When it comes to men’s basketball at Acadia University, Ted Upshaw is as close as it gets to a hometown hero.
He was born a 20-minute drive away in Three Mile Plains, just outside of Windsor, and grew up on Panuke Road.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” recalls Upshaw. “And I know it sounds cliché, but I really did have to walk three to four kilometres each way to elementary school.”
Still though, Upshaw looks back on his childhood fondly, and never had to search far to find his role model.
“My hero was my Mom,” he reflects. “We didn’t have indoor plumbing, there were seven kids in a small house, but still she always had clean clothes for us and managed to put good food on the table. And she always made sure we had sneakers so that we could play our sports.”
One of those sports was, of course, basketball. The first hoop Ted Upshaw ever saw was a bicycle rim attached to a tree. The first ball barely had enough air to bounce back up to his hand. Humble beginnings for certain, but enough to instill a love for the game that began to grow as a teenager. And as that passion grew, so did Ted. He entered Windsor High School as a 6’2” rookie and left a few years later as a 6’6” senior.
“Ted was a generational talent,” recalls his high school coach, Ian MacMillan. “In grade 12, he averaged more points and rebounds per game than minutes played—think about that for a second! Ted was totally unstoppable, and was ranked the second best prospect in the entire country!”
To no one’s surprise, the interest from universities across the country was sky high. One soon-to-be legendary coach was just starting his career at StFX, and knew what Upshaw could mean for a basketball program.
“Oh, I wanted Ted so badly. I wanted to build my entire team around him,” laments Steve Konchalski. “I coached for more than 45 years, and not getting Ted to come to StFX is still the biggest recruiting disappointment of my career.”
In addition to the offer from StFX, Upshaw listened to many others. He came very close to attending Saint Mary’s University, but eventually chose Acadia, the school closest to home. The decision paid immediate dividends. During his rookie season of ’76 -’77, he was Acadia’s “sixth man” as the university won the CIAU National Championship. From there, his career took off, and his athleticism was a perfect match for Acadia’s high-tempo style of play.
The Axemen point guard for much of Ted Upshaw’s career was Gordie West. He remembers what those fast breaks felt like:
“If I had the ball and I saw him on the wing, all I had to do was throw it high toward the basket,” West remembers. “Ted was such a great jumper and knew how to dunk with such style. He was a real crowd pleaser and such a powerful athlete.”
Former SMU star Ross Quackenbush matched up against Upshaw often and felt that power up close:
“Ted played hard, played fair, and was absolutely relentless,” recalls Quackenbush. “He worked his tail off the entire game, seeking every little advantage he could get, and a lot of that involved running from end to end. If you didn’t block him out, if you weren’t paying attention for a second, he would burn you.”
Ted Upshaw burned opponents for five memorable years at Acadia University. Had he only played four, his career would still be the stuff of legend. But his fifth and final year was truly one for the ages, and served to cement his legacy. During the 1981 season, he led the Axemen to another national championship final, was named league MVP, and was voted first team All-Canadian. Along the way, he led the country in scoring (close to 30 points per game) AND rebounding (close to 11 rebounds per game). No player has been able to match this feat in the four decades since.
And yet all these years later, those who know Ted Upshaw best say that statistics tell just a tiny part of his story.
“He was an amazing leader, and still is,” says West. “He knew how to listen to people, he knew how to talk to people, he knew how to make people feel important… I’m so honoured to have played with him and so honoured to be able to call him a friend.”
For Upshaw, it all boiled down to lessons that were learned years before on Panuke Road.
“My Mom taught me to treat everyone with respect,” he says. “When it came to basketball, I realized that everyone had a role to play, and no role was more important than another. The rookies, the team manager, the coach—if you gave everyone respect and listened to them, it allowed them to contribute to the best of their abilities. To me, that’s what being a leader is all about.”
***Ted was a member of the 1977 Acadia Axemen National Championship men’s basketball team that was inducted the NS Sport Hall of Fame in 2009. ***
[Article by Bruce Rainnie]
- Won a national championship with the 1977 Acadia Axemen
- Holds Acadia University records for most regular season points (1,563), and field goals (664)
- Led the CIAU in scoring (29.1 ppg) and rebounding (10.2 rpg) in 1981
- AUAA MVP, 1981
- 3-time AUAA All-Star
- 2-time AUAA All-Canadian
- Member of Canada’s Senior Men’s National Team program from 1976 to 1980