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

March 1993 B.C."AAA" Basketball Tournament Program 1st page
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By Howard Tsumura

This is the story of the sons of farmers. The second generation of eastern European immigrants. The offspring of a proud people who gave unconditional love to their families and to the breadth of land that gave them their breath and bread.

This is also a story about basketball. About farm boys who grew into the game, then used the game to grow to heights of social significance.

Today, these sons of farmers are leaders of society. Educators. Theologians. Lawyers. Businessmen.

In a more innocent age, they were called hicks. Today , they are living Hoosiers. Each with a personal tale of triumph . Each forever linked to the other by an invisible cord as resilient as the binder twine they lovingly wove into makeshift hoops.

All of this took place 30 years ago. If only they had handicams and VCR's and large-screen projection televisions. If only someone had captured all of this on film . If only you could have seen those Eagles form the Mennonite Educational Institute (MEl) win the B.C. boys high school basketball championship.

I was born the year they won , 1963. And I haven't been able to rent the video. You know, the one called 'The Eagle Has Landed' - a championship season with the MEl Eagles'. So I talked to the players. now grown men. I asked them for nothing but the straight goods. They had trouble delivering.

Their remembrances are not of the precise events . Just the precise feelings of a time in their lives when they blindly gave the game of basketball everything they had. And about their present-day feelings - how in return , the game gave them more than they ever expected.

The story of the sons of farmers began where it should. In a barn . When the hay was taken from the loft in his father's South Abbotsford barn, Jim Falk would sweep the wooden floor and paint the lines that turned an elevated dungeon into a makeshift court.

Crude wiring brought light to the loft and binder twine was wrapped to resemble a hoop.

"We all grew up on Huntington Road, most of us anyways," says Falk, now 48 and a counsellor at Chilliwack Junior Secondary School. "It was about a mile from the border . That Jim Falk barn was empty for a big part of the year so we put up the nets and painted the lines and it was great.

It was in the crudest of matchboxes that the fire was first lit. There was Falk, Ed Suderman. Howard Loewen, George Heidebrecht and Dan Ratzlaff. There was Wes Giesbrecht, Dennis Neuman, Albert Pauls, Vern Giesbrecht, Harold Derksen , Don Wallace, Peter Hooge and Ernie Braun.

They were country boys who lacked the big city facilities enjoyed by the Vancouver Colleges and Killarneys of the high school world. But they didn't lack the big city dreams that would become their destiny ... their dreams of playing in front of 6,000 fans in the championship game at the University of B.C.

Heidebrecht, who went on to win the tournament MVP award in 1964, remembers the hay loft well.

"I fell through the floor once," he laughs. "I guess those boards were just rotten and I got scratched up pretty good."

His fall was one of the hazards in the reckless pursuit of a dream that seemed totally foreign to the parents of all of the players.

Their culture stressed hard work, clean living and church. But it didn't stress the endless hours of repetition that every good player must endure . Afterall , they thought, if you want to get exercise, just run around the yard a few times ... then get back to the real world.

"There was this cultural sense that I grew up with ," says Suderman, who now operates a successful Vancouver law practice.

"There was a sense of me as a Mennonite boy wasting his life playing basketball. My parents came here from the Soviet Union and my dad didn't see me play a game until the 1961 Fraser Valley finals ."

"But I didn't think it unusual. I didn't expect that generation to understand."

But in the fall of 1962, a special man moved into the neighborhood and he understood their passion very clearly. He was from California, they learned . And he brought with him an innate quality to inspire. He made them winners. His name was Jake Braun.

In the mid-1950's, Jake Braun was a principal of a tiny , two-room elementary school in the town of Buehler, Kansas.

"Every grade school had a basketball team and it was expected that someone would coach it ," says Braun, now 66 years old and a church pastor in Mission. "So I just started coaching . There was a great interest and we'd pack that little gym to cheer on the team."

Braun 's coaching journey took him west to jobs in Oregon and California before he finally returned home to B.C. to 1962 and his coaching position at MEl Secondary.

"When I was in high school (at Chilliwack Secondary) I can remember seeing our team play at the B.C. 's," he says. "But when I came back up here I didn't know what to expect. I thought basketball was still in the 1920's up here but they were well-schooled.

"What I found out was that the guys were not big - Suderman was the tallest at 6- foot-2 - but they were very mobile and they complimented each other very well.

Braun, assessing his talent, decided right away that he'd implement a shuffle offence used at Auburn University and Iowa's University . The offence was simple. Every player would learn to play all five positions on the floor and would switch throughout the course of a game.

"The shuffle calls for a lot of movement," Braun continues. "It was not a static thing. It was very fluid."

And once the players got the hang of it, they were able to baffle their opposition. It was, according to Braun , a thing of beauty to watch.

"My goodness," he says "it was like eating apple pie. Jim Falk. he was a real ball hawk so this was right up his alley. Dan Ratzlaff, he'd be today 's version of the three point shooter and he was always off on the fast-break. Ed Suderman would face a big guy like Neil Williscroft (6-foot-6 Vancouver College centre) and he couldn 't do much, so I could just move him to the small forward spot."

"I still use the shuffle with my kids ," admits Falk. "It 's a way to teach every position on the floor."

1963 was MEl's year. They were 23-0 heading into the B.C. tournament, including a win over the USC freshman team . The memory of a 63-62 loss in the second round of the 1962 tournament to the Victoria High Totems kept them hungry all year and they all admit now, that they felt they could not be beaten.

After routing Creston 99-28 and Nanaimo 78-29 in the first two rounds of the B.C. tournament, they went up against Surrey's Jack Hik-led Queen Elizabeth Royals and won 62-50.

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