HALIFAX -- One of Cape Breton's most popular basketball tournaments, the Coal Bowl Classic, is gearing up to kick off its 38th year on Monday. However, the event, scheduled to be held in New Waterford, Nova Scotia is forging ahead without one of its leaders.

On Saturday, just days away from the event, hosts the BEC Bears were gearing up for opening night; but off the court, there's a different feeling surrounding this year's tournament.

Nearly six months prior to the event, 68-year-old Jacqueline Poirier lost her battle with cancer after decades of devoting time to the Coal Bowl Classic, serving as co-chair.

“Yeah, I think it will be really different not to find her and not even just to see here, but to hear her,” says Coal Bowl Classic vice-chair, Lowell Cormier. “To find her, sometimes all you had to do was listen for her laugh.”

Her death hit the organizers hard - but nobody more than Cormier.

“I was just devastated. She was battling and battling, and she battled two cancers, and because she was such a fighter, that wouldn't happen – but it did happen,” says Cormier. “Myself, for sure, was devastated, but the whole community was devastated. It's a small community, and everybody knows everybody. Her impact on this tournament and this community is indelible.”

The basketball tournament is like no other - attracting large crowds and teams from across the country – some that shared a special connection with Poirier.

“She use to be a buddy, her and her husband,” says Coal Bowl Classic co-chair, Melissa Corbett. “They would have a team and cook spaghetti suppers for them and have the whole team at her house. She extended the invite out to anyone to her home.”

The Coal Bowl will officially kickoff at Breton Education Centre on Monday, but before the BEC Bears hit the court for their opener, they will hold a special ceremony in honour of Porier.

“We have a very special award, and it's called the Shinning Star Award – it goes to the organizations that have made huge impacts,” says Corbett. “For example, the KOC [Knights of Columbus] has sponsored the banquet for 38 years, so they have one. This year we are giving it to Jacqueline. It's going to be a real emotional and special night.”