It’s an imposing trophy – a sculpture in ivory white of two male figures locked in battle.
One of them is definitely winning.
Over the past 45 years, this heavy piece of rock and wood is what B.C. high school wrestlers have been grappling for, an award presented to the best senior boys team at the provincial championships.
The New Westminster Secondary Hyacks team enters this weekend’s meet as the two-time defending champions, and would like nothing more than to keep it at home. A home in more ways than one.
What few knew until five years ago, was that the trophy’s origins are firmly cemented in the Royal City, too.
New West senior Harvey Tuura said his impulsive idea in 1971 to buy and donate the sculpture, which was later mounted on a trophy base created by a Hyacks wrestler, was to inspire.
“Well I was a classical scholar at UBC, and, when I saw it, I thought it applied to wrestling; it would be a way to promote wrestling,” said Harvey. “I was looking to promote wrestling as (our family) had three boys and three girls. … That’s a copy of a Roman trophy that is a copy of the Greek trophy. I can’t trace it any further than that.”
It’s origins aren’t nearly as important to the story as that inspiration.
The Tuura family – especially the three boys – were deeply entrenched in wrestling at NWSS. On a summer trip down to California in 1971, the Tuuras had anything but school on their minds, after another successful
wrestling win by the hometown Hyacks – or so most of the family thought. Once Harvey saw the sculpture in a storefront window at their Disneyland hotel, he saw an impressionable prize – and darn the cost.
“(Dad) saw it in the hotel lobby, and he bought it there and blew our budget on that,” recalled Mark Tuura last month as the current Hyacks team met with members from the early ‘70s squad. “My mom freaked out. That trophy was $300 back in ’71.”
The family of eight – with three sons and three daughters – made room in the family station wagon for the hefty model and brought it north.
When the elder Tuura showed it to then-NWSS teacher and wrestling coach Barry Callaghan, the idea was molded to present it as the goal for every high school boys team.
Callaghan had already seen the program grow and establish itself as a mat heavyweight with B.C. crowns in 1969 and ’70. That string would continue – although they’d win the provincial team championship just once more in 1974 – with the Tuura boys a big part of that.
Ivan, who like Mark would go on to play for the New West senior Salmonbellies, came first and won four annual B.C. division titles. He was followed by Mark and Leif, each winning their share of provincial gold.
Callaghan, who retired a number of years ago but remains in contact with many from the old wrestling team, said it was a process but he had the support of the school and the parents.
“We worked hard. We use to run 50 sets of stairs in the Massey gym before practice started, and it got pretty intense in here. They might have grumbled early on, but they could see, ‘Hey, this hard work is paying off,’” said Callaghan.
“If it wasn’t for Callaghan, there wouldn’t be a trophy. You can print that for the world to see,” said Harvey, 90.
Mark notes, however, his dad’s eagle eye and decision to purchase the statue was equally inspired and incredible.
“I was doing the (budget) on the trip, writing everything down to keep track of the gas so I knew the price. (Dad) blew the budget in one whack, but like he said it’s the best money he’s ever spent.”
As current Hyacks coach Gord Sturrock notes, the prize’s design is less Roman than Greek, and a scene more of the pankration form than wrestling.
One of the figures is about to submit to defeat. The victor, one arm extended and the other twisting his opponent’s wrist as though to inspire an ‘uncle’ surrender, is chiselled like a modern-day movie superhero. The extended arm has been repaired at least once after snapping off in a time of celebration.
No matter its original design, the modern inspiration continues to work.
“When you go to the B.C. wrestling championships, the kids all hang around it looking at it,” said Harvey, who presented it and revealed the story behind his anonymous donation five years ago. “That’s the part that makes me really
happy. I achieved exactly what, unlike some ideas that pop in your head, what I wanted, which was to promote wrestling. You see the kids looking at it, you know the kids want it.”
At this week’s provincial championships, New West will be sending a smaller team than last year but anchored by a number of grapplers from that championship group. Among those in the running for potential gold in their respective weight classes are reigning B.C. 84-kilogram champ Sammy Sidhu, 110kg silver medallist Yanni Angelopolous, heavyweight bronze medallist Isaiah James, Daniel Dordevic and Hossein Shidfar.
“Our numbers are down but it seems to be a trend around the province,” noted Sturrock. “For us to win, we’ll need to get big performances from our heavyweights.”