M.E.I. Basketball - Ed Suderman - 1961 - 1963

1983, Vancouver Province
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MEl's memorable year


Saturday, March 16, 1963. The largest crowd in the history of University of B.C:'s War Memorial Gymnasium, 6,000, watches me take a pass from Jim Falk and score a basket at the buzzer to climax the only perfect season for a B.C. high school basketball team.

When I came off the bench to finalize Mennonite Educational Institute's 58-40 victory over Alberni, I was recording a footnote to a season of historic feats.

MEl had no player over 6'2" and played all its home games at Abbotsford because its own gym in Clearbrook was so tiny, yet the team won 25 straight games, averaging 70 points per contest, and set a B.C. tournament scoring record of 297 points that lasted for 13 years.

Statistics tell only part of the story. The boys from the boondocks caught the fancy of their hometown supporters, Vancouver sportswriters and many of the fans who helped set attendance records at the season-end championships.

Led by Ed Suderman, the lanky son of a chicken farmer (as reporters were apt to describe him), Jim Falk, George Heidebrecht, Howard Loewen and Dan Ratzlaff, and bolstered by capable reserves, MEl was a close-knit team from a close-knit Fraser Valley community.

Now, 20 years later, the memories are still fresh.

''We knew each other's moves backwards and forwards," recalls Suderman, a lawyer in Vancouver. 'There seemed to be a fluid motion, an Interwoven pattern, on the court."

Falk, who teaches and coaches at Chilliwack Junior Secondary, says "I felt we had a real team effort all year. We had good bench strength and we all had confidence in each other."

Part of the confidence came from the coach, Jake Braun, a laconic man who seldom raised his voice or gave locker-room orations. MEl began the season shakily with narrow wins over North Surrey and Abbotsford, but once they mastered Braun's multiple-option "shuffle" offence and learned to play man-to-man defence as well as zone, they won most games by easy margins.

''We started being more aggressive with the man-to-man, we used the fast break, and it was fun," remembers Braun.

 Braun, who coached In California before coming to MEl, took another MEl team to a provincial championship In 1970, then coached at Trinity Western College in Langley for a decade, sometimes baffled MEl's opponents with astute strategies, and, he says, he had the players to make them work.

As the winning streak grew, certain games were more memorable than others . .. easy wins over Kerrisdale Junior Men (and North Vancouver star Ian Dixon) and UBC Jayvees, Suderman outscoring the entire Mission team, 41-34, in an 82-34 victory, Neil Williscroft pouring In 30 points for Vancouver College on the day his father died, only to see MEl win by 10.

Perhaps the toughest game was against Lord Byng In the Snowball Tournament final In Abbotsford, when Dave Gardner and Jimmy Walker of the Grey Ghosts couldn't seem to miss as they combined for 52 points. MEl hung on to Win, 77-7 4.

"As the season wore on, the fact that we were undefeated became a focus and caused some excitement," says Suderman, "but in every game, including the one against Lord Byng, I felt confident we'd win."

MEl tuned up for the B.C. finals by beating Langley, Queen Elizabeth and Abbotsford in the Fraser Valley tournament.

Then it was on to UBC for the championships, where MEl breezed past Creston by 71 points and Nanaimo by 49 before scraping out a 12-point win over Queen Elizabeth. MEI played like individuals and not as a team" against QE, Brawl told reporters. What's more, Suderman scored 19 points despite wrenching his right ankle early in the game when tournament scoring star (100 points) and MVP Jack Hik landed on his foot after a rebound.

While the MEI centre stayed up most of the night, trying to reduce the egg-sized lump on his foot with an ice pack, the Province headline was asking, 'Ed Suderman out for Alberni game?'

Alberni, a small, fast, good-shooting team in the MEI mold, had brought its season record to a 31-2 with wins over Lester Pearson, West Vancouver and North Surrey.

"I remember walking around Stanley Park before the game," recalls Falk. "I think we all felt that this time we weren't going to let down, afer being so close before (MEl was fourth in '62 and third in '61)."

Some 1,000 Clearbrook fans were In the crowd, according to one newspaper account, as Suderman limped out with a heavily taped ankle, having taken a pain killer one-half hour earlier. He lacked mobility and "couldn't dominate the game the way he might have," says Braun, who saw his team break open a tight defensive game with 22 points in the last quarter.

Using a diamond-and-one zone (with Falk guarding John Drew), MEl played well defensively but also had trouble scoring against the stubborn Vancouver Island team. MEl led by a single point as the final quarter began. Suderman tossed in three jump shots from the baseline, Loewen weaved through the key for a layup and Heidebrecht scored several baskets to spark MEl's explosion. Alberni made only five points.

Heidebrecht played superbly, scoring 21 points and taking 18 rebounds. Suderman scored 18 points, Loewen 12, Falk five. Marv Johnson led Alberni with 13 points and rebounded strongly before fouling out. Drew scored nine points, Alec Brayden seven, Rick Bumip six, Gary Grunland five.

Seven of the 12 team members married their high school "sweethearts."

Some of the former MEl players still live in Clearbrook - Falk, for instance, and Heidebrecht, a B.C. Hydro inspector, and Ratzlaff, a draftsman who chaired the MEl school board for four years. Dr. Howard Loewen teaches at a Mennonite seminary in Fresno, Calif.

The others - Pete Hooge, AI Pauls, Don Wallace, Wes Giesbrecht, Dennis Neumann, Harold Derksen and myself- work in a variety of professions.

Most of us still shoot baskets and remember the days when we were invincible.

Vern Giesbrecht was a non-starting member of the 1963 MEl championship team.

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