"Mexican Sports Vacation Serves Whole Enchilada"
By: Guy MacPherson
With summer nearing its end, many Canadians start dreaming of warmer climes. Here in Vancouver, we never stopped. After this mostly miserable season, I think
we all owe David Duchovny a big apology.
Vancouverite Howard Kelsey doesn’t have to dream. He’ll be back in sunny Mexico, where he spends part of each year. And he wants you to join him each May in a sports-vacation getaway in Puerto Vallarta.
In 1990 Howard Kelsey started a humble basketball tournament in Puerto Vallarta for his friends who wanted to visit, just six teams playing on an outdoor court. Over the years, sponsors have come in, other sports have joined in, and the thing has grown to the point where next May’s “Sports Classic” reflects not just the year, but the number of anticipated participants.
“A lot of my friends are basketball junkies”. “They phoned and said, ‘We want to go to Mexico for our vacation, but we want to play. Set up a tournament.’ So we did. At the time, Puerto Vallarta didn’t even have an indoor gym.”
They have a gym now. It may not be air-conditioned, but it beats playing in the blazing sun. With more than 16 teams going, games run from 8 a.m. to midnight every day in 30ºC heat. The whole town comes out to watch.
Richard Cohee was the Vancouver Grizzlies’ manager of community relations. He’s made the trip every year but the first. “The fans are incredible,” he says. “For a 2 o’clock game, the gym is three-quarters full. The final is overflowing, people are cheering for you, they want pictures with you. It’s a real feel-good thing. They love the sport and love seeing somebody who can play.”
So you’re thinking: “I’m not a high-level athlete. What the hell am I going to do down there?” You have a point. Cohee, 31, played for the University of Regina, then played a little pro ball in the Netherlands and Taiwan. Kelsey played on the 1980 and ’84 Canadian Olympic teams. He still holds the B.C. high-school record for highest career average points per game, 37.5 for Point Grey. Next year, he’s expecting 10 to 12 veterans of the Canadian national team.
“Obviously, we want some celebrity players, good players who are positive and fun,” Kelsey says. “We don’t want a bunch of overweight guys that can’t play at all. But at the same time, we don’t want it to be so high-quality that recreational players like yourself can’t go and play.”
I’m not sure how to take that, but the idea is tempting. Of course, it might have to be in the newly formed slow-pitch softball division. How many ex-professional slow-pitch players can there be? Mind you, the games will be played at a triple-A stadium donated to the city by major-leaguer Jose Canseco, so you never know.
There are plenty more sports tournaments to choose from. Besides men’s, women’s and youth basketball and softball, there’s a 5-kilometre race, and a massive (150 + teams) youth and master’s soccer divisions.
Each sport has its own Director, but Kelsey and Co-Chair, Lic. Gemma Garciarce, the owner of the home-base Sheraton resort, oversee the whole enchilada.
“Any person that’s got their own individual passion in sports – whatever you want to do – we’ll accommodate you, provided we have enough lead time and a competent enough director,” Kelsey says.
Several times throughout the course of our talk, Kelsey refers to the tournament as a “buffet” for sports. “If you want to participate, you do. If you want to watch, you watch. If you don’t want to do anything, just stay at the hotel. We just set the table and people can take what they want from the buffet. Let’s face it, when you’re on vacation, after two days you get bored. You don’t want to lie at the pool all day long.”
Although the focus is sports, everyone realizes they are, first and foremost, just an excuse. Everyone wants to win, but the question on everyone’s mind is what the social activities are ?
“At the end of the day,” Kelsey says, “it’s a vacation with sports thrown in.”
Consider this. Kelsey and company charge CDN $ 300., which includes: five days and four nights at the Sheraton; official event T-shirt; an opening-night open-bar cocktail party and fireworks display hosted by the Mayor of Puerto Vallarta; sports participation; and a party every night at the local watering hole.
“It’s a great opportunity to mingle with people from all over the place,” Cohee says. “It’s pretty amazing. That’s why I keep going back. We get so many different guys to go just by showing them the pictures.”
Kelsey continues to develop this tournament and tradition in Vallarta. “We enjoy doing it,” he says. “And things spin off of this. We never know where the stuff’s going to go.
One can register for events and make travel arrangements via their travel agent or on-line direct. The International Sports Classic runs May annually, but patricipants must register by January 15. By that time, you’ll need a little sunshine in your life.
If you don’t already.
More photos: http://canadaonefoundation.com/pvisc/gallery-2/