Mitchell.
“I literally couldn’t look at the guys,” he continued. “I was hardly able to speak. It’s their home tournament and the seniors were being robbed again of (Chancellor). There were so many emotions, so it’s great to be back in a good place where the kids are having fun and it’s such a positive environment.”
On Wednesday, Goulet’s sister Aline was on hand for the game’s ceremonial tip-off, one administered by Goulet’s nephew Dave.
And with that, after a two-year hiatus, the Rich Goulet Chancellor Memorial was both borne and back, seemingly stronger than ever and ready to take an unblinking run at its next half-century of life.
“I hope that the coaches who come to this tournament take time to talk to their players about who Rich Goulet was,” said Mitchell. “We want to carry on his legacy. I want my son to come to a game (at the Rich Goulet Chancellor) with his kids and be a part of it, and understand who he was.
“And, I hope that right now that (Goulet) has got a big, fat-tooth grin and that he is enjoying his time… and realizing how many people he has impacted.”
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