B.C. School Sports has won the day, and its executive director says he’s confident the new governance proposal for high school sports in this province — one which unites all 20 of its member sports under one organizational umbrella — will be ready to begin operation, pending green lights from the health sector, this coming September.
BCSS, needing a two-thirds majority plus one vote (67 per cent) from its eligible membership of high schools across the province to move forward, instead got 73 per cent (212 votes to 77), it was announced Saturday following its virtual Annual General Meeting.
In real numbers, based on the amount of schools voting, 193 votes would have gotten it done, but if just 20 of those 212 ‘Yes’ votes went the other way, it would have meant a rejection of the governance.
Abney told Varsity Letters that the percentage of those voting in favour of the governance in early polling was nearly identical to that of those voting live on Saturday. Early polling, he said, was 73.6 per cent in favour of the BCSS governance, while Saturday’s was 72.3 per cent in favour.
Following the AGM, B.C. Secondary Schools Rugby Union commissioner Walter van Halst indicated strongly that a challenge may be forthcoming based, he says, on a less-than-transparent knowledge of what those voters were actually casting their ballots for.
The passing of the new governance effectively dissolves every high school sport-specific commission in the province including such longstanding entities as the B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association, the B.C. Secondary Schools Girls Basketball Association, the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association, B.C. High School Track and Field and the BCSSRU.
“I think it’s a new era in some regards, and in some others, there won’t be a lot that changes,” said Abney, whose is part of the leadership which will usher in a 53-member legislative assembly made up in part, of nine policy committees and five operating committees.
“Our goal here is to insure that student-athletes continue to be put first and that they have first-class support and first-class experiences,” added Abney. “There’s people on both sides that have really contributed and at end of the day, we are all on the same side wanting kids to grow and be successful.”
No one is denying the latter sentiment, yet van Halst was steadfast Saturday that the results of the vote be further scrutinized, following this past Thursday’s revelation that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation had never been asked to be a part of the BCSS legislative assembly despite being positioned as such in the governance proposal.
“I believe that this deserves to be challenged, and that all options remain open as we continues to look into this,” van Halst said. “The people who voted in advance didn’t know what they were voting on, and the people who did today didn’t either because we really don’t know how many stakeholder groups were actually consulted.”
Abney answered those complaints thusly: “I would say that the process was exceedingly transparent. The voting system was secure. I don’t believe there’s any grounds for (a challenge) but if there is, we’ll deal with that. I think the margin of the vote, if it had been one or two votes, there would be a little bit more credence to that, but I have in the last hour had people who were vehemently against this say ‘Well done, we’ll shift our focus and be ready to work with you on this.’”
Added Abney when asked if he thought advanced voting was tainted due to confusion as to the actual make-up of the 10 stakeholders listed in the governance proposal: “No. You saw our statement. It speaks for itself. We have varying levels of relationships with all of the partners that are listed there and we didn’t ask any of the partners for their feedback, endorsement, support because the relationships, some had varying levels of knowledge of the process but they were treated no differently, and I spoke the TF (B.C. Teacher’s Federation) twice this week and made sure they understood we weren’t making any assumptions. They were fully onboard with that if it passes, we will go through our process. At no point was it ever implied, or meant to imply that. And so I don’t think there is really a lot of legitimacy to that thinking.”
Van Halst added what he felt was another troubling trend which had emerged, and that was the number of schools who were not even eligible to cast votes because their schools elected not to pay their B.C. School Sports registration fees this season, correctly assuming that sports would not be played in the schools due to COVID-19.
“I was contacted by the athletic director of a small school on Vancouver Island and he told me that he could not vote on behalf of his school,” said van Halst. “Because of COVID, his principal decided not to pay registration fees for school sport in a year in which there was no sport.
“He also told me that approximately 15 per cent of schools in B.C., far more than the margin of victory, were disenfranchised for the same reason. It wasn’t like one school was lazy or cheap and didn’t want to renew their ICBC. It was 15 per cent of schools. That works out to about 70 schools. It was a massive number.”
Two of B.C.’s most tradition-laden high school sports commissions were asked to comment on Saturday’s vote.
Paul Eberhardt, a long-time high-ranking member of the B.C. boys high school basketball executive and a West Vancouver district vice-principal, who voted on the governance representing West Vancouver Secondary School, was understandably disappointed but vowed to keep the BCHSBBA’s profile and sphere of influence as vital as ever regardless of what awaits with the governance.
“I am very disappointed with the result but I am very proud of the people who fought hard to try and defeat this governance change,” Eberhardt said.
“We were at a severe disadvantage because we had no control over the communication channels,” he continued. “B.C. School Sports did a very good job of getting the message out to get people to support this and we were at a severe disadvantage to try to counter it.”
Eberhardt said the BCSS targeted their message directly to school principals instead of athletic directors, with the former having the final say over the latter on how a school would be voting.
As for the future of the BCHSBBA, which has made its boys championship tournaments a model for the rest of the country to follow?
“What I can tell you is the boys basketball organization that has been in business for 75 years is not going away,” Eberhardt added. “We are a legally-entitled society and we are still going to run and we are still going to do what we think is the best for boys basketball.
“We will do our best work within new structure, and if we have to work outside of it, we’ll do that, too. We will do whatever we have to do to make sure that all the hard work of thousands of people who have come before us for the last 75 years was not in vain. We will make sure our tradition continues inside the structure or outside the structure. But we’re not going away.”
As well, Varsity Letters caught up with B.C. Secondary School Football Association commissioner Brien Gemmell.
“My opinion is that it’s not something that we feel overall benefits the BCSSFA and football as a singular association, because we feel we do a very good job,” said Gemmell.
“I think that while we felt better off staying the same because we have always done a very good job within our own commission in following the B.C. School Sports governances, I can understand why it did pass based on arguments that some people have with how the voting model is in B.C. School Sports right now, and how some commissions are run. I can understand how it passed.
“There was always a feeling within our BCSSFA board, that this was always going to pass, and that’s why we worked extensively the past four months with B.C. School Sports to make sure that football’s voice was heard on the chance that it would pass.”
Many are concerned, however, that individual voices will not be heard under the new governance because although sports-specific advisory committees have been selected, many potentially to be staffed with existing members of the newly-deposed individual sports commissions, they effectively have no final say in policy.
“I don’t understand why you would ‘Yes’ when voting ‘Yes’ means that you will never get to vote again,” Eberhardt exclaimed Saturday.
So, from the perspective of those opposed to the new governance, therein lies the big mystery: How much of their voice will be heard? Will it be welcomed or will it fall on deaf ears?
Time will be the final arbiter.
While acknowledging the potential of impending change, Abney himself feels that once a transition period is mounted, the B.C. high school sports world will continue to prosper.
“I think this will be similar to what we saw a few years ago when we changed the zones around the province,” he said. “There were people unhappy with it, but after a few days passed, they said ‘Let’s figure out the way to make this the best it can be’, and I expect with quality of people we have in the school sports system that will again be the approach that the majority of people take.”
Again, time will be the final arbiter.
Yet van Halst, who in mid-March gained the support of 14 B.C. high school sports commissions in the fight against the governance, says he will continue to work on their behalf to challenge Saturday’s outcome.
“No matter what happens now,” he said, “I am proud that I fought on behalf of my sport with everything I had. I could never be proud of myself if I didn’t. Selling out my sport would have been unthinkable.”
And so however you felt, and whatever winds up happening, the one thing we can take heart in all of this is the fact that B.C. high school sports and the condition and health of its heartbeat continues to matter to so many.
And can we say that we’ve ever seen that passion glow stronger than it has over the past few weeks?
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