What’s in a name? At Oak Bay High, plenty

It’s not official — planning and fundraising are still underway — but the very notion of naming the courts of Oak Bay High School’s two new gyms after legendary basketball coaches Gary Taylor and Don Horwood is pitch perfect.

Could it be any other way? Taylor led the Bays to four B.C. boys high school championship games in the 1960s, winning twice and losing twice in the final to the Vic High Totems before going on to coach at the University of Victoria. Horwood coached the Bays to five B.C. championship games in the 1970s, capturing the provincial title three times before winning three CIS national titles in a 26-year coaching career with the University of Alberta Golden Bears.

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Organizers of this week’s Gary Taylor Boys Basketball Classic — in which host Oak Bay is ranked No. 2 in the province — have already listed the big gym as Taylor Court and the smaller gym as Horwood Court in the tournament program.

Although the official announcement is yet to come, both men said they are hugely honoured by the accolade.

“I followed in what Gary [Taylor] built,” said Horwood.

But it wasn’t easy.

“It was a trial by fire,” Horwood acknowledged.

He was only 23 when the former Memorial University player moved out from Newfoundland and found himself suddenly given the reigns of a dynasty in the fall of 1969. He was so raw that when Bays player Walt Burrows, now head of Major League Baseball’s Canadian scouting bureau, asked whether the new coach would employ Taylor’s patented 1-3-1 press, Horwood had to go look it up.

“I had no idea what that was … zero,” chuckles Horwood.

But he learned. And very well. Horwood built his own winning tradition at Oak Bay with all-round athletes such as Dave Kirzinger and Evan Jones, who went onto the CFL, and former UVic Vikes stars Kelly Dukeshire, Craig Higgins and the brilliant point-guard Robbie Parris. Only three UVic players have their numbers retired in McKinnon Gym — Parris alongside two-time Olympians Eli Pasquale and Gerald Kazanowski.

“Robbie never won a [CIS] national title, but he set the table for Pasquale, Kaz, Dukeshire and the UVic dynasty [which won seven consecutive national championships in the 1980s],” noted Horwood.

Horwood, 68, said he employed a simple idea at both Oak Bay and U of A: “I was competitive and driven and players pick up on that from their coach and they join with you in that passion and that fight to be the best. Striving to be excellent is important and the players bought in.”

Taylor recalled starting out in the old 1929 Oak Bay gym that was “the size of a tennis court.” Out of those humble beginnings became a program that produced such great players as Bob Burrows, Dave Morgan, Brian MacKenzie, Brent Mullin and Tom Holmes in those epic showdowns against Vic High.

“They were good athletes and good listeners who worked so hard and were skilled,” said the 83-year-old Taylor, who later in his career as principal helped established Lambrick Park as a sporting powerhouse.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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