TSAWWASSEN — It may have been the shortest and the quietest B.C. senior girls high school soccer season on record, yet its voice seemed to be within constant ear-shot of one its most passionate advocates.
“Every time we had a game, I’d look at the schedule, and I’d think ‘Oh we should be playing right now,’” reminisced longtime South Delta Sun Devils coach Stephen Burns on Friday.
“I just kept thinking about it all the time, and as time went on and the dates of the games we were supposed to playing arrived, I’d be texting Brent telling him ‘Hey we should be here today or there tomorrow,’” the former Vancouver 86er added of the conversations he’d have with Sun Devils’ co-coach Brent Sweeney. “It’s been very hard for us and, of course, the players. We were ready to have a good run at it this year.”
Indeed, few are the number of teams who have been able to take as many good runs at the top-tiered B.C. Triple-A title over the past two decades as South Delta, the 2008 provincial champs, who were aiming to qualify for the B.C.’s for a tournament-record 19th-straight time this season.
And while South Delta’s 2020 season wound up being played in one afternoon, a March 10 exhibition friendly against Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down B.C.’s entire spring season of high school sport on March 12, Burns’ impact on the pitch, where he has coached a combined 38 girls and boys senior varsity seasons at South Delta, was ultimately recognized on Thursday.
Burns, along with Revelstoke Secondary’s Kathy Hoshizaki (27 years, boys and girls volleyball, track and field, badminton), and Bulkley Valley Christian’s Ron Van Driel (40 seasons, volleyball and many other sports) were named tri-winners of B.C. School Sports’ Coach of the Year award.
“It was a really nice surprise,” said Burns, 51, of the honour which recognizes his remarkable run at South Delta where he had coached its girls program the past 23 seasons, and concurrently over the last 15 years, its boys team. In addition, he has also coached 13 seasons of Sun Devils’ basketball.
“I like coaching all the time,” says Burns, who before embarking on his pro career at Swangard with the 86ers, won three CIAU national titles with the UBC Thunderbirds. “But the girls soccer season has always been near and dear to my heart, especially when you go back to 2002 with my father and the run we’ve gone on ever since.
Burns had begun coaching the Sun Devils’ senior girls team five years before he even arrived at the Tsawwassen high school, crossing over the playing fields to hold practices after completing his teaching chores at neighbouring South Park Elementary.
Yet the spring of 2002, to him, carries powerful memories.
That season, just as the Sun Devils were set to enter post-season play, personal tragedy struck.
Burns’ dad Danny, who had coached him right through the U-18 community ranks, passed away on May 7th of that year.
Later that same day, Burns honoured him by coaching his team to a victory in the opening game of the Fraser Valley championships.
South Delta would not only go on to snap a four-season dryspell from the B.C. tourney by earning qualification to the big dance, they have qualified each and every season since.
Additionally, Burns has trumpeted the virtues of high school soccer in B.C. every step of the way, telling anyone willing to listen that its intangibles are unique to any other brand of the game within the province’s youth delivery system.
“Just seeing kids want to perform for their school and for their friends is what makes it so special,” he says of high school soccer. “Each year, we have a new group of athletes, so having a short time to create that bond between the student and the school is huge. It’s so much more different than community soccer. It’s that attachment to your school, and the pride that brings… that’s what makes it what it is.”
Burns has been a pioneer in so many ways over the years.
Both he and Sweeney would often don outrageous costumes in the moments before provincial playoff games to help their players drop their nerves, and play with their full hearts.
The designing of credos to be worn on the back of their provincial tournament t-shirts became a time-honoured 18-year tradition at the school.
And Burn’s own high school soccer experience, gleaned over an expansive career under the tutlelage of Roman Hammerschmidt at Richmond Secondary in the mid-1980s, never left him.
“I’ll never forget my Geography 12 teacher, Mr. Roman Hammerschmidt, who taught me a valuable lesson when I walked into his class-room late for the first day of class,” Burns said back in 2012.
“I learned quickly that it was a privilege to play for the school team and not a right. These are the sorts of things that go hand-in-hand when teaching and coaching. The memories that are created during these extracurricular activities are second to none. And then having the opportunity to represent your school with your friends is something that I will never forget. I want to make sure my students and student-athletes experience the same thing.”
From being named the MVP of the 1984 B.C. Triple-A championship tournament, despite the fact his Richmond Colts lost to North Vancouver’s Sutherland Sabres in the provincial final, to the heavy heart he felt for the cancellation of the 2020 B.C. Triple-A girls season, Stephen Burns has spent his entire teaching career as an advocate for boys and girls soccer as an important part of provincial high school sports experience.
B.C. School Sports honoured a number of other deserving teacher-coaches as well.
Ian Hyde-Lay of Victoria’s St. Michaels University School, and Donald Moslin of Nanaimo’s Woodlands Secondary, were each announced as BCSS Merit Award winners, recognizing their outstanding service to a local association or sports executive commission. That award also recognizes long service as a coach, administrator or official at the school level.
Hyde-Lay has coached both boys basketball and boys rugby to provincial titles over his time at SMUS, including the 1992 basketball team led by senior Steve Nash.
Moslin is known to all in the B.C. high school sports world as the longtime commissioner of B.C. boys and girls soccer.
Masset’s Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Nayy Secondary School was awarded the Outstanding School award, presented to a school which shows a special commitment to its students and staff through athletics, intramurals, leadership and public service.
And Tom Dinsdale was named the recipient of the BCSS Honour Award. He has spent 40 years as a coach and educator, including the last 16 with the BCSS Eligibility Appeals Committee, including the last five as its committee chair.
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