In 1975, Alvin and Barb Towriss sold their movie theatre in Princeton and moved west to establish Hope Cable Television.
Meanwhile their daughter Allison went north and took up room and board in Salmon Arm, where she helped the Salmon Arm Jewels to 50 straight wins and two consecutive provincial basketball championships in her Grade 11 and 12 years.
Fast forward to 2012 and Towriss and friends have been gathering around the TV set — connected via satellite — to watch Allison McNeill coach the Canadian women’s national team at the London Olympics.
Sadly, Barb passed away in 2005 and could not be here to enjoy her daughter’s climb to the Olympic stage.
“Barb was a great fan,” recalled Towriss after Canada’s close loss to France in their third game. “But she was so nervous that she usually watched from behind closed doors, just peeking in every so often.”
“I am so lucky to have had such supportive and encouraging parents,” said McNeill from London via email on Saturday. “My mom and dad have always been my biggest source of inspiration and my biggest supporters.”
Towriss said he didn’t have any idea that his daughter was good at basketball until she was in Grade six or seven.
“Her coach called me down to the school and said, ‘Look at this!”
“I played many sports growing up in Princeton and actually started as a competitive swimmer and downhill skier,” recalled McNeill. “Once school sports started, I played basketball, volleyball, badminton and ran track.
“I loved all sports, but basketball soon became my favourite. I am very lucky to be someone who has been able to turn her passion into her profession.”
After her two years at Salmon Arm, McNeill went to Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario and was point guard on a team that won two consecutive Canadian titles when she was there. She then played at the University of Oregon in Eugene for three years.
After a year of professional ball in Germany, McNeill took up coaching and spent 13 years at Simon Fraser University, where she coached Hope Secondary grad Tracey Nazarchuk in the early 1990s.
She also spent three years coaching at the University of Oregon and has been head coach of the Canadian women’s team since 2002. McNeill lives in White Rock but the team is based out of Toronto.
Towriss figures his daughter never made a national team roster because of her pint-sized stature, “but she might have had a chance if they had the three-point line back then. She was a really good long-shooter.”
McNeill has led her team to the World Championships in 2006 and 2010 — but in all her years in the game, this is her first Olympic experience.
“I didn’t play on the national team,” she said, “but like many young athletes I did have a dream that one day I would get to represent Canada as a player… but instead I’ve been able to do it as a coach. I have thoroughly enjoyed helping athletes to achieve their goals. It is an extremely rewarding profession.”
McNeill marched into the Olympic Stadium with the Canadian Olympic team on opening night — accompanied by a special person: her husband.
“One of my assistant coaches is my husband, Mike. So as we walked in, there was a great sense of accomplishment — but also a great sense of pure joy! It was an incredible feeling, one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was so special to share this accomplishment with someone you love.
“It was also wonderful for our coaches to see the joy on the faces of our athletes… that is why we coach!”
The McNeill’s team narrowly made it through the pre-Olympic qualifiers but just about stunned the second-ranked Russians in their opening game in London. They lost to France by four points but beat Brazil last Friday, for the first time since 1999. That victory — and their win against Great Britain — put the Canadian women into the final eight.
“Playing and beating Great Britain in our second game was incredible,” recalled McNeill. “It was a packed house — close to 12,000 fans — and the atmosphere was amazing. It was so loud and fairly hostile but it was a great game and we got our first win.
“Our theme all summer has been to ‘Win the Day,’” she said. “Play our best, give our Olympic performance each day and see what happens. We are giving our best in each game and that is all we can ask.
“We were not expected to get to the quarter finals and we are thrilled to be in the top eight at these Olympics.”