P.A. ready to welcome the province

Rylan Michalchuk speaks at the Hoopla kickoff press conference at Carlton March 21. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Hoopla tips off Thursday evening at four locations across the city; 48 teams from 12 regions will play 54 games over three days

Saskatchewan’s version of March Madness is back, and for the first time in 22 years it’s being hosted in Prince Albert.

Hoopla brings together the top teams for provincial championships across all five school size classifications in Saskatchewan. It was started in 1980, and has mostly been hosted in the province’s biggest cities: Saskatoon, Regina Moose Jaw and P.A.

The last time it was hosted in Prince Albert was 1996.

Wednesday, the Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association (SHSAA) held a press conference at the Prince Albert Carlton High School’s Physical Activity Complex to kick-off the three-day tournament, which begins Thursday.

“It’s an exciting time for everyone,” said SHSAA executive director Lyle McKellar.

“This is the event that draws the basketball community. Hoopla is unique across western Canada. We’re the only high school organization that offers this type of environment, and the people of Saskatchewan and Western Canada have really come to appreciate it.”

The 2018 tournament will include 48 teams from 12 regions playing 54 games spread across four gyms in three schools, Carlton Comprehensive, St. Mary High School and Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Teams are coming from as far south as Estevan in the far southeast corner of the province, while some volunteers are travelling over two hours from La Ronge to help put on the event. About 350 staff, student and administration volunteers from three school divisions across the region are converging on Prince Albert to lend a hand.

Saskatoon is sending six teams to the 2018 tournament. On the girls’ side, Aden Bownan, Centennial and St. Joseph are all represented. St. Joseph’s boys’ team has also qualified, as have the boys from Holy Cross and Marion Graham.

The first games get going at 6 p.m. on Thursday, and tournament coordinator and North Central District president Rylan Michalchuk is eager to welcome the athletes, fans, friends and family to Prince Albert.

“We’re very excited to get the opportunity to host. There has been a buzz around our school since Monday, so we just can’t wait for the teams to get here and that first game to start tomorrow,” he said.

Some divisions have long-term juggernauts returning for another crack at the crown, like the 4A girls division, where Moose Jaw Peacock has gone to the championship game in each of the last five years, taking home three gold and two silver. In other divisions, such as the 2A boys, neither the gold nor the silver-winning teams from last year qualified in 2018.

The only thing organizers are sure of is that the end result is unpredictable.

“The gyms will be full. They’ll play in front of crowds they haven’t played in front of in the past, and that always brings out unique characteristics for our student athletes,” McKellar said.
“There are going to be some rivalry games, some new teams playing for the first time — it will be a variety,” Michalchuk said.

“All the games are going to be competitive. It will be a good atmosphere … throughout the whole weekend.”