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New Waterford residents remember Coal Bowl over the years

The sign inside the gymnasium that welcomed players and spectators for the 38th annual Coal Bowl Classic basketball tournament, New Waterford's winter carnival, which runs from Feb. 3-8. Over the years some games, players and weather have left lasting impressions on fans. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST
The sign inside the gymnasium that welcomed players and spectators for the 38th annual Coal Bowl Classic basketball tournament, New Waterford's winter carnival, which runs from Feb. 3-8. Over the years, some games, players and weather have left lasting impressions on fans. NIKKI SULLIVAN/CAPE BRETON POST
NEW WATERFORD, N.S. —

Big wins, snowstorms and star players are some of the memories diehard Coal Bowl Classic fans have of past tournaments.

Commonly referred to as New Waterford’s winter carnival, some people book vacation during the weeklong basketball tournament, like Rod Mitchell did before he retired.

Rod Mitchell
Rod Mitchell

Mitchell has lived in New Waterford since 1968 and was a member of the last graduating class at Central High School, the year before Breton Education Centre opened.

One of Mitchell's fondest memories is when the host BEC Bears won their first Coal Bowl title in 2009 — 27 years after the first tournament in 1982.

“That was a long time coming,” said Mitchell, who has only missed one Coal Bowl tournament.

That year, BEC had a German exchange student on the team and Mitchell remembers his finesse on the court even if he can’t recall his name.

“He was their ace in the hole,” he said.

Sandra Pearson
Sandra Pearson

Sandra Pearson and her husband haven’t missed a Coal Bowl, which is now in its 38th year.

“I certainly remember the 2016 game that (the BEC Bears) won. Gary MacDonald and Jacob MacNeil were really good players that year,” she said. “But this year and last are very special for us because our grandson (Carter Brown) is playing.”

Pearson started as a volunteer for the tournament but eventually her love of games took over and now they try to see every one.

Like Pearson, John Chiasson has been a Coal Bowl spectator and volunteer, who is currently helping on the medical team.

Mark MacDonald
Mark MacDonald

The first Coal Bowl is one that sticks out for him.

“The team from Glace Bay High were in the finals against Queen Elizabeth High School from Halifax,” he recalled. “They both played very well but Halifax took it ... At that time Glace Bay had a phenomenal team.”

Another tournament highlight for Chiasson is the year George Harvey Secondary School from Toronto won the title.

“The George Harvey was probably the strongest team that ever played in Coal Bowl,” he said. “They totally dominated. They won every game by 20-30 points.”

Former BEC Bears player and male athlete of the year in 1992, Mark MacDonald is attending Coal Bowl in person this year for the first time in 17 years but he used to watch the live feed online while living in Alberta.

“There’s always great talent that comes here,” said MacDonald, who said former Riverview High School player Kirk Mombourquette was one of the best players he went up against at Coal Bowl.

Mombourquette was the Coal Bowl MVP in 1992 and went on to play for Cape Breton University and University of Prince Edward Island.

For MacDonald though, one year really stands out — 1987.

Frank Corbett
Frank Corbett

“I was in Grade 7 and the Bears made the final,” he said. “It was close, but they didn’t stand a chance against that Quebec team, Frontenac.”

Former MLA Frank Corbett also remembers the wins, but it’s the weather one year that is one of his strongest Coal Bowl memories.

“I remember the year me and Greg Boone got stormed in. We were working for ATV at the time. It was the final game, sometime in the mid- to late-80s, and it took about an hour for us to get from the gym to the station. It’s usually a 20-minute drive,” he said.

“Then when we were finished, it took another hour to get back downtown (Sydney). We had to stay in a hotel. We couldn’t even get back to New Waterford from Sydney until suppertime the next day.”

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