For the past 30-plus years, basketball fans have packed the PNE Agrodome to watch the best high school boys players compete for the provincial championship.
But starting next week, B.C.’s version of March Madness comes to the Langley Events Centre.
“One of the goals (with the Langley Events Centre) is to bring provincial and national and maybe one day international championships to Langley,” said Jason Winslade, the Township of Langley’s general manager and deputy adminstrator.
“We identified a number of different events and (this) was one of them.”
After the tournament’s contract with the PNE expired last March, the organizers decided to look at moving out of the Lower Mainland for the first time in its 66-year history.
“With the proliferation of new arenas around, we looked at the possibility of moving the tournament,” said John Buis, the long-time tournament director.
After reviewing the Township of Langley’s expression of interest, the Langley Events Centre was chosen.
It is a minimum three-year agreement, but both Winslade and Buis said they hope to have a long-term agreement in place soon.
“We are open for them to have as long of a stay as they would like,” Winslade said.
“It is a beautiful modern, facility, with lots of great sight lines,” Buis said, adding that the technology — such as the video board — the three-year old building offers is an upgrade.
“Plus, the big thing for us is we can run all our games in one location.”
In the past, some of the games on the consolation side of the draw would be played off-site. But with the main draw being played in the arena part of the Langley Events Centre — Basketball BC’s portable floor will be assembled over top of the ice — the facility’s gymnasium will house those games.
This will also allow each team to play four games, compared to years past when space and time constraints restricted teams who lost their first two games to be eliminated right away.
The tournament features 20 of the top AAA — schools with 226 or more boys in Grade 11 and 12 — teams from around the province.
Langley, which features predominantly A and AA schools, has one entry in the tournament, the Walnut Grove Gators.
Buis is excited about the 66th edition of the tournament, which kicks off on Tuesday and runs until Saturday.
“It is an outstanding facility for our kids to play in, it is something really special,” he said.
He compared it to a miniature version of Rogers Arena, which hosted the AAA championships in 1996 and 1997 when it was GM Place and the Vancouver Grizzlies were prominent on the local basketball scene. But due to the high cost of hosting the tournament there, it moved back to the Agrodome in 1998.
Not everyone is happy with the move to Langley.
“To be quite honest, yes there was some (negative reaction),” he said. “Particularly from the people who live in the western part of Vancouver and the North Shore.
“It means, possibly, increased travel time for them.”
But the positives far outweigh the negatives.
“One of the really positive things is our parking costs don’t exceed our event costs,” Buis explained.
“The PNE grounds are run by the City of Vancouver and they weren’t able to adjust the prices of parking. Here at the Events Centre, the parking is complimentary.”
There is also a larger capacity, as they should be able to accommodate about 6,700 fans, compared to 5,000 or so who could fit into the Agrodome.
While final numbers will not be known until after the tournament, buzz seems to be high for the event.
The majority of the Langley Events Centre’s 24 private suites are booked.
“The biggest thing is being able to showcase the building for a whole new audience,” said Jared Harman, the Events Centre’s director of business development.
“A lot like when the Vancouver Giants were here, hopefully it will attract a new fan base and create some buzz for our teams whether it be the Thunder (junior and senior lacrosse), the Chiefs (junior hockey) or the Spartans (university volleyball and basketball).
“And from an advertising standpoint, I think we will probably see a bigger benefit after the tournament and heading into next year’s event.”
Harman attended Vancouver College for his high school and remembers going to the Agrodome as a fan, joining many of his classmates in painting their faces in the school’s purple and gold colours.
“It was always an event, a chance to show your school spirit,” he said.
“I think people underestimate just how good the basketball is.”
The Sandman Hotel in Walnut Grove is the official hotel of the tournament, and while the hotel was not full as of Wednesday afternoon, it is definitely busier than normal, said Shannon Linley, the hotel’s front office manager.
And Winslade says that is just one of the many spin-offs of hosting major competitions.
“We know from these events that people come, they stay in hotels,” he said.
In addition to this tournament, the Events Centre is currently hosting the Single A boys’ high school basketball championships this week, for the second year in a row. It also hosted the B.C. Summer Games back in July, which attracted thousands of athletes’ family members, volunteers, coaches and officials.
“The restaurants, the hotels, the theatres, they will all benefit from having this in town.”
Buis was very grateful for all the work being down by the Township and the staff at the Langley Events Centre.
“They have worked really hard to put this together,” he said. “Yes it has been more time but I think it is worth it to invest the time to make sure we have everything in place.
“What I get involved is that the community wants to be involved.”