NORTH DELTA — Arun Atker first ponders the question, then answers from the heart.
“The first thing I would want to ask him is how he won the championship,” the North Delta Huskies talented Grade 11 point guard responds when asked to imagine what a day would be like for him if he could spend it with former North Delta Huskies head coach Stan Stewardson, a pioneering B.C. basketball giant who passed away late last October, a day before his 79th birthday.
“Everyone on this team wants it so badly,” continues Atker. “But we also all know how hard championships are to come by. So yeah, if I could ask him anything, I would want to know how it is that a team gets that edge they need.”
On Wednesday night, the Huskies will take to the floor at their North Delta Secondary School gym wearing their ‘SS’ adorned warm-ups in honour of the man who not only launched the program in the 1960s, and led the school to its first-ever title, the 1971 B.C. Triple-A crown, but also instilled a sense of pride and tradition which, almost a half-century after that first title, has once again begun to peak.
Prior to the Huskies’ AAA Fraser Valley Southwest league opener against D.W. Poppy, key members of the program’s pantheon of past greats will honour Stewardson and the impact he had on the lives of so many youth through the vehicle of basketball.
“You’re only as strong as the roots of your tree and we have strong roots,” said current North Delta coach Jesse Hundal. “The event is of course to honour Stan, but also to connect generation with generation.”
A PACK OF HARD-WORKING HUSKIES
Stewardson, who later on went on to bring similar tradition to the men’s basketball team at Simon Fraser, where this season Clan players are wearing jersies adorned with ‘Stan’ patches, was the kind of individual who just put his head down and worked on the daily act of outreach with everyone in his life.
And while his passing rocked the North Delta Secondary community, there is no question that it also sparked conversation and in short order appreciation for the positive power that a committed coach and a team of dedicated teenagers could actually have.
At North Delta Secondary, it has meant a renaissance of sorts, an infusion of 1970s-powered spirit, which combined with today’s modern social media motor, has helped draw the Husky nation closer and closer together.
And no one takes greater pride in that fact than the team’s assistant coach Gary Sandhu, who launched the Husky Athletic Council and has watched it thrive behind its own student-driven inertia.
“We noticed what was happening at Burnaby South, that all the kids were volunteers and just so proud to represent their school,” admits Sandhu of the high school which has set the bar for student engagement via social media.
“It got me thinking that while we had a lot of spirit, it wasn’t as organized as it could be. We wanted it to get where it would just begin to feed on itself and that you would ultimately get a lot of kids to want to be a part of it. And for us, once it’s gotten off the ground, it becomes its own thing. The Grade 11s and 12’s take over, and you just watch it grow.”
At North Delta, the proof lies in the fact that an army of some 40 student volunteers can get a lot done when they’re all pulling in the same direction, a fact which will be apparent when the Stewardson tribute night begins Wednesday.
In fact Sandhu is certain Stewardson would approve wholeheartedly.
“I think he would absolutely love it, and everything I’ve learned of Stan is that he was all about getting to know people and building relationships,” he says.
CHANTING ‘FOR STAN…’
Of course Stewardson would also smile when it comes to the way this young, largely Grade 11 team of Huskies has embraced life at the top end of the AAA senior varsity ranks.
From the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, to the St. Thomas More Chancellor, to this past weekend’s Abbotsford Snowball, and now to this coming weekend’s to the Rick Hansen Classic, North Delta has played one of the toughest schedules in the province.
“We wanted to test our team,” says Hundal. “We didn’t want our guys to be complacent. We wanted to be in a position where in every tournament, every game is a challenge for us. And our guys have handled adversity well.”
And Atker was quick to realize just what Stewardson meant, not ony to the program as a whole, but to his own assistant coach.
“I know that he was a close friend of Mr. Edwards,” says Atker of Bill Edwards, the program’s former head coach who led North Delta to B.C. titles in 1975 and 1990 after first being coached at the school by Stewardson.
“When Stan Stewardson passed away, Mr. Edwards really took it to heart,” Atker continued. “He told us stories about how Mr. Stewardson brought in rules about wearing a shirt and tie, and how he built this program.”
On Wednesday, instead of forgetting its past, a school embraces it in the form of a man who left an enduring legacy simply by wanting to lead from the heart.
Sadly, Stan Stewardson has left us. Yet the sense of wonder that he has left just continues to flow, like a well-run fast-break, from generation to generation.
“This year is for him, that’s why we have ‘SS’ on our warm-ups and in every game huddle, our chant, on (the count of) three, is ‘For Stan…’ We want this to be a special year.”
Seems like it already is.
A HUSKIES’ SECRET TO BE REVEALED
Wednesday’s game is expected to tip-off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. Festivities and announcements are set to begin at 7:45 p.m. and will continue at halftime.
Former Huskies player John Buis is expected to address the crowd, and rumour has it that he will reveal a secret about the current floor at the North Delta gymnasium which connects it to the 1971, ’75 and ’90 championship teams.
Those attending are advised to arrive around 7:15 p.m.
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