A week and a half before their trip to provincials, Brent Tower sat in a small classroom of Ron Pettigrew Christian, pondering the possibilities of what a provincial boys basketball title would mean for the school.
The coach chose his words carefully in that conversation, not wanting to sound too cocky or over confident, after preaching to his team all year long the importance of humility and respect.
Tower, one of two coaches with the RPCS Lions, along with his wife Dianne, can now boast about being provincial champions.
The team took home the top prize at single A provincials in Langley on Saturday after heading into the tournament ranked seventh and knocking off Langley’s Credo Christian Kodiaks 69-58 in the championship game.
“It’s overwhelming,” Brent said over the phone from Langley on Sunday. “It’s nice for the small schools to get a win. It’s nice for this school to get some recognition. It’s been a long time. It was raw emotion, the boys were crying, they were overwhelmed. Winning a championship is … I recommend it to anybody. We got this one now and we want more.”
The coach added that after a big lead in the first half, the short-bench finally started to catch up to his team, but like they have all year, they just kept pushing.
“The boys, they worked hard all season and having small numbers and facing big benches all the time. They are in very good shape. Still coming to the realization that we actually accomplished what we set out to do,” Brent explained.
“The boys just stuck to the game plan … we were up 19 at half, we were rolling a little bit … [but] the guys were just fatigued, we let them back in the game a little bit, they got within 10 points and we had to really buckle down.”
In the 28-year history of the school, no team has ever accomplished the feat. It was even a trip to provincials almost three decades ago that gave the school life in the first place.
The school’s namesake, principal and coach Ron Pettigrew was driving a group of students from Bethel Christian School to Lillooet for the first-ever B.C. Single A tournament, when they were involved in a fatal crash, killing Pettigrew and five of the team’s players.
Ron Pettigrew Christian was formed the following year by his widow and some former staff.
The current RPCS squad has its own connection to that legacy, as Diane Tower is the daughter of Ron Pettigrew and one of the team’s core players, Garrett Tower, is his grandson.
Although they try not to focus too much on the connection to the past, instead allowing the boys to forge their own path about how they will be remembered.
For a school of just 160 kids, only seven of whom are in Grades 11 and 12, the title win is nothing short of remarkable.
“Diane and I told them that we’re not going 700 miles to come down here to have half an effort and lose. We have a big responsibility for our school and to have a good showing for our community,” Brent added.
The Lions were winners by pure guts and determination, including playing just five players in a 68-56 quarterfinal win over the number two seed, West Point Grey Academy.
“That’s a prep school, all they do is play sports and here we are a little private school from Northern B.C.,” Tower said.
“Their teams make it to provincials every year and they are very good at volleyball and basketball … the boys just absolutely, that was probably the hardest and most stressful game. They gave us a very good game. A massive win for the boys and their confidence.”
And in the final, the well-mannered, hard-working, small town kids, committed just four personal fouls over the 40-minute win.
“The boys are really self-disciplined. We can’t take errant fouls because we don’t have anyone to replace anyone. We have to play very smart and conservative. When we get in foul trouble, we get in big trouble,” Brent added.
All those factors were exemplified by tournament MVP Lance Gavino, a five foot, nine inch tall Grade 10 guard who poured in 26 points in the final and was essential in the Lions aggressive play and outside shooting.
Brent Tower was also named coach of the tournament and Garrett was named a first team all-star.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions relied heavily on six foot, five inch center Francis Obeta, who led all players in the final with 17 rebounds and added 14 points on route to earning the tournament’s Top Defensive Player award.
The Lions started off the tournament with a 69-41 win over Unity Christian, then after beating the West Point Grey in game two, beat St. Ann's Academy 83-42 in the semi final on Friday night to set up their shot at the title.
The team arrived home Sunday to a small gathering at the airport, much to the delight of the mighty Lions.
And if they have their way, the title might just make its way back to the Peace next year.
“None of the boys are graduating, we have one more year. I told them, we have one more year to go and we want another championship. That’s the goal,” Tower said.
The team also wished the thank Trevor and Tyrell O’Dwyer, Cody Scopnick, Ty Halliday, Chris Schlanwitz and Jesse Benn for all their help this season.