This Neoproterozoic newshound arrived at the 70th Luther Invitational Tournament on Thursday, having first visited this prestigious high school basketball event when it was billed as the “36th annual.”
And it seemed old back then!
I am attempting to process the passage of time, and so much else, while soaking in the surroundings this weekend at Luther College High School’s Semple Gymnasium.
A year ago at this time, I presumed that my journalistic presence at this historically significant tournament would soon become, well, history.
Mere days before the 69th LIT, I had agreed to terms with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Upon doing so, I gave the Regina Leader-Post — for which I first staffed the tournament in 1988 — the conventional two weeks’ notice. Then I went about my duties for the final fortnight of my 36-year tenure at the L-P.
Talk about bittersweet.
I have always loved covering LIT, at which the purity of sport is celebrated. But, throughout the 2023 tournament, I presumed that my future involvement would be strictly as a spectator.
That would have been fine, too. I would not have missed this event. Yet, I had grown attached to a spot that had been annually allocated to me in the press box at Luther College High School’s Semple Gymnasium.
Since the new gym opened nearly a decade ago, the press-box perch has been one of my favourite places to be, for three days every February.
Imagine my excitement, then, when tournament director Troy Casper reached out to me last week to pass along the news that The Spot would once again be reserved for me. Honestly, I nearly cried, and I am not easily moved to tears.
And it would get better!
Earlier this week, Arielle Zerr — the Roughriders’ Director of Communications — suggested that I approach the nice people at Luther about perhaps writing LIT-related stories for the tournament’s online platforms.
Very quickly, we had a deal.
The negotiations did not call for any money to change hands, although I did help myself to some chocolate-chip cookies from the coaches’ and officials’ lounge, which is all too conveniently on the way to the press box.
When I reached that destination, for the first time as a Roughrider and an erstwhile Leader-Poster, I was absolutely floored.
As per tradition, my spot was designated by a piece of white athletic tape, on which it was written: ROB VANSTONE (MEDIA EMERITUS).
I have yet to do a Google search for “Emeritus,” but I presume that it means “washed up” or is code for “stop stealing all the cookies!”
Honestly, I always felt like I was stealing money (guilty!) when I covered LIT for my favourite newspaper. I semi-jokingly referred to LIT weekend as my “three-day paid vacation,” while preparing myself to crank out story after story.
Those days, as much as I cherished them, were presumed to be in the past tense … until Troy texted me … and Arielle had her latest brilliant idea … and I texted Troy … and he put me in touch with Kim Greenman and Erin Woods, both of whom kindly agreed to post my stories.
With those wheels in motion, I was able to combine my love of two Saskatchewan sporting institutions — the Roughriders and LIT.
I was reminded of that when I opened my laptop, which sits near the “MEDIA EMERITUS” tag, and was greeted by my screen-saver — a photo of the Roughriders’ Joey Walters making a one-handed touchdown catch in 1982.
My first interview at LIT 2024 was with Joni Halvorson, who has refereed at nearly 20 such tournaments.
Joni’s son, Jonathan, is the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation’s Development Manager.
Jon also played in two LITs before taking his talents to Saskatoon and joining the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
His sisters, Jordyn and Kaylee, also excelled in basketball at Luther and at the post-secondary level.
It gets better. Kaylee is engaged to Roughriders receiver Mitch Picton.
This story — another inspired suggestion by Arielle — proved to be a natural for Riderville.com.
As automatic angles go, you could even call it a lay-up.
Ditto for my profile of the Raymond Comets’ Delaney Gibb.
She is, quite simply, the best player I have seen in all my years of watching LIT.
After Raymond played the Luther Lions in a senior girls game on Thursday night, Gibb posed for photos and signed autographs. It is rare to see a high school basketball player command such a fan following but, then again, she is a rare player.
Last summer, her clutch three-pointer in overtime helped Canada win the bronze medal at the FIBA under-19 women’s World Cup in Madrid.
Also of note: She is destined for Brigham Young University after being touted by ESPN as one of the top 50 recruits in North America.
A story on Gibb was another lay-up — an automatic story angle. The profile, along with everything else I write this weekend at LIT, can be found on the tournament’s Facebook page.
And I can be found in my little corner of the press box, loving every precious minute of being there.
With the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers poised to meet in Sunday’s NFL championship game, we present just a few of the connections — honestly, there are dozens! — between the Roughriders and the Super Bowl …
Phillip Daniels: The Roughriders’ newly appointed Defensive Line Coach was on the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff from 2016 to 2019. Most memorably, the Eagles became a first-time Super Bowl champion on Feb. 4, 2018.
Rodney Parker: When the Eagles made their first Super Bowl appearance, on Jan. 25, 1981, Parker was part of the equation. He caught one pass for 19 yards in a 27-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders. In the lineup that day for Oakland was …
Willie Jones: Jones registered a fumble recovery in Super Bowl XV. Three years later, he was a member of the Roughriders, albeit briefly. In his one appearance with the Green and White, he helped Saskatchewan register seven sacks and ultimately defeat the host Ottawa Rough Riders 46-24. Dave Ridgway led the way by becoming the first CFLer to kick eight field goals in a game.
Ken Clark: When Ridgway joined the Roughriders in 1982, he quickly became a close friend of Clark. In the 1980 Super Bowl, Clark punted for the Los Angeles Rams in a 31-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He joined the Roughriders on Oct. 8, 1980 and remained with the team until being traded to Ottawa three years later.
Yo Murphy: Like Clark, he played for the Rams in a Super Bowl. As a member of the St. Louis Rams, he returned the opening kickoff of the 2002 Super Bowl for 38 yards. He also caught one pass for 11 yards for the Rams, who lost 20-17 to the New England Patriots.
Bill Belichick: New England posted its first of six Super Bowl victories in 2002, kicking off the team’s dynasty under Head Coach Bill Belichick. His father, Steve Belichick, was a guest coach at the Roughriders’ training camp in 1958. Bill Belichick’s godfather is Bill Edwards, who was Ron Lancaster’s collegiate coach. Lancaster played at Wittenburg College (now Wittenberg University) in Springfield, Ohio before becoming a CFLer in 1960.
Jay Alford: Versus the Belichick-coached Patriots, Alford registered a sack of Tom Brady in the final minute of Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots’ hopes for an undefeated (19-0) season were dashed when the New York Giants posted a 17-14 Super Bowl victory on Feb. 3, 2008. Alford played in 10 games with the 2012 Roughriders.
Jon Ryan: The Regina-born punter was a member of the Seattle Seahawks when they made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, in 2014 and 2015. Seattle defeated the Denver Broncos 43-8 before losing a heartbreaker to Brady, Belichick and friends one year later.
Zach Collaros: A Roughriders quarterback in 2018 and for the early part of the 2019 season, Collaros is a close friend and former college roommate of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Collaros was recently spotted in Kelce’s private box, a few feet away from Taylor Swift. Hence the Super Bowl prop bet. Someone can wager on whether Collaros will be in a luxury suite at the Super Bowl.
Robert Holmes: In 1970, Holmes accepted the Chiefs’ first two handoffs of Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings. Kansas City went on to win 24-7. Holmes spent the second half of the 1976 season with Saskatchewan. (More about him on Riderville.com tomorrow.)
- Another LIT highlight: Visiting with Luther College High School art teacher Drew Hunter, who designed the cover for my latest book. I hope that you can tell a book by its cover, because Drew did an amazing job with the primary illustration for Brave Face — an exploration of the NHL’s maskless goalie era. In the early stages of the book preparation, Drew contacted me out of the blue and offered to do some art work. I referred him to the amazing people at Triumph Books and they, too, were impressed with Drew.
- Some Roughriders ties to LIT: Jim Hopson is a former LIT special guest … Offensive Co-ordinator Marc Mueller played in LIT for the Sheldon-Williams Spartans … Long-time Roughriders athletic therapist Ivan Gutfriend routinely volunteered his time and expertise … Ron Lancaster coached the Central Gophers in the 1972 LIT senior boys final, won 64-49 by the Winnipeg Glenlawn Lions.
- One of the many joys of my job (non-LIT version) relates to the immersion in Roughriders minutiae. Consider the improbable events of Oct. 28, 1973, when the Roughriders defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 34-25 at Taylor Field. During that game, Lancaster unloaded long pains for gains of 94 (by Bobby Thompson) and 80 (Bob Pearce). The noteworthy part: Neither play resulted in a touchdown. What are the odds of a team producing two completions of 80-plus yards in a game without scoring on either one? In the same game, Roughriders running back Terry Bulych carried the ball twice for a total of three yards … and scored two TDs!
- And there’s this: Joe Theismann hit Eric (The Flea) Allen for a 100-yard completion when the Roughriders visited the Toronto Argonauts. Guess what? Allen didn’t score, either. What was it about 1973?
- One more Super Bowl note: Much has been made of the fact that 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy was Mr. Irrelevant — the last player selected in the NFL Draft — in 2022. Over the years, two last overall draft picks have spent time with the Roughriders. Receiver Kelvin Kirk (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1976), played in three games with Saskatchewan in 1979. Defensive back Ramzee Robinson (Detroit Lions, 2007) attrended training camp with the Roughriders in 2013.
ROLL CREDITS …
- Nice people who deserve a plug: Jay Onrait, Jim Hopson, Amber MacLeod, John Alexander, Chris Read, Sarah Fedirko, Jason Nicurity, Jorgen Hus, Jay Willimott, Shawn Hitchcock, Kirstin Geib, Logan Ferland, Rodney Fink, Kelly Marce, Dale West, Shawn Bane Jr., Joni Halvorson, Craig Halvorson, Jonathan Halvorson, Kaylee Halvorson, Jordyn Halvorson, Troy Casper, Drew Hunter, Lucas Stasuik, Delaney Gibb, Jeremy Sundeen, Rob Vanderhooft, Rick Tiefenbach, Kelly Remple, Spencer Remple, Randy Brooks, Gerry Harris, Dick Stark, Dr. Mark Anderson, Kim Greenman, Erin Woods, Frances Giguette and Lanny McDonald.