W.J. Mouat Hawks enter Triple A championship with memories of departed player, volunteer
By Cam Tucker, Vancouver Sun December 3, 2011
VANCOUVER — Football is a hard-hitting game but life can strike much harder, and to that the W.J. Mouat Hawks can attest.
The Hawks varsity football team will play for the B.C. Triple-A championship Saturday at BC Place Stadium (7 p.m.) against the Mt. Douglas Rams of Victoria.
For the Hawks, a perennial powerhouse in the high school football ranks, a date in the championship game comes as nothing new. The school has made it to the final nine times in its 25-year history, and has won three titles in eight tries.
Their ninth championship contest, however, comes at the end of an emotional season that began with the tragic and unexpected death of 17-year-old Desmond Bassi, who was killed in a hit-and-run mishap in the early morning hours of July 23 as he walked home from a house party.
Bassi was a standout athlete at Mouat, starting as a receiver with the football team and then playing basketball in the winter. He graduated in June and was set to begin a fall semester at Simon Fraser University after immensely improving his grades during his final year at Mouat.
It was news that not only shocked Mouat’s football program and its student body, but the entire community of Abbotsford.
“It was really tough,” said Jake Heathcote, the Hawks Grade 12 linebacker and tight end.
“You don’t really realize at first the impact and then you think about it and you’re never going to see that person again. It was a really tough couple of months after that but by the time the season came around, we knew what we had to do.”
Prior to Bassi’s death, the team lost its long-time volunteer John (Opa) Smeysters, who at the age of 74, succumbed to a nine-month battle with asbestos-related cancer on June 10.
While members of the Hawks – both current and graduated – grieved the losses, the team’s core leadership group, which includes Heathcote and head coach Denis Kelly, took it upon themselves to use both as a source of inspiration.
The Hawks have dedicated this season to the memories of their fallen friends, and they’re looking to do the same Saturday with a championship trophy over their heads.
Standing in the way of their ultimate goal are the same Rams who crushed the previously undefeated St. Thomas More Knights 54-7 in the first of two Triple-A semifinals a week ago at Thunderbird Stadium.
The Hawks and the Rams met just once this season, with Mouat coming out on top of a 53-47 shootout on Sept. 9.
If both teams are able to execute their offences in near perfect conditions under the dome as they did on that September day, the 2011 final could turn into an instant classic.
With that said, the Hawks believe this to be the opportunity of a lifetime and don’t intend on wasting it, not after the events of this summer.
“He was close to getting a championship,” said Heathcote of Bassi, who was a member of the ‘09 Mouat team that lost to Centennial by a score of 39-36.
“I know what it meant to him to get to this level and we’re just trying to make every moment count because you know you can get it all taken away in just a second.”
Grade 12 quarterback Daniel Markin agreed, saying that while there will be an emphasis on executing the game plan, the added emotion of this summer will hopefully get the Hawks past even the toughest adversity they experience against the Rams.
“You want to focus but when stuff may not be going good, you just say, ‘guys remember this is for Des and Opa,’” said Markin.