INSTANT REPLAY: Having a ball at the BCs
The Nicol family is having a ball at the B.C. high school “AAA” boys’ basketball championships again this week.
Each time North Vancouver’s Steve Nicol steps on the court to referee a game at the 68th annual B.C. high school “AAA” boys’ basketball championships, it renews a unique multi-faceted connection in the annals of the Nicol family – and in the tradition-laden tournament itself – that goes back almost 60 years.
It was on March 17, 1955 – 58 years ago this week – that Steve’s father, Billy Nicol was selected as the B.C. championship’s most valuable player after leading West Vancouver Highlanders, coached by Dick Wright, to third place in the 16-team tournament, at that time equalling the highest finish for a North Shore school in the then-10-year history of the tourney. (West Van had placed third in 1953 as well.)
Billy, also a soccer star, went south in 1958 to play freshman hoops at Seattle University, then an NCAA Division 1 powerhouse in basketball. John Kootnekoff, Mission’s two-time B.C. high school MVP (1952 and ’54), was playing for Seattle U’s varsity at the time and the team featured future NBA great Elgin Baylor during that season as the Chieftains went all the way to the 1958 national final before losing out to Kentucky.
Unfortunately, Billy’s paternal grandfather and grandmother (who raised him following Billy’s mother’s death during his birth; and while his father was in the military), along with two of his uncles, all passed away within a few years of each other. So he had to come home in order to help support the family and was never to know whether or not he would have eventually made it onto the varsity squad.
He spent some 30 years in the retail sporting goods business, beginning in 1958 in Vancouver with Sparlings which was then the leader in the industry in the Lower Mainland at a time when stringing tennis racquets, waxing skis and sharpening skates was as much a part of the business as sales of equipment.
He went out on his own in 1974, establishing Champion Sports on the north side of Park Royal with Peter Keymer, before opening another Champion store in Richmond a few years later. When Champs Sports, big in the U.S. and Ontario, wanted to move into B.C., Champion sold them the rights to their name and became All-Star Sports instead, a name they had originally also registered.
Billy’s eldest son, Bill Jr., starred at Magee in the 1979 B.C. high school championships and was selected to the tournament’s second all-star team despite a seventh-place finish for the team.
Steve, three years younger, also graduated from Magee in 1982 but, though he played basketball for the school, his main sport turned out to be rugby and he was the vice-captain and outside centre for the Magee team that won the 1982 B.C. championship in Kamloops against hometown favourite NorKam.
He moved to the North Shore in 1998, about a year after he joined the Vancouver City fire department. After undergoing a hip replacement, he took up basketball refereeing seven years ago and quickly worked his way up the hierarchy of officials.
In 2009 Steve was good enough to be assigned to officiate at the B.C. “A” boys’ tournament in Abbotsford where he ended up being chosen to do the championship game. In both 2010 and ’11, he did games at Capilano University in the B.C. “AAA” girls’ championships.
For two years now he’s coached senior boys’ soccer and rugby at Argyle. Last season was his first year refereeing Canada West university and Pacific Western college basketball and his first time officiating at the provincial boys’ “AAA” tournament at the Langley Events Centre where this year’s tournament began Tuesday and winds up on Saturday night.
Billy, Bill Jr. and Steve aren’t the only Nicol boys to play a role in the B.C. tourney. Steve’s son, Hayden Nicol, played for Carson Graham when the Eagles played in the provincials in 2009 and 2010. In 2012, it was Bill Jr.’s son, Cam Nicol, who was playing in the B.C.s with Port Coquitlam’s Terry Fox Ravens. The team and Cam are back in the tourney again this year.
The B.C. High School Boys’ Basketball Association keeps track of fathers and sons who have both played in the “AAA” tournament and has been listing them each year in the tournament program since 1977. The growing list now numbers some 140 fathers and 160-plus sons.
Looks like it’s time to start a new category: Fathers who were MVPs as players and who had sons (and grandsons) who played and refereed in the championships.
But as you can imagine, that is one very short list.
This is episode 476 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.