SURREY — No less wise a person than the Greek philosopher Plato once opined that necessity is the mother of invention.
Over the past few seasons at Surrey’s Elgin Park Secondary School, it has been the mother of a recent grad who has embraced that old saying with gusto, and in the process helped make the Orcas’ senior boys volleyball team perhaps the most inclusive program in all of B.C. high school sports.
How else do you explain an environment so free of ego and so filled with co-operative spirit, which through sheer necessity, has been created by Melissa Bonn, the school’s librarian, who by her own admission is volunteer-coaching “above my pay grade.”
“It kind of goes back (to 2013) when my son (Spencer) was in Grade 11 and there was no one willing to coach the team,” remembers Bonn. “The athletic director told me that there was nobody but me, so I said I would do it rather than the boys not having a team to play on.”
From first leaning on the support of more qualified coaches in her community, to partnering with junior varsity boys coach Trish Wagner, to ultimately empowering her eight senior varsity players to help design practices and provide emotional support for each other, there is a centrifugal force at Elgin which this season seems self-sustaining.
“This is a place where everyone has a say and everyone listens,” says Bonn. “The players on his team are way more invested. They know if they are in tune to what is going on, that it will help their success.
“They are not passive,” she continues. “They are invested.”
THE POWER TO EMPOWER
Bonn keeps it real.
Of course having a technically-equipped veteran coach with years and years of experience would be the perfect complement to the expert club-based coaching many of the Elgin Park players receive in their community.
Yet if you think that is all high school sports and youth sports in general is all about, you are missing the big picture.
In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet that when Orcas’ Grade 11 middle blocker Cade Hefflick gets asked about his most memorable high school moments 20 years from now, he will reference this season and this group of teammates.
“I wouldn’t use any other words to describe us except to say that we are a band of brothers,” says Hefflick.
Adds senior middle Andy Barrero: “We’re all very close, and with that, we can be honest with each other on what everyone needs to work on.”
Bonn first remembers reacting more from survival instinct back in that 2013 season.
“I had played every sport in the book except volleyball,” begins Bonn. “I had been coaching the Grade 8s and 10s a bit and I had gotten my Level 1 (certification). But I knew I was out of my element.”
Yet driven by necessity, a survivalist’s template began to take shape.
That season, Bonn enlisted the services of Surrey firefighter and former UBC Thunderbirds’ player Brian Boles to help coach the team.
In 2014, Bonn joined forces with Wagner who had a son (Christian) on the team that season, just like she does this season (power hitter Luke Wagner).
In 2015, former Canadian national team player Brett Youngberg helped coach, and in 2016 longtime local club and college coach Dave Dooley brought his expertise to an Elgin Park team that qualified for the B.C. Triple A championship tournament at the Langley Events Centre.
“But this season, we didn’t have any of them available and we didn’t want to do a disservice to the kids,” said Bonn of both she and Wagner.
“Then Trish (who coaches Elgin’s junior varsity team) made a great point, that most of our kids are coached outside of high school by other high-level coaches, so why not get our own kids to design and run our practices?
“We try to let them do as much as possible but then Trish and I will help them through, we’re always involved. But in a sense, they were experiencing being coaches and being leaders.”
The Orcas have had their share of struggles in the early going, yet coming through with a big league win over preseason Triple A No. 3 Fraser Heights last week was a much-needed boost of confidence.
If Bonn has ever wondered how much her players have relished the opportunity to experience a most unique team experience, the answer seems clear.
“I am appreciative of having coach Melissa there every time I step on the court,” says Hefflick. “We recognize that even if she doesn’t have all of the knowledge to help us technically, that she is still a great coach.
“She keeps us mentally strong, and she is the lead figure that keeps us grounded. I speak for my whole team in saying that we would be nothing without coach Melissa holding us together.”
For what sport can give to our youth, for what they can take and use later in their lives, can there be a greater endorsement?
Says Bonn: “I guess I always hoped someone would come in and rescue us.
“I say to the boys ‘I am doing my best, but I need your help.’ So this is our adaptation. You always feel a connection to the teams you coach, but it just seems to be more this year. It feels like we’re a mini-family.”
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