Bill Stebbings (third right) is flanked by former players (left to right) Eron Labadie, Bill Richards, Charles Hotel, David Hughes, Bob Hoy and John Christie at the school's Wall of Fame induction ceremony this past December. (Photo property of Seaquam Seahawks athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)
Feature High School Boys Basketball

Bill Stebbings 1949-2020: The architect of Seaquam Seahawks boys basketball always saw the big picture first

NORTH DELTA — He was a basketball coach who wanted the world for his players.

And in the end, Bill Stebbings helped them find it by showing them that their commitment to the game was redeemable in later life in the form of wisdom and a deeper appreciation for the value of family and friends.

On Tuesday, the longtime former head coach of the senior boys basketball team at North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary, and a part of one of the richest coaching trees in B.C. basketball history, passed away after a long battle with Corticobasal syndrome, a progressive neurodegenerative condition. He was 71.

Stebbings, also a decorated baseball coach, is survived by his wife Barb, his sons Jeff, Kevin and Bryan, as well as seven grandchildren.

“My family had moved down from Kelowna when I was starting Grade 8, and so I had him for my full five years as a phys-ed teacher,” said UBC Thunderbirds’ head coach and 1982 Seaquam grad Kevin Hanson, whose path to becoming the winningest coach in Canada West men’s basketball history began after being coached for three years on the senior varsity by Stebbings.

“He became a mentor and a friend,” continued Hanson, whose arrival at Seaquam in the fall of 1977 coincided with the opening of the school in North Delta’s Sunshine Hills neighbourhood. “The countless days and hours just spent hanging out in the phys-ed office… those are vivid images in my mind, talking about life and basketball.”

 

The 1966-67 David Thompson senior boys basketball team made the Vancouver school’s first-ever appearance at the B.C. senior boys basketball championships. Included on the team were Bill Stebbings (back row, third left, 30) and his lifelong friend and co-worker at Seaquam Secondary, Paul Pederson (front row, fourth left, 10). (Photo property of BCHSBBA 2020. All Rights Reserved)

 

Born in 1949, Stebbings epitomized the multi-sport athlete of the early 1960s in B.C.

On the basketball court, Stebbings was a starter on the 1967-68 David Thompson Trojans basketball team which lost 58-46 to Victoria’s Oak Bay Bays in that season’s B.C. championship final.

Baseball was the other love of his sporting life, and Stebbings played it collegiately at Chico State University in northern California.

In the fall of 1977, Seaquam opened as the newest high school in Delta, at the time, the only Grade 8-12 institution in North Delta.

Quite amazingly, Stebbings grew the Seahawks from expansion scratch into a B.C. boys basketball powerhouse within a decade, and by 1988 they had advanced all the way to the provincial top-tiered Double A title game, losing to a Richmond Colts squad which was voted the province’s No. 1 team of all time in 2005 as part of B.C.High School Basketball’s 60th anniversary celebration.

“I think as a young kid, in Grade 8, 9 and 10, you grow up watching the senior team and I was just so excited when my chance came to play for him,” said Bob Hoy, a member of the 1987-88 Seahawks’ team.

“Bill just gave off this energy that made you want to play for him,” continued Hoy. “He was a player’s coach for sure. He kept things fun, but he knew how to be tough at the same time.”

Seaquam head coach Bill Stebbings (second left) led Seahawks like seniors Steve Rothmund and Blair Maundrell to second place at the 1986-87 Fraser Valley AA championships. (Photo property of BCHSBBA 2020. All Rights Reserved)

Paul Pederson, who arrived with Stebbings at Seaquam in 1977, then proceeded to work and coach alongside him for the greater part of 30 years, described his childhood friend as one whose leadership skills were the perfect balance of toughness and compassion.

“He was demanding, but always in a fair way,” remembered Pederson. “I will always remember Bill saying to me that if you were particularly hard-nosed on an athlete, that it might turn him away, and that dealing with athletes based on their individual personalities was very important.”

Pederson met Stebbings, to the best of his knowledge, when the pair were fourth-graders at Vancouver’s Sir James Douglas Elementary in 1958.

The pair went on to be basketball teammates at David Thompson Secondary, and it was there that Stebbings was coached by his first mentor in the sport, the late Mike Potkonjak Sr., the former UBC captain who in turn had spent his time on the Point Grey campus learning his craft under the late ‘Birds coaching great Dr. Peter Mullins.

That, in and of itself, makes Stebbings a vital part of a coaching tree which now has Hanson set to begin his 21st season at the helm of the Thunderbirds.

Consider that Mullins would go on to a Hall of Fame coaching career at UBC in which he established a new program high for wins upon retirement in 1982-83 with 337 overall victories.

Mullins passed on his knowledge to Potkonjak, who at David Thompson in the late 1960s did the same to Stebbings and his teammates.

And when Stebbings moved on to Seaquam, he immediately noticed the promise in a young underclassman, whom he would eventually energize for a lifetime career in the game.

“He gave me that first opportunity, when I was in Grade 10, to join the senior team,” said Hanson of Stebbings. “He didn’t want to rush me, but he thought I was ready, and so he started me the first game, and then he started me for every game I played. It was pretty special.”

Special enough that if you had attended ‘Birds games over the majority of Hanson’s career as the team’s head coach, you could have spotted a proud Stebbings along with a number of other coaches dating back to the old Seaquam fraternity, in the stands at War Memorial to watch Hanson and then later to dissect the game with him at a local watering hole.

“We would go out to Mahony & Sons all the time,” added Hanson, who this past January notched his record-setting 314th Canada West conference victory and has gone 490-184 overall in 20 seasons. “He made it a part of his social calendar.”

And it was that half of the coaching equation which Stebbings felt just as important as the on-court process.

He loved his basketball community, and he celebrated that kinship.

“There probably isn’t a place from North Vancouver to Chilliwack where Stebbs hadn’t taken out a referee or a coach after a game,” said James Johnston, a 1992 Seaquam grad who played for Stebbings, coached Seahawks’ senior teams from 2003-04 through 2009-10, and had a chance to coach all three of Stebbings’ sons.

“The things I learned about coaching from him were obviously the on-court things,” continues Johnston, a former president of the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association and currently the principal at Surrey’s Clayton Heights Secondary.

“But he taught me about so much else,” continued Johnston. “To him it wasn’t just about playing the best teams. He scheduled exhibition games against the coaches that were his friends, he wanted to go to the tournaments where his kids would get the best experiences. He told me he played against (former Centennial and Terry Fox senior varsity coach) Richie Chambers every year because they had gotten to know each other over the years and he was a guy Bill really liked. He even took the referees out after games because he thought they had a cool perspective on the game as well.”

Added Pederson of a coach who was in many ways holistic before the word became all the rage: “He really believed in the importance of the social side of life.”

The 1987-88 Seaquam Seahawks won the Fraser Valley title, and later placed second to the Richmond Colts at the B.C. championships. (Photo property of BCHSBBA 2020. All Rights Reserved)

For his part, Hanson also saw the family side of Stebbings when his Seahawks faced the crosstown rival South Delta Sun Devils, who at the time, were coached by Bill’s older brother Bob Stebbings.

“I can remember one time, we were down by 20 to South Delta heading into the fourth quarter and after we wound up winning, Bill’s mom came down from the stands,” remembered Hanson. “She gave him a hug, and then she went right over to Bob and gave him a hug, too. I saw how big the rivalry was, but I also saw that they were brothers. To (Bill), family was always No. 1.”

That love of basketball ran in the family.

Stebbings’ oldest son Jeff was an assistant coach on the 2000 Seaquam team which qualified for the provincials under head coach Doug MacKenzie, then later the head coach himself with the 2003 Seaquam team which lost 80-62 to White Rock Christian Academy in that season’s top-tiered B.C. Triple A championship final.

Hoy’s enduring memory of his head coach?

“It was his smile,” he said. “He just had this positive energy about him all the time. Whether you were up by 20 or down by 20, he could always flash that grin. It’s something I will never forget.”

And from this corner, there is something your faithful reporter will also never forget about Bill Stebbings.

It was around 1989, and at the time I was publishing a B.C. Super 25 weekly boys basketball ranking in the Coquitlam, Burnaby, Surrey-North Delta, and New Westminster editions of The NOW Newspapers, of which I was at that time, the sports editor.

One day, I picked up the phone to hear coach Stebbings’ voice on the other end of the line.

“Those rankings that you’re doing, you should send them to The Province newspaper,” he told a timid-and-unsure young reporter. “I’d bet they would publish them and hire you.”

I can remember faxing them not to soon after to The Province, and not a half-hour later getting a call from then-sports editor Kent Gilchrist, asking me if I was interested in continuing to send them each week.

It was my foot in the door.

By later the next year, in 1990, I was pulling weekend shifts on the sports desk, getting the odd assignment to cover UBC basketball, and eventually getting hired full time at a place I wound up staying for some 27 years.

So Bill, once again, thanks are in order.

You not only gave your players the world, you helped give me mine, too.

On the occasion of Bill Stebbings’ induction on the Seaquam Seahawks’ Wall of Fame this past December, several of his former players gathered at the North Delta school. Pictured left to right: Eron Labadie, Bill Richards, Charles Hotel, David Hughes, Bill Stebbings, Bob Hoy, John Christie. (Photo property of BCHSBBA 2020. All Rights Reserved)

And of course, when Seaquam Secondary decided to begin a Wall of Honour, there was just one choice for its first inductee.

This past Dec. 6, on the same night it was playing its crosstown rivals, the North Delta Huskies, Bill Stebbings was smiling as the centre of attention. And by all accounts, the number of former players who made it a point to honour their former coach was testament to impact of his life’s work.

That kind of connection meant the world to him, especially in his final days when an old friend and former player, whom he had first met as a wide-eyed eighth grader back in 1977, picked up the phone to check in on Coach.

“Last week I called to see how Barb, his wife, was doing,” Hanson related Wednesday. “I wasn’t quite sure how Bill was feeling, but she said ‘Do you want to talk to him?’ and then she handed over the phone to him. He certainly recognized my voice and we shared a few laughs. He was in good spirits.

“I told him to make sure he was being good to his nurse, because (Barb) has put up with all of his nonsense as a coach over the last many decades,” Hanson relayed of the playful line he delivered to his coach in the most loving way possible. “It was a short conversation, but it was pretty special to be able to do that.”

Agreed. In our world, there are two words that never grow old: Thanks, coach.

If you’re reading this story or viewing these photos on any website other than one belonging to a university athletic department, it has been taken without appropriate permission. In these challenging times, true journalism will survive only through your dedicated support and loyalty. VarsityLetters.ca and all of its exclusive content has been created to serve B.C.’s high school and university sports community with hard work, integrity and respect. Feel free to drop us a line any time at howardtsumura@gmail.com.

9 thoughts on “Bill Stebbings 1949-2020: The architect of Seaquam Seahawks boys basketball always saw the big picture first

  1. Thanks for an interesting bit of history about the sport, coach , players and yourself. Always nice to read your positive enriching stories. I noticed in one of the pictures is the vice principle at my school, Bill Richards. What a kind friendly fellow. Thanks Howard

  2. Wonderful article Howard. Remember well the tough and talented David Thompson high school teams led by Bill, brother Bob, Bob Phillips ( who I later played with at Langara College) and the amazing Jimmy Chapman make two in a row BC high school finals In ’67 losing to my alma mater Van. College, and , in ’68 being defeated by a very good Oak Bay team. And, I remember with fondness coaching against Bill and his Seaquam team with a skinny kid named Hanson playing against my Hoosier type team from Golden, B.C. For 4th and 7th place in 1981 at the Sr. Boys A – B.C.’s in Merritt (there was only two Sr. Boys divisions back then). Your mentioning of Bill’s fraternizing with referees after games reminded me of the coaches socials held in the small towns that we’re hosting provincials back then. Back then there were coaches socials held with referees invited as well and at this Provincial tournament in Merritt, the referees pulled off a classic. They announced at the social that there was now to occur a kangaroo court with a a referee as a presiding judge and two referees to act as prosecuting and defence lawyers dealing with charges against coaches regarding their behaviour during games.!! You can imagine the shenanigans and fun the refs had charging coaches with game conduct behavioural crimes. Much to the delight of all gathered, coaches were called up and their charges read out by the judge then exagerated even more so by prosecuting lawyer with the usual response from the defence lawyer being “NO DEFENCE”. I remember the longtime Vanderhoof coach, Ron Van Dolah, an old school American immigrant coach being particularly roasted. The comraderie afterwards established between referees and coaches because of the kangaroo court activity was a thing of beauty and helped build friendships and relationships, in my humble opinion, bettering the high school game in the long run due to a shared activity and established respect. . Back to Bill, a dedicated coach from a great clan, may he rest in peace. A well deserved article! And, no thanks for making me feel very old having coached against Kevin H. When he was a player in high school. Yikes.

  3. Hi Howard,
    Even though I did not know Bill, it was great reading this story about him. As a former PE teacher and coach, this was sent to me along with other colleagues. Very heart warming knowing the positive influence educators and coaches have on kids. I played basketball for Bill McDonald from1970-72 at Eric Hamber and he had a similar influence on our teams. Our 1972 team, including two managers, coach and players, gets together every year for golf, 19th hole beverages, stories and friendship. We have this special tradition and bond because of the holistic way in which McDonald coached us. A great influence for sure. Thanks coach !
    Thanks for covering this story of Bill Stebbings.
    Cheers,
    Ross Davidson

  4. Thanks Howard. Great article about a tremendous coach and even a nicer individual! You will be missed Bill!
    Stu Graham

  5. Bill Stebbings was my father’s childhood golfing and basketball friend, a teacher for my uncle at Seaquam, and my guidance counsellor, PE teacher, and Senior Golf Team coach (along with Mr. Pederson) for me during my five years there in the mid to late 90’s. We also had many years in North Delta Minor Baseball together. He was a good man and had a very positive impact on a lot of people’s lives. Rest in Peace.

  6. Thank you Howard for a wonderful article celebrating a great friend. I was very fortunate to land my first teaching job at Seaquam in the late 80’s. I joined an amazing group of coaches & educators in the PE dept: Bill, Paul, Beau, Kenny, Steve …. so many amazing memories. When I arrived right out of University, I was coaching a very talented girls team and Bill was an amazing mentor and colleague. Many an evening after games, were spent debriefing and learning over a beverage or two and planning strategy for upcoming games. He was always patient, generous, kind and encouraging and I learned so much from him. A keen Basketball mind, and also always focused on developing amazing young humans…. which was and should always be the focus. Although I now live and work internationally, I often think of Bill and my days in the land of the Seahawks which helped to build may teaching and coaching foundation. Much love to Barb and the rest of the Stebbings family – Bill was much admired and respected, and will be missed.

  7. Bill was my basketball coach (and PE teacher) from Burnsview and Seaquam. I was on the initial Seaquam teams graduating in 1979. Did Bill move away from the Wake Forest offence? Man did he drill that into us. So much so that when the Seniors came back for a grad game a couple years later we dropped right into the offence without missing a beat.

    Seaquam was a single A school in our day. It was an accomplishment and source of pride that we competed in the AA leagues – including having Ladner the No. 1 provincial team in our home league that year. Funny story, after Christmas 1978 we played Ladner at home and were up 20 points going into the fourth quarter – and without our top player Ken Whittaker. We lost by four. None of us, Seaquam or Ladner could believe the score. We all knew each other and had a good laugh.

    40 years ago we all knew we were starting something. We had no idea where it would go, only to set fundamentals and expectations. Heck, just having uniforms and warm-up was an accomplishment. My claim to fame was the first to dunk the ball at the school. More importantly, we got to witness Rick Hansen and Dan Wesley start something right there in that same gym.

    Paul Pedersen was our volleyball coach. In only our second year (our senior) Seaquam was a bit of a volleyball powerhouse. Same players, we went right from volleyball playoffs to basketball season. Spent many, many weekends traveling around the lower mainland with Bill and team going to tournaments. It’s the reason I didn’t learn to ski until university later on; no time and Bill greatly dissuaded us from skiing should we break a leg. But how many times did he wrap my ankle cause it was sprained.

    I am an electrical engineer now and use my sports education and history to help with teamwork all the time. By the way Bill, I got a lot better at golf.

  8. Howard your article on my brother Bill was right on! The battles between Seaquam and South Delta were very exciting and special. The family rivalry was highlighted and ended with a social event usually involving Mom and Dad Stebbings and basketball coaches and friends.
    Bill and I were best of friends. We competed on the court, I coached him in baseball, and we competed in golf and played as partners. Many years we played basketball in the Delta rec. league and Sr. Slo-pitch. The social events after the games were always the high lites! On the trips to the National slo-pitch tournaments always involved a week long golf trip from Vancouver to our destination. It was about having fun and enjoying the group friendships.
    Our wives became best of friends as we travelled around the world.(Europe 72, Hawaii, Greece, England, Scotland, Baltic area, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, USA, Mexico and summer vacations in the Okanagan)
    I personally want to thank you for a wonderful tribute to my best friend and brother. He certainly my life much richer and I will miss him dearly.

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