It was 40 years ago but the memories don’t fade away for John Russo.
Russo was a member of the 1977 valley champion Rutland Senior Secondary Voodoos, until this year the last RSS senior boys’ basketball team to reach the B.C. provincial finals.
Next week, RSS will return to the Lower Mainland to participate in the provincial tournament after beating cross-town rival Kelowna Senior Secondary in the Okanagan Valley regional tournament final.
Russo shared some of his memories with the RSS squad prior to practice on Thursday night, joined by Terry Beaudry, the current Central Okanagan School District deputy superintendent, member of the 1977-78 RSS graduating class and a cheerleader.
Russo had tears in his eyes as he recalled his experience as a Grade 11 reserve forward playing on a senior-dominated team led by teammates including Ken Anderson, Dave Leadbetter and Bob Osbourne.
That RSS squad would win the annual Western Canadian tournament hosted by KSS and reach the final four of the provincials.
“The Oak Bay team ended up winning the championship but we had beaten them at the Western Canadian tournament that year,” Russo recalled.
Russo’s message to this year’s RSS squad was to take in everything, enjoy the moment when the senior boys’ AAAA provincials get underway in Langley this week.
“It was a lot of fun to be a part of,” Russo said of his high school hoops magical year. “It is something you never forget. It’s really a big tournament…before a game or during the warm-up, I told them to take a moment to look around and take it all in.”
Seeing his former school win the valley title after so many years still brought a sense of school pride to the RSS alumnus.
“When Terry called me on Wednesday and told me about what she wanted to do Thursday night, I was out of town but I didn’t want to miss it,” said Russo, who works in Kelowna as a financial advisor.
“I felt a sense of pride for what they boys had accomplished this year. And they seem like a nice bunch of kids.”
Russo said he has known RSS coach Jeff Balkenhol for more than 20 years, and still runs into classmates around town from his high school era.
Regarding the current RSS team, Russo said in high school sports anything can happen. The competition will be stiff, he said, but you have to remember it’s about high school players.
“These kids are not professionals. For kids that age emotions play a large role in games like this and anything can happen.”
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