Rick WATTS will always remember the greatest comeback in his high school sports career.
A Grade 12 player in 1971, he and the Dakota Lancers varsity volleyball team came back from a massive deficit in the fifth set of the provincial AAAA championship against Miles Macdonell at Tec Voc High School to win the match and the provincial title.
It was before the modern rally scoring system in place now. Under the old system a side-out earned a team only the right to serve, points could only be scored by the serving team and sets were played to 15 points.
"I remember it perfectly because we were losing so badly, 13-2, and we came back and won 15-13. That was an incredible evening I will never forget," said the 6-4 Watts, who was announced as the MHSAA Male Athlete of the Half Century at a press conference on Friday.
Watts was a multi-sport athlete at Dakota Collegiate, competing in track and field, basketball, volleyball, golf and badminton.
"It was 41 years ago and I was always proud of my high school achievements, but nowhere in my wildest dreams did I think that this would ever happen," said Watts.
He said winning the 1971 volleyball title triumph was much more than just winning a championship.
"When I look back, it was a life lesson. My days at Dakota Collegiate were unbelievable. I had some of the greatest coaches, I owe so much to them. I had a chance to be part of many different types of training, activities in the morning, lunch hour and after school. It was such a supportive atmosphere for everything a student wanted to take on."
Watts went on to play basketball at the University of Manitoba after having to choose between that school and an offer to play volleyball at the University of Winnipeg.
Bob Town, Watts' friend and Bisons teammate, along with former Bison Ted Stoesz, helped convince Watt to choose the Bisons and basketball. They approached Watt after the provincial track and field meet where Watts won the boys' high jump event, knowing it would be a tough sell.
"His dad was a pretty good basketball player, so it's hard to say if we had any influence. There weren't even scholarships back then, maybe we offered him a bus ticket," laughed Town. "He had great leadership qualities, good understanding of the game, just an excellent shooter and rebounder and he made the game look quite effortless."
Watts played for Canada's national team in 1975 before moving on to work in and eventually run the family business, Fabris-Milano, a concrete sealing and repair operation.
Watts said playing high school sports ranks among the best times of his life.
"You can't beat the feeling of belonging to a team in your school, being with your friends, developing friendships and unity as you work toward a common goal," he said. "There's no doubt that it brings out the best in you. You learn life lessons about working with other people and having a chance to make a difference. It makes you better at anything you do."