Men of the Deeps choir surprises players at Cape Breton basketball tournament

It was a surprise fitting of a tournament called the Coal Bowl Classic.

As part of the Monday kickoff of the 38th annual high school basketball tournament at Breton Education Centre in New Waterford, N.S., organizers arranged for the Men of the Deeps to perform for basketball players from across the country.

But a performance wasn't the only surprise in store for the students — they would also be learning and singing a rendition of Rise Again by Leon Dubinsky, with the help of the Cape Breton coal-miners' choir. 

"They live in this town for a whole week, so they get immersed in what it's about and we thought, 'What a way to kick off that feeling by getting them here and showing them how this town was built on its coal mining,'" said Stephen Muise, the choir's conductor and head of Breton Education's music department.

Muise hopes the musical session helped instill camaraderie in the basketball players. It seemed to have worked for Northumberland Nighthawks player Noah Spaulding.

"We feel like we're a part of this community and we feel like family around here," said Spaulding.

His school is located in Alma, which is in northern Nova Scotia and about 275 kilometres from New Waterford.

Longtime Men of the Deeps member Mickey MacIntyre felt it was suiting they help welcome the players.

Brittany Wentzell/CBC

"It being a surprise is nice and it being named the Coal Bowl and we're coal miners, so it fits like a glove," said MacIntyre, adding he believes it was the first time the choir had surprised students like this.

Members of Breton Education's school band and student union also took part in performing Rise Again. Jordan Crocker, co-president of the student union, was one of the soloists.

"It's always a crazy experience being a soloist … but to do it with the Men of the Deeps is unbelievable," said Crocker. "I think it was beautiful."

Coal Bowl organizer Jen Sheppard said although Rise Again already has special meaning to Cape Bretoners, the song was extra emotional for organizers of the tournament this year. The tournament is being dedicated to longtime tournament co-chair Jacqueline Poirier, who died last year.

"For the players, I'm sure at this point in time, there's not such an emotional connection to [Rise Again], but I think by the end of the week once they make friendships and really get entrenched in the spirit and community of New Waterford, they'll have a completely different connection to it in the end," said Sheppard.

Coal Bowl organizers were inspired by Choir! Choir! Choir! In Toronto. The organization has open choir sessions where members of the public show up, learn a song in one evening and it's then recorded and shared on social media. 

Monday's performance with the Men of the Deeps will also be posted on YouTube and Facebook.