Last week, along with a sold out crowd at the Kay Meek Theatre, I watched the premiere of the documentary, Longshot: The Brian Upson Story, as told through the lens of a small team of Rockridge Secondary film students. A later showing that evening, also sold out, brought more than 1000 people together for a community reunion, transporting us all back to 1982, when the West Vancouver Secondary School Highlanders won their only provincial basketball championship of their history, defeating rival Argyle by a single point, having lost to them three times earlier in the season.
This is far more than just a story about winning a basketball title, however, as the Highlanders were coached by Brian Upson, who was battling cancer and not expected to live long enough to see the game. He coached the team to the title, and passed away two weeks later. In 2012, Len Corben described it as the most memorable sports story in the 100 year history of West Vancouver. Recently, in anticipation of the film Rosalind Duane did a wonderful feature in the North Shore News and Steve Ewen did a feature that ran in both the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province.
I have seen many student films, but this film was different – it was a professional quality film, taken on by teacher Dave Shannon and his students, and they knew that they had to aim pretty high to tell the story of the greatest sporting event in the community’s history. As part of their research, they had interviewed Upson’s wife, children and players from the team, and knew that these people would be part of the audience. They certainly delivered what they planned, as cheers erupted from the crowd in attendance at the theatre 35 years later.
There are several lessons to take away from this story. The first, told through the words of those who were at the game and the excitement of the 5,000 strong crowd in 1982, is that high school sports have incredible power to bring the community together. And the film also reminded us of the power of a teacher. The players spoke about the profound impact Mr. Upson had on their lives, helping make them who they are today. Teachers and coaches have an enormous impact on young people and the movie serves to remind us of that. It also reminded us that it is very often those connections outside the class that are most significant – for teachers and students.
Finally, when students do real world work, it is clear they rise to the challenge. Considerable effort and skills went into putting history on film, and the end result would make any professional crew proud. Sitting in the audience, we were all transported back to the magic of that evening, and we were all united through the power of community, thanks to this amazing film.
I want to congratulate and thank Rockridge teacher Dave Shannon and his students, whose film so perfectly preserves this story for future generations.
Here is the Official Trailer for the movie:
Chris Kennedy, Superintendent