B.C. high school sports coaches torn by province-teacher’s union dispute
Volunteers spend hundreds of hours a year to make sure students get a chance to pursue their athletic dreams
By Mike Beamish, Vancouver Sun March 16, 2012
METRO VANCOUVER — Mike Morgan estimates that he devotes 800 hours a year to his second job, which is more a labour of love, a glorified position that pays him a salary of $0. His official title: Head coach of the Carson Graham senior boys’ basketball team.
Prominent high school sports programs in B.C. wouldn’t exist without teacher-coaches such as Morgan and other diligent volunteers and apparatchiks outside the system willing to dip into their own pockets, pinball around the province and put in a 10- to 14-hour day so their kids can play high-level hoops.
Some people give Morgan their unqualified blessings. Others might tell him he’s nuts, a renegade, especially those caught up in the bitter divide between the provincial government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
Teachers in school districts throughout B.C. are being told to follow the letter of their contracts and only work bell to bell. The withdrawal of teacher volunteer services is a way of applying pressure on the Liberal government for a more equitable deal.
But Morgan isn’t caught up in the dilemma. He is sticking with his passion and continuing to coach at the provincial Triple-A tournament, which reaches its zenith Saturday in the championship game at the Langley Events Centre.
“I have to be careful of what I say, because I’m a real strong believer in public education, and I believe it’s underfunded,” Morgan said. “We used to receive, as a school, $15,000 a year for athletics. I feel like our kids are being ripped off — because that money is going somewhere else. What used to be free isn’t free any more.”
Indeed, Morgan said it costs every boy about $800 a season to represent the Eagles in senior basketball, which covers only one out-of-district junket and doesn’t include ancillary items such as warm-up gear.
That financial nut is cracked only through the fundraising efforts by the kids themselves, a booster group of parents and an incredibly supportive and understanding coach’s wife.
Morgan says many young teachers on the North Shore require a second job or provide tutoring services after school to make ends meet, which could explain the increasing reliance of high school sports programs on outside volunteers and coaches.
In fact, Morgan said he’s the only coach among the five schools which compete in senior boys basketball on the North Shore who is employed full-time as a teacher. He works for the North Vancouver School District as a first nations “success teacher,” and supplements his income at summer school and by coaching at Basketball B.C. clinics.
“I love it too much. I’m my own worst enemy,” Morgan admitted. “Only an idiot would give up 800 hours of his time if he didn’t love it. And I love this, so I get a lot of reward out of it. I think it’s a bad idea for us [BCTF] to withdraw our services. For us to withdraw the things that make the high school experience so good, for a lot of these kids, is a very bad idea.”
Harry Parmar, coach of the Kelowna Owls, the province’s top-ranked team before it lost a 78-76 decision to No. 4-ranked Vancouver College in the quarter-finals, is another teacher who puts in countless after-school hours for his kids with zero financial reward. He does it because somebody was willing to do it for him.
“The majority of our [Kelowna area] coaches, I would say, are teachers,” Parmar said. “I have three young kids [ages 11, nine and two] and I’ve probably been away from them for 20 days this season. I’m spending my spring break, here at the tournament. I probably get paid less than a dollar an hour. I do it because somebody did it for me. And the kids are good kids.”
According to Parmar, it costs about $2,200 per player per annum to fund the Kelowna senior basketball program, an expense owing to the increased travel costs needed to compete against provincially ranked teams in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. It would be more, of course, if Parmar even received an honorarium, never mind being paid, like most high school coaches in the U.S.
Parmar has lost at least one player from his catchment area to Lower Mainland private schools such as St. George’s and Vancouver College, where the goal of raising the sports profile is an imperative, vital for marketing and fundraising to attract students and gifted athletes.
The Owls’ 6-foot-11 centre, Braxston Bunce, however, said he didn’t need to go outside the area to find a high-end high school basketball program, although he did transfer from Okanagan Mission to Kelowna secondary as the obvious sign of a larger ambition. After weighing offers from “probably 20 NCAA schools” the grade 12 student decided on Cornell, an Ivy League school in Ithaca, N.Y., where he’ll enrol in the fall.
“I definitely owe Coach [Parmar] a lot,” said Bunce, whose parents are both teachers. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
The threatened teachers’ work-to-rule campaign against extracurricular activities won’t affect students such as Bunce, who is his graduating year and has already locked up an NCAA scholarship.
But what about those with scholarship ambitions who might consider transferring to a private school, where sports rule and the BCTF has no jurisdiction?
Parmar points out that only 0.05 per cent of high school players in B.C. — one in 200 — can entertain such a goal. That grand ambition is even more spurious than the elite minor hockey lottery, where parents and kids bet everything, borrowing against some hoped-for future payoff.
“So few kids are going to get an NCAA scholarship,” Morgan added, seconding the Kelowna coach. “This gets to the heart of the issue. We’re trying to give these kids the best possible experience. This is the best [athletic] experience many of them are ever going to have.
“My real worry is, if we do this [work-to-rule], sports will leave the high schools — and then it becomes even more user-pay. I think it’s the wrong idea to do. I believe in the union, and I’ll do what the union tells me to do. But I think, personally, it’s a bad idea to dictate how I volunteer, my time.”
At Sir Charles Tupper secondary in East Vancouver, the senior boys team is unburdened by such talk of teacher job action. The Tigers are coached by three volunteers from outside the school — Jeff Gourley, Doug Eberhardt and Chris Peerless, all of whom have impeccable basketball credentials.
Gourley, originally from Fredericton, N.B., is a former Canadian men’s national team player and Eberhardt has worked with the New York Knicks at both the team’s training camp and “refresher weeks,” following the NBA all-star break.
Eberhardt believes about 75 per cent of Vancouver’s 16 schools rely on non-teaching personnel to coach senior boys basketball teams.
“It’s very dependent on what geographic area you’re in,” he said. “It’s kind of a mixed bag throughout the province, maybe 50-50. But, I know, in Vancouver, it’s really gone away from teachers to community coaches. There is an aging teacher workforce, and not a lot of new blood in the system willing to coach with a background in athletics. Schools are not allowed to hire teachers on that basis. Without community coaches, it would be very difficult for the vast majority of Vancouver teams.”
Eberhardt, who was privy to the Jeremy Lin phenomenon firsthand, didn’t fully appreciate the zeitgeist created by the Knicks Asian-American point guard — until he returned to Vancouver to find his players, many of whom are of Filipino and Chinese extraction, enraptured by the same global tidal wave.
Still, the most school’s most prominent, and unlikely, athlete is a seven-footer — Cameron Smythe — “a centre with the skill set of a guard,” according to Eberhardt.
Smythe, who has NCAA possibilities ahead of him, might have been tempted to go elsewhere for his high school basketball experience. But he stayed true to his neighbourhood, in contrast to others seduced by questionable recruiting moves, for the most basic of motives: Convenience.
“I didn’t go there because of the basketball,” he explained. “Tupper is just five minutes’ walk from my house. It just made sense.”
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