Instant Replay: Whatever happened to...
...Ken Leavoy, MVP of the 1971 BC high school all-star basketball game?
North Van High’s Ken Leavoy – at just 5’9” – was chosen MVP of the 1971 B.C. high school basketball all-star game, coming up exactly 40 years ago on April 10.
That was despite playing for the losing Metro team against the opposition who were representing the rest of B.C.
That’s pretty impressive.
So with this year’s B.C. girls’ and boys’ all-star games set to take place at UBC this Saturday, I wondered what happened to Leavoy and what he’s up to now. Interesting stuff as it turns out.
It didn’t take long to find him. Google can do that for you. He’s now the head women’s softball coach at Principia College, a small Division III school in Elsah, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri.
“I remember it [the all-star game] well,” he says now, rewinding his memory instantly to that time so long ago. “It was a big night, a very special moment. I’ve never forgotten it. The game was very close. We ended up losing by one or two as I recall.”
Leavoy’s memory is good. The score was 72-71. His 12 points were tops for the Metros.
“It’s a real vivid memory,” he continues. “I even remember significant parts of the game. It was at SFU. There were a lot of big names there. I just happened to play real well on the right night. Dave Coutu [of North Delta] was probably the best player in the province at the time. Nick Gallagher [from Vancouver College] and I played together as guards.
“It was rather comical,” he notes, explaining the game’s conclusion. “We were down by two with just a few seconds left. One of the Metro players was on the foul line under instructions to miss so we could put the rebound back in. [But] he missed everything. It never got iron. So that was the end.”
With the sport specialization that so many kids go through these days – at a far too early stage of their life in my opinion – it’s refreshing to look back at the good old days and have Leavoy recall his experiences playing varied sports in junior high at Sutherland and at North Van High.
Since those long-ago days, he’s been playing and coaching a sport he had never even played until after college.
North Shore Winter Club hockey was his first organized sport. His parents said he could only play one sport at a time – not in order to specialize, just because of the time involved.
“My dad understood that sports were my lifeblood. It’s what I was passion about, so he did let me play football in the Gordon Sturtridge League one fall. When I got to high school, I had to play either school sports or hockey. But the idea of playing rugby, then basketball and volleyball and do track and field was far more interesting to me than a whole year of playing hockey.”
He did switch from rugby to soccer for his Grade 11 year, then to football in Grade 12. Check the 1971 NVHS yearbook and you’ll see he was named the outstanding back on Coach Hec Rossetti’s grid squad with an average carry of 5.0 yards.
“Basketball was my favourite sport at the time,” Leavoy acknowledges. “We had a very good team. So it was a big part of my year.”
Leavoy was a North Shore first all-star as North Van High went 15-1 in league play, followed by qualification for the provincials as Howe Sound Tournament champions with Ken was MVP. The Norsemen finished eighth at the B.C.s which were played then at the Pacific Coliseum. Leavoy scored 25 and 19 in North Van’s final two games.
He was a long and triple jumper as well and made it to the B.C. track championships in the hurdles in Grade 12.
“I had offers at UBC and SFU and even one from Missoula, Montana. Just the idea of going away from home had an allure to it. I decided on Principia. I’m really glad I did. It’s a faith-based school, a college for Christian Scientists. That’s what I was raised in. Moving to the American Midwest was a whole education in itself. It was a cultural shock for a northwest Canadian boy. I played basketball for four years mostly as a sixth-man.”
At college the hurdles were higher. With his height, he couldn’t do it. But he could jump and dunk volleyballs. Only the size of his hands kept him from palming basketballs and dunking them too. So he did just the long and triple jumps in college.
He did even better at soccer. His senior year he led the conference in scoring and had an offer to play with the reserve squad of the St. Louis Stars of the old North American Soccer League, followed by a tryout with the Stars. However, his student visa wouldn’t allow him to stay. “It’s one of the few regrets I have in my life. My chances of making it? Probably remote. But its just one of those things that I’ll never know.”
Oddly, for a guy from the North Shore, he had never played organized community soccer, only that one year at school in Grade 11.
Though he’d only briefly played Little League baseball, he tried softball after graduating from Principia and returning home. Walking on and eventually established himself as a centre fielder, he played top-level Senior A fastpitch for six years for New Westminster’s Terminal Hotel and Van City Credit Union Magicians.
Summing it all up, he explains, “I never liked being ordinary. There was always a drive to be good. I was blessed with a lot of natural co-ordination. I did a lot of physical labour, so I was very strong for my body size. And I just had this inherent urgency. I had to be good. So I worked at stuff until it developed. I played with some great athletes and I learned a lot from them just by observation or by asking for help.”
Before resurrecting the Principia College softball program last season and while he was (and still is) the international scout for Canada’s women’s softball team, he was coach of the girls’ team at Principia Upper [or High] School and house parent for 85 boys at the boarding school.
“It was long hours but I really enjoyed it. And I have the fondest memories of high school in North Van. It was so much fun.”
This is episode 416 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.