The Gitxsan Mystics are looking to win it all this year at the All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert.

The Gitxsan Mystics are looking to win it all this year at the All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert.

Hazelton hoopsters hope for gold at All Native Basketball Tournament

This year's contest will feature 49 teams in four divisions and Hazelton will be sending along two teams to reach for the top.

It’s all about pride. Pride of one’s community and the friends and neighbours that live there.

It’s a demonstration of ability and competitiveness that’s been going on for quite a while.

The All Native Basketball Tournament that’s going on this week in Prince Rupert has a history that goes back 58 years, and it’s one way that each of the small communities that make up the various nations of the Northwest can earn bragging rights.

This year’s contest will feature 49 teams in four divisions and Hazelton will be sending along two teams to reach for the top. Both have to be considered among the favorites for a top berth.

Last year, the women’s team was edged out in the final game by Bella Bella while the men were squeezed out of the final round by a strong Vancouver squad.

According to Dianne Shanoss, manager of the men’s team, this year’s edition under the tutelage of coach Marty Smith has been practicing hard in the hopes that they can be the one’s leaving the tournament in top spot.

Peter Haugan of the organizing committee says that most of the teams come from small communities from the Northwest, southeast Alaska, with some more thrown in from southern BC.

He said that every year, the reigning champion is the team to beat, so in the men’s it’s Skidegate, while in the women’s Bella Bella will be the targets.

The tournament has taken place every year in Prince Rupert since 1959 and has attracted some excellent play as well as a wide variety of cultural and social events.

There are the opening ceremonies, the craft fair and numerous booths from colleges and organizations such as the RCMP displaying what they have to offer.

“We’ll have more than 100 games during the week,” Haugan said.

When asked about the officials, he said that the tournament has traditionally attracted some of Canada’s best.

This year, the nations’s top FIBA (Federation International de Basketball Amateur) referee will be flying in from Puerto Rico to be in attendance.

The long hours of practice and weekends devoted to games will all come down to the time they spend on the court this weekend.

While the women have a bye in the first round, the men will meet the Vancouver team that edged them out of the competition last year.

Haugan explained that club teams from the larger communities such as Vancouver have to adhere to special rules to keep them within the spirit of the competition.

“The players on those teams have to play a minimum number of games with the team so that it’s not an all-star team,” he said.

As far as the community teams go, they have to reside within the community to be eligible for that particular team. Players must also be able to prove their First Nations lineage.