For the first time in more than 15 years, university basketball will return the Woodstock.
The University of Guelph Gryphons men’s basketball team, coached by Tillsonburg native Chris O’Rourke, and the University of Toronto Varsity Blues will meet in an exhibition game at St. Mary’s Catholic High School Saturday, Oct. 22 at 2 p.m.
The game, hosted by the Oxford Basketball Officials Association and the Oxford Attack Basketball Club, will be the first university basketball game in Woodstock since around 2000.
“We’re beyond excited to do this,” Oxford Attack vice-president Paul Cowan said. “There’s a good Oxford County connection with both teams being coached by locals, which is incredible.”
The Varsity Blues are coached by John Campbell, a Woodstock Collegiate Institute graduate, and son of former Woodstock resident and longtime university basketball coach Peter Campbell. The Gryphons are led by O’Rourke, who played in high school for Glendale, then for Guelph, eventually becoming the team’s head coach in 1998.
The idea for the game began at last year’s annual captains and veterans held at Woodstock Collegiate Institute March 31. Nino De Luca, the president of the Oxford Basketball Officials Association, was talking to John Campbell who had played for Peter Ewing and was attending since the night was honouring his friend’s father Bill Gillespie.
De Luca mentioned how in 2011, Tillsonburg had hosted the Gryphons and the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, then coached by Peter Campbell, when Glendale was raising money for its Reliving the Legacy community gym campaign, but there hadn’t been a game in the last few years in Oxford, and longer than that in Woodstock.
“I was saying it was a great thing to bring basketball for a smaller community and John said, ‘why don’t I bring my team down to Woodstock and see if Guelph wants to play.’ I reached out to Guelph and Chris said yes right away and we picked a date,” De Luca said. “Both head coaches have deep roots in the community.”
All parties involved will wait to see how successful the exhibition game is received, but if it goes well both De Luca and Cowan said they’d look at continuing it and possibly expanding it to involve both a women’s game and men’s game.
“If it’s successful this year, I don’t see any reason we can’t do it again next year and maybe even grow it to bring in a women’s game,” De Luca said. “Both the men’s and women’s game is very good at the university level.”
In addition to the exhibition game, both head coaches will run a skills clinic for the Attack under-17 and some players from the under-16 teams. The organizations under-10 and under-11 teams will also play during halftime.
For the Attack, the game will be an official launch to their season. They enter the year with the possibility of having 12 teams after being at four, four years ago. Cowan said any money raised will go back into keeping club fees low and help contribute back to the community with projects like Huron Park’s fundraising for a new floor or how they donated money to help some high schools buy new shot clocks.
The game will also give younger players the opportunity to see the sport played at a high, but also attainable level.
The odds of any player, regardless of where they grew up, is astronomical in making it to a professional level. What the OUA offers though is a chance to continue with the sport at a high level following an athlete’s time at the club and high school level.
“I’m a huge fan of university and college sports because I think it’s attainable for lots of our kids. I think we can get too caught up as a society of watching pro or wanting to play Division I in the states and the calibre of university and college sports is really quite high,” Cowan said. “It’s attainable for our players some day and we’re excited to bring it here.
“CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports, the governing body of the OUA) sports is really great ball. It’s competitive and very fun to watch,” Cowan added. “They’re also student-athletes who are getting a great education at the same time. You can play highly competitive basketball and receive a good education at the same time.”
IF YOU GO
What: Toronto Varsity Blues vs. Guelph Gryphons men’s basketball
When: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 2 p.m.
Where: St. Mary’s Catholic high school
How much: $5