Their greatest triumphs came 55 years ago but former members of the University of Manitoba Bisons men's basketball team were in the spotlight again Tuesday.
Members of the Bison team which won the Western Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship for three straight years -- 1955-57 -- were among the inductees introduced for the 2011 Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame. The induction dinner will be Oct. 1 at Winnipeg's Victoria Inn.
Players to be inducted are Whitney Dabney and Keith Vassell of the Brandon University Bobcats men's team and U of M Bisons women's team members Terri-Lee Johannesson and Marjorie Kelly.
Mike Ruta, who founded the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association in 1997, will be inducted as a builder. The second team to be inducted is the Bisons women's team which won the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship in 1996 and 1997.
For the 1955-1957 Bisons men's team, the Western Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship was the most prestigious title to be won at that level, as there was no national championship. The teams were coached by the late Bud Fraser and managed by the late Ron Meyers,
"I was flabbergasted when I heard (about the Hall of Fame induction) and deeply honoured once it sank in," said Stu Douglas, a member of the 1955 team. "It was great to win it but back then, we didn't think about how important it would be. When my friend Dave (Smith) phoned me to tell me about it, I couldn't believe it."
Dave Smith, already a player inductee in the hall of fame, said it is "an excellent honour."
"It's so great that our teams will be there," Smith said. "One guy that was a key to those teams who has passed away was Jim Wright. When he came on the scene, that's when it started, along with his twin brother John. It was a really exciting time."
The WMBA is a city-wide league for youth players. Ruta, the WMBA's first president, saw the league begin play on Nov. 29, 1997 with 40 teams based out of 12 community centres. Today, the league operates in the winter and spring with over 400 teams.
"The most important thing is the number of kids that have been able to play basketball. That's the real reward, going into the University of Winnipeg Duckworth Centre on a Saturday and there's games going on three floors," said Ruta.
His own children, Laura and Nicholas who are now adults, got their basketball starts in the WMBA. Laura is a teacher and basketball coach at Baker Lake, Nunavut.
The Bisons women's team, coached by Coleen Dufresne who is now the U of M athletic director, included both Johannesson and Kelly. Johannesson, who now lives in Nova Scotia, was the CIS championship tournament MVP in 1996 and 1997 while Kelly, who now lives in Toronto, was the 1995 CIS rookie of the year.
The 1996-1997 Bisons continue to hold a special honour as they are the last women's university basketball team from Manitoba to win the national title.
"We were the last team from Manitoba to win but the Winnipeg Wesmen had won the three years before us, so for five years, the Bronze Baby (national trophy) didn't leave this city," said Jana Taylor, a member of both the 1996 and 1997 teams who is now a Winnipeg lawyer and coaches junior varsity girls basketball at John Taylor Collegiate. "That is amazing when you consider the size of Winnipeg, the fact that we have two teams and most of the players were home-grown."
Dabney, now living in New Orleans, was the 1988 CIS championship tournament MVP and a member of three Bobcats national champion teams. Vassell, who now lives in Toronto, was the 1992 CIS rookie of the year, the 1995 CIS player of the year and played for Canada's national team program from 1989-1997.