NORTH DELTA — If you had to identify his place on the family tree of North Delta Huskies boys basketball, you’d first start by imagining the mighty Oak.
Then, you’d fix your stare on its weathered trunk.
You know, that thick, strong and absolutely unflappable part of a tree, the place where it’s always thickest… the place where its roots run so unyieldingly deep into the fertile soil of a basketball family.
Every year, it adds another ring to its circumference, and over the passing of the seasons, it becomes the definition of stability, consistency and excellence.
That is the best way to sum up Bill Edwards, who began his senior varsity basketball career as a key member of the late, great Stan Stewardson’s first North Delta team in 1965-66, and who this season, some 58 years later, remains a vital part of the 2023-24 team as both assistant coach and consultant.
This Thursday, the Huskies will hold a Bill Edwards Appreciation night at the school, with festivities planned for 7 p.m. ahead of a scheduled 7:15 p.m. tip-off against its crosstown rivals, the Seaquam Seahawks, with a post-game gathering to follow.
And while having the spotlight turned on him is something the humble, 74-year-old Edwards has scrupulously avoided his entire career, the cross-section of testimonials which have emerged here as the game draws closer surely paint the definitive theme of his life’s mission statement.
And that is in all the ways in which a high school basketball program, through its very nature, can teach life lessons in a most unique, challenging and bonding manner.
“He is someone that gets joy out of life when he sees others having success,” explained current North Delta Secondary vice-principal Vlad Nikic, who was himself mentored by Edwards during his formative years as coach and teacher earlier this century at crosstown Delview Secondary.
“He gets joy when he sees progress in others… when he knows he made an impact,” added Nikic, who used the lessons he learned to help lead the crosstown Delview Raiders to the championship final of the 2015 B.C. Double-A tournament.
Ultra-competitive in a body both stocky and stoic, Edwards sits not only at the root of Huskies basketball, but also as one of the strongest branches of the Stewardson coaching tree, which itself is one of the most enduring in all of B.C. high school basketball history.
Edwards followed his mentor’s pioneering 1970-71 B.C. top-tiered title with two of his own, in both 1974-75 and 1989-90. Then, in the program’s most recent renaissance, Edwards was a key assistant as the Huskies, in a four-tiered province, captured the 2018-19 B.C. Triple A championship title.
Along the way, he’s weathered the storms that aging brings, and with each passing season, his influence, like that of the handful of enduring cross-generational B.C. high school coaches, seems more and more mythical.
But really, boiled to its essence, he still the same kid who came of age in the early 1960s, and who despite maybe not having the most talent in the gym, found his direction in life by simply playing this beautiful game the only way he knew how.
HISTORY BY THE BOOK
In his straight-shooting autobiography ‘Lucky Me’ published in 1996, Stan Stewardson reflected not only about his own coaching career at Simon Fraser beginning in 1974-75, but of his entire North Delta boys coaching career (1965-66 to 1972-73).
And although a cavalcade of Huskies stars, led by the likes of Dave Coutu, Stu Graham, Mike McNeill and John Buis would later emerge, there was no denying the soft spot that the lunch bucket-minded guru held for the grinding players as defined by Edwards who would set the template in those first early seasons.
As Stewardson described the program he had inherited, one which, not too long before he arrived, had been saddled with the ignominy of suffering 100-point plus losses in back-to-back weekends against Queen Elizabeth and North Surrey, he paid homage where it was due… to those very grinders.
And that was a quality which Bill Edwards had in droves.
“Bill was that the rock solid, dive on the floor, sweat-drenched defensive specialist,” Stewardson wrote.
Ron McNeill, Edwards’ lifelong friend and the point guard on that 1965-66 team, admitted the two caught the hoops bug when they were eighth graders, and once under the influence of Stewardson developed a love for the game which has never abated.
“Bill was a tireless workhorse and while he wasn’t the most gifted player fundamentally, he made things happen,” said McNeill, who also spent his life in the Delta high school system as a teacher and a coach.
“We did a lot of pressing and he was up front, creating pressure… the best way to describe him is that he was just hard-nosed.”
On a team built around its three Grade 11s in Edwards, McNeill and John Haythorne, the Huskies went a humbling 6-14 that first season.
Yet all of that struggle led to a sterling 28-8 record the next season as the 1966-67 team would distinguish itself as the first from North Delta to ever advance to the Fraser Valley championships.
And those two teams laid the framework of a North Delta program which would go on to become a dominant force on the provincial scene.
In fact over Stewardson’s final four seasons (1969-70 through 1972-73), the Huskies compiled a 154-20 record, led by the 1970-71 B.C. title (37-5) and the 1971-72 season in which the Huskies placed second at the provincials to Lars Hansen and the Centennial Centaurs as part of a 43-3 campaign.
And although he was never able to step on the floor at the B.C. tournament as a player, the sum total of his North Delta experience gave Edwards all the fuel he would need for what has been, starting with his first senior varsity season, a 58-year association with the game.
Stewardson’s idea of having his varsity players coach up the young, elementary school-aged boys who would one day become Huskies was actually the start of his career as a coach.
“Stan started what he called his Hot Dog and Hamburger League,” laughed Ron McNeill, who would join Edwards in the endeavour, “and I think what separated Bill from a lot of people, was even at a young age, he was already thinking strategically about the game. That was his first exposure to coaching and he ran with it.”
Edwards and McNeill continued coaching young North Delta-area players in a Vancouver Industrial League, and by the 1973-74 season, Edwards had moved up the ranks to the stage where he had been appointed head coach of the Huskies’ junior boys team.
Then, just seven seasons removed from his own high school graduation, Edwards, at the tender age of just 25 in 1974, assumed the head coaching duties of the school’s senior boys team.
And by the time 1975’s March Madness celebration had ceased, he had led the team to a 72-57 win over the Richmond Colts in the championship final played at the Pacific Coliseum.
Yet Edwards’ coaching wings would continue to spread, and it wasn’t long before he began what would be a lengthy coaching association with Mike McNeill over the first half of the 1980s.
McNeill, one of the Huskies’ foundational stars, not only helped Stewardson’s 1971 Huskies win the B.C. title, but later served as an assistant under his former high school coach with Simon Fraser, before later going on to become the Clansmen’s head coach from 1979-84.
Edwards served as an assistant under Mike McNeill at SFU for three of those seasons, then moved over to UBC where he served as the Thunderbirds’ head coach for two seasons.
In that second season (1984-85) on the Point Grey campus, McNeill returned the favour when he moved over to UBC and served as assistant coach under Edwards on a team which featured a young point guard from North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary in Kevin Hanson, now in his 24th season at the helm of the Thunderbirds.
Ask Mike McNeill about his friend’s coaching style, and he can’t help but start with a description of Bill Edwards as a player.
“There have been guys over the years that Oh my God, they would lay their body on the line,” begins McNeill, who played as a elementary school kid in the Huskies’ old Hot Dog and Hamburger league coached in part by his older brother Ron and Edwards. “That was Bill.
“I think what he did as a coach is the the same thing he did as a player. His teams always worked hard. I don’t think there is any greater compliment that you can give a coach than to say that their team plays hard. And as he grew as a coach, his teams got better and better.”
It has now become a tree of both basketball influence and confluence over the half-century-plus that it’s had to cultivate its roots of both kinship and mentorship.
These days, we can now all revel in the fact that each and every one of its figurative branches seem alive with tales of reminiscence.
So as we wind down our tribute to Bill Edwards, we give those full branches a good, hard shake, delighting in the bounty which emerges: A pastiche of thoughts from a half-dozen coaches whom he’s crossed paths with over the years from both inside and outside of the North Delta Huskies basketball world.
He’s 15 years Edwards’ junior, yet like few others, you can say that the 59-year-old Eberhardt — the head coach of the Quad-A No. 2-ranked West Vancouver Highlanders — is cut from the very same coaching cloth.
Neither were ever the athletic prodigies who lifted their high school teams through their sheer playing talent, yet both have become coaching lifers, each imbued with that rare gift of teaching and leading with passion.
And so when asked to reflect on Edwards last week, Eberhardt immediately remembered a moment when his Highlanders faced the the Huskies this past Dec. 19 in the opening round of Burnaby South’s Rod Thompson Memorial Invitational.
“We beat them, but we had to go to overtime… they played really well,” Eberhardt began of an 81-74 victory in extra time over a Huskies team currently ranked No. 8 in the Triple-A Top 10, “It was late in a tight game, and the referee blows his whistle and he tells Bill that he has to sit down because he is not the head coach,” laughs Eberhardt, eluding to the fact that Edwards is currently an assistant on the team under head coach Jas Hothi. “He still gets as fired up as ever. He’s a keeper, man. He’s a really good guy.”
And, as we’ve trumpeted all of those ties that bind, what’s the easiest one here?
In the first of his two seasons as UBC Thunderbirds head coach in 1983-84, Edwards coached guard Doug Eberhardt, Paul’s older brother. Exactly 40 years later, Doug has returned to the Thunderbirds as an assistant coach this season under the aforementioned head coach Hanson, who himself played under Edwards at UBC in 1984-85.
“I think Bill represents all that is good about our sport,” Eberhardt added. “He’s a guy who has given of himself for over five decades now, and even after he so-called ‘retired’, he spent years refereeing as well. He is constantly giving back to the game. He’s a legend, a treasure. And what an example for other teachers and coaches to see.”
As the 1980s wound to a close, North Delta Huskies basketball had entered a renaissance-period under Edwards.
Talent in the form of players like Craig Preece, Chad Johnston, Mitch Berger, Davis Sanchez, Sean Ramjagsingh and Kelly Gordon had created a buzz, and the rise of the Seaquam Seahawks program under the generalship of the late, great Bill Stebbings created a crosstown rivalry on the north side of the city whose magnitude today’s generation of Huskies and Seahawks players and fans could never even begin to imagine.
It was in the shadow of that special time in Huskies program history that a kid named Lucky Toor first experienced the power of high school basketball.
Now 44 and the head coach of the highly-ranked, provincial title-contending Seaquam senior girls basketball team on which his two talented daughters play, Toor got a chance to play for a season under Edwards as a Grade 11 on the 1995-96 Huskies.
“If it wasn’t for him, I might not even be doing what I am doing,” added Toor, who in mid-December coached the Seahawks girls to the championship title at the 2023 Tsumura Basketball Invitational, and subsequently to the 46-year-old program’s first-ever No. 1 spot atop the B.C. Quad-A senior girls Top 10 rankings.
“There was a sense of tradition when I grew up of all the powerhouse teams which came before me in the 1990’s,” he added. “As a kid growing up in that environment, seeing how much time was put into building a Huskies’ tradition, I always carried that with me when I got into coaching myself.”
And as he has grown as a coach, Toor admits that there is as much to admire about Edwards’ comportment off the court as his competitiveness on it.
“Bill is an extremely humble individual and one of the most successful in our province’s history,” Toor begins. “But when you sit down and talk with Bill, he never talks about himself. He talks about his players and his teams. He is one of the most competitive people I have met and he instilled that in me as a player, but with Bill there has always been a humbleness.”
Few have as much experience coaching, teaching and administrating at as many high school in Delta as James Johnston, the current principal at another renowned B.C. basketball school, Surrey’s Tamanawis Secondary.
A vice-principal for four years (2103-14 to 2016-17) at North Delta Secondary, he has also worked and coached at Seaquam and South Delta, in addition to holding the position of president of the former B.C. Boys High School Basketball Association.
And at all stops along the way, Johnston has silently noted the ego-less, example-based advocacy with which Edwards greets anyone wanting to venture in the coaching world.
“That’s the thing about Bill… he never leaves the game,” Johnston said. “He’s always connected. When I started to coach, he was my coaching mentor when I was doing my Level 2 certification. So, he’d come to Seaquam when I was coaching there, he’d watch my practices and give me all kinds of suggestions.”
And as has been the theme of his life, Edwards has never once gone out of his way to promote himself.
“He doesn’t care who gets credit,” Johnston continued. “He is just willing to give so much. I don’t want to say it is unique because a lot of other coaches are like that, but they’re just not on Bill’s level. There are very few that just continue to give their whole career… their whole life and ask for nothing in return. He just gets such deep enjoyment from being around people and the game that I guess he doesn’t need anything else.”
It was just one of those behind-the-scenes happenings, the kind which so often goes unseen yet which when viewed through a wider lens, comes to hold significant importance in the eye of the beholder.
“I was sitting upstairs in the gym on Saturday morning (Jan. 13),” St. Thomas More Collegiate Knights’ senior boys assistant coach Aaron Mitchell remarked recently of his whereabouts on the final day of the 2024 Rich Goulet Memorial Chancellor Invitational.
“North Delta was getting ready to play St. Patricks, and Bill had brought his wife (Marita) along,” continued Mitchell of Edwards. “She was sitting up top in our coaches room because the chairs were just a bit more comfortable.
“The North Delta players all sat up their before the game and before they left to go to the locker room, they all gave her a hug or went out of there way to acknowledge her in some way, which I thought was cool. To me, it shows that the story-telling has been passed down.
“Obviously, someone is relaying the message (at North Delta) as to who Bill Edwards is and what he means to North Delta basketball.”
The moment resonated in a special way with Mitchell who himself has strived to bring the same kind of reverence for the tradition and history of hoops at STMC, where the legendary Goulet won back-to-back B.C. Double-A titles in 1975 and 1976 before moving on to win another three at Pitt Meadows (1983, 1989, 2000).
That’s why Mitchell invited Mike Alain, a hard-nosed guard from Pitt Meadows’ 2000 championship team to STM to chat with his players about who Coach Goulet was and why he played such a special role in the history and tradition of the Knights’ program.
“Not to make this story, which is about Bill Edwards, about our tourney, but all of that stuff is a big goal for us, and that’s why we have added Rich Goulet’s name to our tournament,” said Mitchell, who now in his 20th season with STMC boys basketball led the Knights to B.C. Triple-A title in 2014, the first-ever awarded to a school under B.C. high school basketball’s current four-tier format.
“Bill Edwards was our Basketball B.C. liason on the B.C. Under 16 team back in the summer of 1993 when I was 15,” continued Mitchell of his first remembrance of the Huskies’ legend. “I’m 46 now, so that was 31 years ago. It’s sad to say that Bill, along with coaches like Rich Chambers, Don Van Os, Ian Hyde-Lay and Mel Bishop are the last of a dying breed. I don’t know that we’re going to see coaches these days putting in 35-to-40 years. Ebes (Paul Eberhardt) is there, but it’s pretty unique for this current generation to be giving up that much time, energy and effort to a program.
“So talking about Bill, it all goes back to the true essence of what the game was and what the high school game was like.”
North Delta Secondary can indeed claim its own share of history in the so-called ‘storytelling’ of which Mitchell speaks as Stewardson, over his time as North Delta coach, is said to have been the first program boss to institute a game-day dress code of dress shirt, tie and blazer back in the day.
Someone else who feels an instant karma when Bill Edwards’ name is mentioned is guard Craig Preece, the former Simon Fraser standout and easily one of the greatest Huskies of the last 40 years.
“I couldn’t go to all of the stories of the X’s and O’s, but it’s just the feeling I get when I think about North Delta and basketball and obviously with Bill being the leader of the group,” Preece, a 1988 North Delta grad, explained this past week.
“What he helped foster is what I appreciate the most,” added Preece of Edwards, who in the greatest tip of the cap possible to his former mentor, finds himself immersed this season in the coaching life.
Is he surprised to see his old ball coach still doing it at age 74?
“It doesn’t surprise me because he was always fostering teammates and the game of basketball as a means to develop lifelong friendships and when I look at the friends that Bill has today, it’s those same people,” Preece explained of Edwards’ former high school running mate and point guard Ron McNeill, another Huskies playing and coaching legend in Stu Graham, and the legendary husband-and-wife coaching pair of Mike and Allison McNeill, among many others.
The full-circle moment to it all?
Earlier this month, Preece, in his capacity as the head coach of Surrey’s Grandview Grizzlies Grade 8 boys basketball team, arrived with his team to face the Huskies for a game at the North Delta Secondary gymnasium.
As part of a return to his alma mater, Preece made sure that he didn’t leave the gym without a centre-court photo of both he and his son Dane, who plays on the Grandview team.
“Mike and Allison came to Dane’s game and the first thing Mike says to me is ‘Do you know that they are honouring Bill?’ It’s Bill. Mike. Stu. It’s Bill’s lifelong friendships and the fact that he is still (coaching). It’s something I hope to be doing when I am his age. If I can still be giving back to kids when I am 74… to a game that gave me so much? He is a role model.”
The first time Jesse Hundal got a chance to talk with Bill Edwards came in the early-to-mid 2000’s when the pair found themselves on a picket line during a provincial labour dispute.
Hundal had been recently hired in the Delta School District at Sands Secondary, and Edwards, by that stage, was in what would be his penultimate season as a teacher at that school.
And thus the eager, young coach who had heard all of the stories of Edwards and his legendary coaching resume knew this was the perfect opportunity to glean what he could from the guru himself.
“Then the first thing he said to me was ‘Tell me about yourself’ and that is what Bill does,” said Hundal, who just over a dozen years later as head coach, would lead the Huskies to that 2019 B.C. title. “He gets to know people beyond their profession.”
Hundal and fellow coach Gary Sandhu knew asking Edwards to come aboard and re-join the program as a coach and advisor was the missing ingredient towards winning the school’s most recent championship, and they were not wrong. Yet they got even more than they expected from an aging coach with a resume so complete that it lacked for not a single further accomplishment.
But Edwards took on every chore with humility and purpose.
“He even scouted games for me,” reminded Hundal.
From his earliest days as in the mid-1960’s as Stewardson’s “…rock solid, dive on the floor, sweat-drenched defensive specialist,” to catching the coaching bug through the Hot Dog and Hamburger league with childhood buddy Ron McNeill, to bringing B.C. senior titles to his alma mater in the 1970s, 1990’s and 2010’s, he has distinguished himself as one of the greatest coaches in B.C. high school basketball history.
Yet as he is honoured Thursday evening ahead of North Delta’s game against crosstown rival Seaquam, the man who shuns the spotlight perhaps more deftly than any of his coaching peers, will be toasted as much for his humility and his humanity.
As Hundal observes, so many of those who have sprouted and reached maturity from the branches of the Edwards’ coaching tree simply can’t help but be influenced by that special part of his off-court persona.
“Bill invests his time in people,” Hundal says. “And he cares more about others that he does himself. When you look at it that way, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“I firmly believe that what you appreciate, appreciates in value and the fact that Bill has appreciated us… invested thousands of hours in us even though he has retired (from teaching), you get that appreciation back tenfold.
“Now, it’s our turn to appreciate him and everything he has done for this program.”
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