by Howard Tsunamura, The Province June 19, 2013
VANCOUVER — Hang around the playing fields and gymnasiums long enough and it’s amazing the things you will see.
That was the train of thought I was in Wednesday morning as I decided to look back on a 2012-13 season B.C. high school sports just now complete.
Did I see anything over the past 10 months that I would put on my ‘It Moment’ list, that collection of unforgettable memories from 30 years of covering high school sports in this province which were so special that even decades later, virtually no cross-referencing or fact-checking is necessary.
My answer, after sifting through the mental highlights? A definite yes.
I won’t bore you with the criteria, because there really aren’t any. But what I will tell you is that the best part of witnessing greatness is that you know it in the moment.
What am I talking about? Well, two of the many that stand out over the years are these:
*Standing on the sidelines of the football field at my alma mater, North Delta Secondary School, in 1989 for the Huskies season-opener against the Burnaby Central Wildcats. A kid who had played community football until his senior year at NDSS came onto the field and proceeded to send the opening kickoff so far, that the opposition return team simply stood flat-footed and watched the ball soar over their heads.
That kid was Mitch Berger. But in that precise moment, I wasn’t thinking so much “Sixteen-year NFL career and Super Bowl winner” as I was, “Wow, what just happened here?”
*Finding a chair in the gym at St. Thomas More in Burnaby back in early March of 1990 for the B.C. junior boys basketball championships and watching a young point guard play with the kind of drive that compelled me later that day to write that I had just saw the kid that was destined to be the best basketball player in the history of B.C.
I was wrong. I should have said Canada. That was the first time I saw Steve Nash.
Which brings us to this past season.
To be clear, I don’t write any of this as prediction-based stuff, with the only end in mind being that said athlete is destined for fame and fortune.
These are kids, after all.
Too many other things have to happen and that has never been the point to my writing. I have witnessed many other ‘It’ moments involving athletes who never got paid a buck to play sports. As I referenced earlier, it’s all about appreciating greatness in the moment.
And that is just what happened this past fall, in the late afternoon of Oct. 13, on the football turf at Abbotsford’s W.J. Mouat Secondary.
That day, Mouat’s Grade 11 running back Maleek Irons set the all-time B.C. high school single-game rushing record, carrying 47 times for 491 yards and five touchdowns.
Mouat’s Hawks went on to beat the defending B.C. Triple A champion Mt. Douglas Rams of Victoria 52-49 in one of the highest scoring games in the history of B.C. high school football. At one stage, the team’s took turns scoring four touchdowns of 47 yards or greater, and fittingly, Irons wound up scoring the game-winning touchdown.
But what made the game and Irons’ performance so great was simple.
There were no TV cameras, no on-screen graphics, no running totals being broadcast snap-to-snap which would have told you what kind of an afternoon the tough and incredibly elusive young man from Mouat was having.
I was just trying to keep up with what was happening as I patrolled the sidelines with a few of the photographers who had turned up for the game. I scribbled madly. I knew Irons had scored five touchdowns. I also knew he was having a great day.
But almost 500 yards rushing?
And that leads me to my first of two ‘It’ moments, both of which happened after the game.
The skies had opened up when I found Mouat stats man Wally Fung helping pack up equipment as everyone scrambled to get off the field.
“Wally,” I yelled. “What kind of numbers have you got for Maleek?”
Fung pulled out a piece of scrap paper which was filled with numbers, each representing the yards Irons had gained per carry.
The touchdown runs were circled, but at that point, no one knew what Irons’ final totals were.
I held a tape recorder to his face and asked him to start reading. By the time Fung had finished (take a second and see how long it takes to recite 47 different numbers), a piece of paper I felt should have been sent to a Hall of Fame, if only B.C. high school sports had one, was soaked beyond comprehension.
At this point, if you’re heart’s not racing, you’re not a football fan.
With no press box on site, and not enough time to drive back to the office in Vancouver to write for first-edition print deadlines, I did what I often do, and that was head to the parking lot and write the story from the front passenger seat of my car.
I’ve talked about ‘It’ moments and one of them was the tone of incredulity in Fung’s voice as he recited those numbers. But the other one came as I added up the numbers by hand while sitting in my car.
“I’ve got 47 carries for 491 yards, Wally,” I said, phoning Fung back to verify.
“That what I got too, pretty amazing, huh?” he said.
By the time I filed my story, it was starting to get dark.
Mine was the only car left in the parking lot as I pulled out, ready for the long drive back from Abbotsford to my home in North Delta.
The whole way back, I was talking to myself. I was appreciating greatness in the moment.