A group of young athletes backed by a Christina Street hotel pulled off an improbable feat 50 years ago when they won the gold medal in basketball at the first Canada Winter Games.
Led by local basketball icon Barry Howson, the Sarnia Drawbridge Inn Knights represented Ontario at the Quebec City tournament, upending Alberta 97-69 on the to gold in Canada’s Centennial year.
At the time, the victory was called the greatest achievement ever by a city basketball team, a victory rivaling even the Sarnia Imperials’ two Grey Cups.
“We were unique in that we were versatile in the positions we played,” said Howson, player-coach of the Senior A team, which formed a season earlier to compete in the Ontario Amateur Basketball Association.
“We had good rebounding, and basically each guy on our team had a specialty … and it all fit into a puzzle.”
Core team members included Grant Gordon, Barry Tremblay, Doug Shaver, Art Suzuki, John Brikmanis, Dick Hames, Pete Misikowetz and Doug Marshall. Joining them in Quebec were a trio from the Windsor Alumnis, a team the Knights defeated weeks earlier in front of 400 fans at St. Clair Secondary School.
Grant Gordon said the team played an unstructured brand of hoops.
“If we went down and had to set up in positions we weren’t playing our game. We (would) usually just run.”
Heading into the tournament Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Ontario were the teams to beat. Nova Scotia, comprised of Dalhousie University’s finest players, dealt Sarnia it’s only round-robin loss.
Despite that, Howson figured the Knights could still take gold if Manitoba beat Nova Scotia. So on behalf of the team he offered the Manitobans a case of beer for the victory.
At halftime in a close game Manitoba’s player-coach, shouting over to Howson from courtside, requested two cases of beer. Howson agreed without hesitation.
Manitoba triumphed 53-49 and the Knights won gold for Ontario without ever leaving the stands.
The Knights returned to Sarnia triumphant and Mayor Paul Blundy presented them with silver cufflinks bearing the city crest.
Team Manager Mike McDonald spoke highly of the Ontario team, even claiming Howson to be the best basketball player in Canada.
The Knights, who continued to play in the Senior A league until 1970, was one of the first teams inducted into the Sarnia-Lambton Sports Hall of Fame when it was founded 13 years later.