Basketball devotee inducted into Hall of Fame

SFU and Canadian national women's basketball coach Allison McNeill has made a career out of her lifelong passion

Long-time SFU and Canadian national women's basketball coach Allison McNeill (centre) and daughter of Hope resident Alvin Towriss will be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in June.

Sometimes, our kids surprise us with successes in their adult lives. With others, it’s pretty clear from the outset that they will be going places.

There’s no surprise in the case of Allison McNeill, daughter of Hope resident Alvin Towriss. McNeill heard recently that she was a 2016 inductee into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, in the builder category for her work in women’s basketball.

McNeill played on championship teams at Salmon Arm, then at Sudbury Ontario’s Laurentian University, before moving on to the University of Oregon and a year of professional basketball in Germany. She then switched roles; coaching four years in B.C. high schools, 13 years at Simon Fraser University, four years at the University of Oregon and 16 years total in the National Team program as a coach, taking the women’s team to the 2006 and 2010 World Championships and the 2012 Olympic Games.

Her parents saw that McNeill had a competitive nature when she was in elementary school in Princeton B.C. Mom, Barb, passed away in 2005 but Dad has some stories to tell.

“When she was about 10 or 11, she wanted a bag of marbles so she could play against the boys,” said Towriss, Monday. “After one or two years, she had a gallon bucket full of marbles and she donated it to the school for a fundraiser. They sold them for 25¢ a handful.

“When they had their track meets, she’d run up the road to where I was working, to show me her ribbon, every time she won a race. When she got into basketball, I think she slept with the ball most nights.”

Dad will be on hand at the Sports Hall of Fame’s reception, June 8, when the 2016 plaque will be unveiled. Fellow inductees include BC Lions general manager and head coach, Wally Buono and sports broadcaster Tom Larscheid.

No doubt, McNeill was driven to succeed — but she said it wasn’t goals that motivated her. It was pure love for sport.

“I consider myself to be a passionate, hardworking, competitive person who came out of a small town and just worked hard, chasing a passion.  I really have never set goals, except to work hard and do my best at anything I take on.

“These were lessons taught by my mom and dad.  I think my induction into the Hall of Fame certainly speaks to all of the work I have done, but also to the amazing athletes, coaches and staff that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years. In a team sport, no one gets anywhere by themselves.

“I have also been so fortunate to work with my husband, Mike, who has been a huge part of my success.”

The McNeills live in the White Rock-Surrey area, though Allison says Hope is pretty much her second home.

“Mike and I were away golfing when the Hall of Fame people had been trying to call me, in early December.  I received an email asking me to call Jim Lightbody, who is the chair of the Hall of Fame.

“Mike was a little emotional when we heard the news, as we have done so much of our coaching together and he has always been my biggest supporter,” said McNeill.

“Needless to say, I was surprised and excited.  It is a huge honour.  I am just so lucky to have been able to make my passion my career. Not everyone gets to do that!  I have been able to coach so many amazing athletes over the years and they are the reason I am being inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

Now retired from coaching at the national level, McNeill has turned to coaching kids and coaches and working to bring gender equity in sport. McNeill has given player and coaching clinics in Hope, where she has worked with local coach, Jeff Kuhn.

When he heard of McNeill’s Hall of Fame induction, Kuhn said, “There is no more deserving a person than Allison.  She is a builder and has devoted her time and energy to our programs here in Hope.  She has contributed to the sport all across Canada.  I’m so happy that she has been honoured in this way.”