The Ontario high school AA girls’ basketball champion is to be crowned in Guelph late this month.
St. James Catholic High School is to host the three-day Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championship tournament for girls’ basketball teams from AA-sized schools Nov. 23 to 25. AA schools in the province have an enrolment of 501 to 950 students.
“I've been lucky enough to go with teams to OFSAAs,” said St. James Lions coach and OFSAA tournament convenor Michael O’Rourke. “I've went to good OFSAAs, I've went to bad OFSAAs and I think I had the confidence to run a good OFSAA for the athletes that they'll enjoy. So the reason I wanted to run it is so they can enjoy, have a good OFSAA that the kids will enjoy. And the kids will think they're special and think ‘I am special because I made OFSAA’, but feel big, feel important. So that's why I wanted to run an OFSAA – let the kids have a good time and give them a good experience.”
While St. James is to host the tournament and most of the games on the final day, the other two AA schools in District 10 – Bishop Macdonell and Our Lady of Lourdes – are to host games on the first two days.
“It's really nice because all are really good gyms,” O’Rourke said. “They're all pretty much the exact same gym. All the schools are onboard to help out, which is wonderful and I'm excited to have. And it's nice, I always refer to Guelph as a small town because you can get from one gym to another gym in 10, 15 minutes without that much hassle. So it'll be nice to kind of pop around.”
The whole idea, though, is to give all participants a great experience.
“There's only one team that's going to win,” O’Rourke said. “I think the stat is just two percent of athletes (in the province) that make OFSAA, so it's a big deal and it should feel big. It should feel special. That's my goal is to make the kids feel special while they're here.
“(It’s) their type of experience, hanging with their friends and so on and so forth. If they happen to win, that's going to be great. But it’s to give kids and coaches a good experience and that's what I want. That's the only reason I want to do it. It’s not for my own team. It's nothing along those lines.”
In fact, St. James passed on the invitation to be in the tournament as the host team.
That means the two teams that reach the final in the Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association (CWOSSA) AA tournament qualify for the provincial
“I declined our invitation because I think the two best teams from the area should go,” O’Rourke said. “Originally I was supposed to go, but I declined the invitation so the two finalists at CWOSSA will advance to OFSAA. And District 10 is on its streak of 17 (seasons) of winning CWOSSA. So I hope that whoever the District 10 representative is that makes CWOSSA is in. That way they can have a next home game and really enjoy the experience in their hometown.”
The top surviving AA team in the local District 10 playoffs will advance to the CWOSSA AA tournament. The District 10 league consists of three AA teams, the Catholic schools, and five AAA teams.
Bishop Macdonell Celtics had the best result of the AA teams in District 10 as they finished the regular season fifth at 7-7. Lourdes Crusaders were sixth at 5-9 and St. James was tied for seventh at 1-13.
Lourdes won the CWOSSA AA title last year while St. James won in 2019 and Bishop Macdonell won in 2018, their 14 th championship win in 15 years.
While O’Rourke turned down the chance to have his Lions in the provincial tournament as hosts, he said his players weren’t upset about it.
“They weren't, they understood,” he said. “They understood my intentions and they're excited, they're honestly really excited to help host and do all the things that help host. They're going to get a great experience in volunteering and helping host it. For most of my girls, that will be even a better experience than going and playing at the level where they're at right now. It's going to be a great experience for the volunteers in Guelph, all the students volunteering. For every game I think I need 15 or 20 students if I want to do it as supported as I wish so a lot of kids are going to get an opportunity to help support, help see some great basketball and some great athletes.”
Of course, it’s been a lot of work preparing for the tournament.
“The more you think (you’ve got done), there's another layer above that,” O’Rourke said. “That's work, but it's okay. It's going to be good.
“Some of the stuff you don't even think about like I'm working through streaming right now. How that's changed. Some things have changed in the past year along those lines. So, yeah, you have an idea of what it's going to take, but then once you get (one thing) done, there's something else to get done.”
There are some things that might seem small, but will be big in making the tournament experience be the best it can be.
“The thing is to make the kids feel big at the games and make sure all the little things are done.” O’Rourke said. “We're training our scorekeepers as best we can so hopefully there'll be minimal issues there. I'm going to make sure they have ice water beside (the benches) and we’re going to have people helping with brooms – not brooms, sweat mops. We're getting sweat mops for all the schools with logos on it. We did that for a CWOSSA a couple years ago. It's just something very small to have someone come over when someone falls down and make sure it's dry, which is great because we're preventing injuries. But the kids also feel really good that like this is something special.
"It's not normal. It's something different. So my goal is to make the kids feel good along those lines.”
The tournament is to be a 20-team affair with AA champions from 18 regional associations to be joined by the CWOSSA finalist and a second team from Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (SOSSA) as a team from that association won last year’s tournament. SOSSA includes teams from Hamilton and Niagara Falls.
Games on the first two days of the tournament are to be held at all three schools. On Nov. 25, the final day of the tournament, there’ll be eight teams left to compete in the final day of the tournament, four in the championship side and four in the consolation side.
Consolation semifinals are to be held at St. James and Lourdes at 9 a.m. and the consolation final is to go at 2 p.m. at St. James.
Championship semifinals are to be at St. James and Lourdes at 11 a.m. The bronze- medal match is to be played at St. James at 4 p.m. and the championship game is to follow at 6 p.m.