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Colts and Packers: Remembering a rivalry
Apple introduced the Mac. Space Shuttle Challenger was launched. And Chicago White Sox defeated Milwaukee Brewers 7-6 in 25 innings—the longest game in Major League Baseball history.
It was 1984, when movie-goers spent $2.50 to see Ghostbusters, digital watches with metal bands were a dominant fashion statement, and Richmondites clammoured for basketball tickets.
Steveston Packers and Richmond Colts were ranked among the province’s best boys’ teams throughout the season. Fans routinely had to line up outside the gymnasium doors of the two high schools at least a half hour before tip off—just for the chance of getting in.
Interest peaked on St. Patrick’s Day when the two Lulu Island rivals played off for the B.C. “AA” high school boys’ basketball championship at Vancouver’s PNE Agrodome.
“It was the story in Richmond that March,” said Chris Kennedy, then a local Grade 5 student who was just starting to learn the game from teacher-coach George Nakanishi.
“I can still remember the coverage in The Richmond Review. It was a big deal—announcing that Richmond was the centre of basketball in the Lower Mainland with Steveston and Richmond playing in the final,” continued Kennedy, who today is a governor of the B.C. High School Boys’ Basketball Association and superintendent of schools in the West Vancouver School District.
Bill Disbrow’s Colts were the dominant team in the province during the 1980s, playing in four championship games in five years and winning three of them—including a 74-61 victory over Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs in 1985. They were No. 1 for much of the 1983-84 season too, but it would ultimately go down as the year of the Packers who defeated the Colts 84-59 behind a final-game record 45 points by guard Gareth Davies.
Details of the game—30 years ago this week—are becoming a bit blurred among the participants. But it remains one of the great moments in Richmond’s sporting history.
An announced crowd of 6,282—well beyond capacity—took in the game.
“Organizers decided to just let everyone who came get entrance. I believe it was said to be 2,000 over capacity but there was amazing interest and it was so exciting for the players,” said Disbrow.
Packers ‘too mature and focused’ for Colts on night
“We (Colts) had been good all season but struggled toward the end, just barely making the B.C.’s,” recalled Disbrow, who is now head coach of Vancouver’s St. George’s Saints. “We then (began playing well again) but Steveston played a remarkable game in the final and Davies was on fire. They were just too mature and focused for us that night.”
Bira Bindra, then the Packers’ starting centre, remembers Davies had only averaged 20 to 25 points a game prior to his breakout performance.
“It was odd because the high scorer on the team usually rotated between Ryan Brown, Davies and myself which made it difficult for other teams to key on any particular player,” said Bindra. “But we all knew our roles and we started every game dishing the ball to Gareth. If he was on, we’d stick with him. He was never a selfish player, but in that final game practically every shot he put up resulted in a basket and even then he probably only attempted about 30 shots and only missed two or three.”
In fact, Davies—a first team all-star, didn’t miss a shot until the second quarter. In the post-game media scrum, Davies said he was pretty confident that he’d have a good game “because I can shoot over Richmond’s guards.”
Today a Lower Mainland firefighter, Bindra also played a prominent yet less celebrated role in the championship game. A shade over six feet, Bindra was one of the taller Packers and was assigned the unenviable task by coach Kent Chappell to shadow the Colts’ big man—six-foot-eight Steve Taylor. Chappell reasoned that if Taylor was able to get the ball in the paint, he could dictate play.
“(Chappell) always believed the team that dictated play was going to win the game, so he told me to make sure (Taylor) didn’t get his shot off—even if it meant putting him on the line,” said Bindra. “As it happened, I blocked a lot of the shots and probably had 10 or 15 steals that game.”
While Taylor was limited to eight points over the course of the game, guard Rod Ast stepped up for the Colts with 20 points. Most of Ast’s baskets—seven of them in the first half when there was still some doubt of the result—reflected his never-say-die attitude and frequently pulled the Colts to within two or three points. When he fouled out in the third quarter it seemed to take the heart out of the Colts, who were outscored 23-8 in the final quarter.
Colt fans got consolation in form of Spirit Award
The Packers never trailed in the game. Able to overcome a considerable size disadvantage by employing a run-and-gun style that worked to near perfection, they scored the opening bucket and led 15-10 after a quarter. They stretched the lead to eight points, 42-34, at halftime and led 61-51 after three quarters.
“We knew they couldn’t keep up with us for 40 minutes if we kept running,” Packers’ coach Chappell said after the game. “I just asked my guys to run so hard I’d have to pick them up off the floor at the end of the game. You never know what to expect when Steveston and Richmond play. You can’t say you’re going to win before hand. But if you’re going to win, the whole team has to play all out for 40 minutes.”
The game wasn’t just the last for many of the players, but also Chappell, who went out on top—announcing his retirement that evening after 14 years of coaching, 289 victories, and Steveston’s first B.C. title.
While the Colts didn’t win the game, they did net another honour. Their fans, who engaged in lively banter with Packer faithful throughout the final, won the tournament’s Spirit Award.