INSTANT REPLAY: The first Citizen Charity Classic

Colin Dobson (above) looks over a copy of the North Shore Citizen from 1963 which pictured him receiving the trophy as captain of the North Shore Mountaineers who defeated the North Shore high school all-stars in the first annual Citizen Charity Classic basketball game.  - Len Corben
Colin Dobson (above) looks over a copy of the North Shore Citizen from 1963 which pictured him receiving the trophy as captain of the North Shore Mountaineers who defeated the North Shore high school all-stars in the first annual Citizen Charity Classic basketball game.
— image credit: Len Corben

Christmas traditions include beautifully decorated trees, nativity scenes with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, stockings hung by the chimney, cookies and juice left for Santa Claus, the building of gingerbread houses…

On the North Shore, a little different Christmastime tradition began on Dec. 27, 1963 – 50 years ago this week – and lasted through the 1960s. It was called the Citizen Charity Classic, an annual high school basketball all-star extravaganza.

For the six Christmases between 1964 and 1969, the event pitted senior boys stars from schools north of the Upper Levels versus those from schools below the highway (1964-66) and later those representing eastern schools against west-side bastions of learning (1967-69).

Since cheerleaders’ dance routines to music were becoming popular on the North Shore in the early 1960s, girls from three schools performed at the 1964 event and it became a spirited competition in 1965 and each year thereafter with half a dozen schools vying for the approval of the overflow crowd and marks from the judges in quest for the first-place trophy. Delbrook (three times), Carson Graham and North Vancouver were winners.

A game between the top two schools at the season-opening North Shore junior boys’ basketball jamboree was added as a preliminary contest in 1966 through 1969. Delbrook (twice), Windsor and North Vancouver won those.

All of the proceeds each year were donated to the non-profit North and West Vancouver Association for Retarded Children which was founded in 1956 by a small group of local parents who had children with disabilities. (The name changed in the 1970s to the North Shore Association for the Mentally Handicapped and by 2008 to the North Shore ConneXions Society.)

The 1963 game raised $70 for the Association which doesn’t seem like much today but, remember, that was half a century ago.

Over the years, some of the great names in the history of high school basketball here played in the Classic, some going on to long coaching careers. The list is almost endless: Bob Molinski, Dave Rice, Phil Langley, Glen Carter, Ken Kern, Mike Dowty, Bill Ruby, John Hart, Ed Richmond, Bob Lidgate, Jim Kardash, Danny McCarrell, Ken Martin, Russ Black, Deryck Rustermeyer, Mike Klasen, Bob Ley, Dave Baker, Rob Morley, Jack Hoy, Vern Porter, Tom Allison, Greg Warkentin...

However, the first Citizen Charity Classic in 1963 featured a somewhat different lineup. The game featured a 12-player North Shore senior boys’ all-star team versus the North Shore Mountaineers of the Inter-City Junior Men’s (under 21) League.

The goal was four-fold: to raise money for the Association, promote the Mountaineers’ team which was in its first year of operation, recognize the top local high school hoops players and provide basketball fans with a game during the holidays in the week between Christmas and New Year’s when there were no games scheduled.

I know all this because it was something Dan Steer and I came up with. I was coaching the Mountaineers and Dan (who was in the lumber business then but had coached senior high school basketball at Delbrook beginning in 1961) handled the team’s business operations.

Junior men’s basketball was big then. The league consisted of teams in Victoria, Port Alberni and four in Greater Vancouver. The daily papers covered the games. There was a Canadian championship (which I had played in with runner-up Vancouver YMCA under legendary coach Lance Hudson in 1962).

During this time and while at UBC, I was writing the Corben’s Corner sports column in the weekly North Shore Citizen newspaper. The paper was gung-ho to promote and help sponsor the Charity Classic.

Some 300 spectators showed up for that first game held in the North Vancouver Memorial Community Centre gymnasium, a number that swelled to 1,000 in subsequent years in the new North Van High gym (now Mickey McDougall gym).

There was no preliminary game that first year and no cheerleaders’ competition, so the game was pretty much the whole show, although West Van High’s pep band was there and the halftime intermission featured a gymnastics display.

The Mountaineers had played together for two months and, despite a 2-8 won-lost league record to Christmas,  had a little too much experience for the high school team which had practiced together under Delbrook coach Wally Russell only a couple of times.

The Mountaineers won 86-69 despite 15 points by high-schooler Warren Hamill. Terry Macdonald pumped in 20 for the winners while fellow NVHS grads, Colin Atkinson and Colin Dobson, contributed 17 and 16. You may recognize the names of other Mountaineers: Len Slade, Gary MacAdam, Arnie Dunham, John Currie, Steve Hempell, Darrell Stokes and future BC Lion great Lefty Hendrickson.

Dobson, the Mountaineers’ captain who also played two seasons with UBC teams, will be 70 in January but he still plays pick-up basketball every Tuesday night as he’s done now for more than 40 years.

In that long-ago Charity Classic, Dobson fashioned a record for the annual game that was never broken when he tallied 10 of his points from the free throw line, sometimes referred to in the olden days as the charity stripe. Which made the record rather befitting the event, don’t you think?

-This is episode 494 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.

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