Hard court rivalry lives through the decadesMcLeod Series roundup
When sports fans think of great rivalries a few famous skirmishes come to mind. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Ali vs. Frazier. Roughriders vs Blue Bombers. However, in southeastern Saskatchewan one battle trumps them all. Weyburn vs. Estevan. This tussle of prairie centres has been playing out for decades, and since 1932 it has had a place on the cities' basketball courts as the McLeod series.
In 1932, Estevan MLA Norman L. McLeod donated a trophy to be contested between the high schools in Weyburn and Estevan. The winner would be decided in a four-game series, with two games for the boys' teams and two for the girls. Win three games and it was yours automatically. If the series was tied two games a piece the decision comes down to points for and against.
In the 1930's, neither Estevan or Weyburn had what we would call a gymnasium. Both Weyburn and Estevan would use small rooms with a low ceiling on the third floors of their schools as gyms,” said Bob King, the Weyburn Comprehensive High School's director of activities and a former Weyburn coach.
When the Series progressed into the 1940's, the teams got their first taste of high ceilings when they got to play in halls at the Weyburn and Estevan airports. In the 1950's both schools built their own gymnasiums for the first time.
The Series' early days were competitive, but the Elecs took the trophy home more often then not. Estevan won the first three series before Weyburn would win two in a row. This competitive battle continued for years, that is until 1957.
“In 1957, they discovered oil in Estevan and a lot of Americans started coming in. Then the Estevan team just dominated for a bit,” said King.
This American influx propelled the boys from the Energy City to dominance until 1980. Weyburn won a series here or there during this time, but nothing too big.
Stevan's dominance ended in the 1980's. Weyburn won two straight Series to kick off the decade, only to have Estevan win the following two. Weyburn then won in 1984 and has not lost a McLeod Series since.
Even though the teams hoisting may have changed there was one aspect of the series that was always true: the intensity of the rivalry.
“The gymnasiums would be packed with spectators. The people around the school had to hide all their garbage cans because the kids would take the garbage can lids and pound away on them,” King stated.
During this period, King said, “Police escorted teams out of town at times.” All of this personified how important the series was both for the game's players and fans.
“If an Estevan team or a Weyburn team made it to provincials that would have been of lesser significance than if you won the McLeod Series,” said King.
The rivalry got so intense that at one point King claims he “was even threatened by an opposing Estevan coach” who King said “nearly punched (him) out.”
All of the intensity became too much for the schools' principals and the Series was called off between 1972 and 1975. During this time there were always talks of bringing back the annual clash but the schools' principals always relented. Fears of a return to violence were the administrators' main concerns.
However, the Series did return in 1976. Jim Yeaman played for Weyburn at this time and remembers it well.
“The gyms were always full with equal groups between Weyburn fans and Estevan fans. It just a loud and rowdy place to be. Always a great atmosphere,” Yeaman remembered.
For Yeaman the motivation for wanting to beat Estevan was the same every year.
“As a Weyburn guy, you never want to lose to Estevan, and for the Estevan guys they never want to lose to Weyburn,” Yeaman said.
Games in the McLeod Series were always more intense for Yeaman and his teammates. He described the school as getting “more excited for those games” and that players would become more excited and intense because of it. Even though the teams saw each other in tournaments, he claimed “the rivalry was always enhanced” when the trophy was on the line.
Lois Watts also remembers the McLeod Series from the other side. She played for Estevan from 1961 to 1964.
“We all just hated Weyburn,” Watts said.
Watts recalls McLeod Series games as being some of the most exciting of the year.
“People were always there for both sides. It was always just clean fun. On the floor (the players) had a problem with each other, but off the floor everything was fine,” Watts remembered.
The biggest thing that Watts recalls about the McLeod Series was winning everyone that she played in.
However, some of Watts' allegiance changed in adulthood. This was because Watts moved to Weyburn and her son, Rod Watts, suited up for the Eagles.
“It was strange. I cheered for my son (in those games), but I still wanted Estevan to win, and I still cheer for Estevan to this day,” said Watts.
A moment from her son's career that stands out to Watts was when her old coach, Erwin Krueger, was the referee for one of Rod's games.
“That was quite the moment. Seeing my old coach from Estevan, and my son from Weyburn on the floor at the same time really stands out,” stated Watts.
Today, the McLeod Series does not have the same level of importance to the communities that it once did. Gyms that were once packed to the rafters now only seat a few die-hard fans.
“Now, next to nobody comes out to watch games and it lacks the intensity. We're still into it because we're winning all the time, but people just don't want to watch high school sports,” Bob King stated.
For King, what led to the lack of support for the McLeod Series was the break in the 1970's. The time off made the rivalry cool in the minds of residents.
“It is nowhere near where it was back then. I mean kids (used to) talk about it all year. They were like, ‘we got to beat those greaseballs from Estevan',” King said.
Even though support way not be at the same level, former Weyburn player Yeaman and ex-Elec Watts hope that the Series can continue. They wish this so players can share in the memories they have.
“It's great for the school and morale there, and I just hope that it will continue forever and ever,”Yeaman said.
Watts has similar sentiments for the continuation of the series.
“Its awesome that it's still played. I hope (the players) can come away with the same memories that I have,” she said.
Another chapter in the history of the rivalry will be written at the Comp gym on Thursday, Feb. 9. The boys will start off the action at 5 p.m. and the girls are scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m.
Weyburn currently holds a 27-point advantage over the Elecs, as the Eagles hope to win their 28th consecutive McLeod Series. Weyburn swept the first two games of the Series on Jan. 25 in Estevan. The girls won 59-34, while the boys took an exciting 63-61 contest.