The Bassano Broncos make provincials for the first time in over 40 years. Despite ultimately coming up short the team has changed the schools sports culture.

An all-First Nations high school basketball team, The Bassano Broncos, recently made it all the way to Alberta’s provincial finals. It’s the first time the team has done so in over 40 years. But even though they didn’t win that tournament, their success has changed the sports culture of their school – all without their head coach and star player.

 The division 1A basketball provincial’s is a tournament where the teams who finished first and second in their league compete for the provincial championship.

The tournament was held in Hines Creek, Alta, a small village that’s eight hours north of Calgary and home to around 400 souls. 

 The last time the Bassano Broncos made it to the tournament was 1972. How long ago was that? Well, back then the Prime Minister was Pierre Trudeau, the United States were still at war with Vietnam and Joe Frazier was the Heavyweight champion of the world. It was also the year First Nations actor Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers, Windtalkers, Artic Air) was born in Ashern,MAN (yes, he’s that old.)

Historically, Bassano, which is home to around 1, 200, hasn’t been a basketball town.

“This is a hockey and volleyball town,” says new head coach Vince Hill, Mohawk from the Iroquois Six Nations, “We’re developing a basketball culture here, and you can see it in the junior high level, kids are more enthusiastic about basketball now.”

“The town of Bassano should hold their head high, it’s a proud moment,” says head coach and Principle Hill “It’s an even prouder moment to have an all-First Nations team do it.”

The team has 10 players, nine of which are Blackfoot, from Siksika Nation, located just west of Bassano, and one Carrier First Nation from British Columbia. The team’s coaching staff also consists of two Blackfoots and one Mohawk.

After taking over as head coach, Hill says the first thing he did was show the team a map of Alberta. He pointed to Hinds Creek and said, “This years provincials are here, we’re going.”

Dakota Saddle Back says he was honored to represent Bassano School and Siksika Nation

Photo by Trevor SolwayIn the dressing room moments before their first game in Hines Creek, Dakota Saddleback, one of the leaders of the team stood up and said, “Coach, thanks for putting that goal out there in front of us…We’re here.”

For Tyler White, CEO of Siksika Health Services, this accomplishment has meant a great deal to the Siksika Nation and has restored much pride for the community.

“It speaks volumes to what our youth can do; there are no limits to what our Siksika youth can do.”

The games were streamed online, and the social media posts poured in, people from the community showed their support either via retweets on Twitter or shares on Facebook. But point guard Tristen Weasel Head didn’t let the attention take away from his focus.

“There was pressure, but it felt good representing the reserve,” says Weasel Head, “I got everything off my mind and stayed off social media before games.”

Nerves also affected point/shooting guard Braden Many Bears. He knew the competition the team would be facing in Hinds creek would be fierce.

“I was nervous because we were playing the top teams in Alberta. But I knew we were there to compete and not just go for status.”

An avid follower of the team, Tyler White also says the achievement didn’t come easy especially after losing a cornerstone piece of the team.

For the past five-years, forward Carter Solway was the backbone of the Broncos. He had a big body that could rebound and shoot, bringing tenacity to the court that Bassano hasn’t seen in years. Just before the season got under way, Solway’s family moved to Calgary and the senior had to transfer schools.

“They lost one of their long time starters just before December, so there were a lot of question marks whether they would even make it this far and they’ve come together as a team, supported one another and certainly have accomplished their goal,” says White.

The team’s trainer Ben Strangling Wolf says the change forced the team to adapt and opened doors for new leaders.

 “I think they knew they had to work harder, they stayed positive and just kept going.”

Weasel Head wasone of those players who had to step-up.

“Losing Carter was a big hole to fill, because of the rebounding and leadership he brought to the team,” says Weasel Head. “We had to work harder, some of us had to stay on the court longer.”

The team also had to deal with losing their head coach, Gord Bramfield, who had moved schools to be closer to his wife.

“I was looking forward to Mr. B. coaching me in my senior year. When he told he was leaving, I just wasn’t feeling basketball,” says Saddleback.

Despite leaving the team, Bramfield says he knew the boys would work hard and would carry themselves as gentlemen.

 “I would’ve loved to have been their coach, to have seen them through their year. But I think the boys had everything in them to get the job done, regardless of who was coaching.”

Bramfield says it was tough to watch this run from afar, but more than anything he’s happy for them.

“I miss them. I miss them dearly,” says Bramfield.

The tournament took place on Mar. 19-21. The Broncos fell short in all three games and Coach Hill says the team had difficulty getting into their groove.

“It’s hard to get your momentum going when constantly the whistles blowing, and it’s always you’re losing possession.” 

Hill adds, “It was a north versus southissue but our kids went up there and held their heads high.”

The Calgary Journal contacted the Alberta Basketball Officiating Association about the statement but a representative declined to comment on the record.

Even though, according to Hill, the team battled officiating throughout the tournament, the Broncos were gentlemen about it and as a result took home the sportsmanship award.

“Our kids were tremendous ambassadors for Bassano School,” says Hill.

Coach Hill says the teams in provincials were big and strong which resulted in the play being more physical.

 “We probably would’ve done better if we had a someone like Carter, we needed at least one more big man – very physical play.”

The team consisted of: Braden Many Bears, Davey Jerry, Tanner Kenney, Owen Many Bears, Wacey Many Bears, Dakota Saddleback, Adam Solway, Blaine Solway, Dezman Strangling Wolf, Tristen Weasel Head.

Photo  by Trevor SolwayAlthough the team didn’t win a game, they were complimented on the entertaining flair they brought to the court.

“They were cheering for us because of the style we play. They said we were an exciting team to watch,” says trainer Strangling Wolf.

The team won most of their house league games and a tournament game due to their fast outlet passes and sharp 3-point shooting.

There will be a significant turnover as six of the 10 players will be graduating in June, but Bassano is looking to continue its winning basketball culture.

“We’re going to lose some significant leadership with all the graduates leaving but we’re already thinking of about those kids who are coming up.”

tsolway@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this story is Melanie Walsh at mwalsh@cjournal.ca