NORTH DELTA — As a kid who attended both of these neighbouring high schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I can verify one fact.
On a skateboard, standing at one edge of the campus of North Delta Secondary School, at the corner of 114th Street and 82nd Avenue, you can coast down the sidewalks for the majority of the 1,300 metres it takes to arrive in the vicinity of nearby Sands Secondary School.
Even with the stop sign that awaits at 112th Street, it’s easily one of the shortest trips between high schools in the province.
Yet like the UBC Thunderbirds vs. Simon Fraser Clan university rivalry of late, the Sands Scorpions and the North Delta Huskies just never seem to play against each other at the senior varsity level.
And that’s why last Tuesday, I made it a point to be at the newly refurbished Mackie Park turf, which is connected to Sands Secondary, for what I deemed to be a very special boys soccer game.
Back in the fall of 1978, when I was in my Grade 10 year at Sands, this beautiful soccer pitch was nothing more than an uneven field of thatch, potholes and gravel.
But on this perfect fall day, almost 40 years later, it offered the chance to witness the kind of derby rivalry which make B.C. high school sports so special.
Sands, which opened in 1975 and for a generation as a junior secondary served as one of three feeder schools to North Delta, has been a consistent qualifier to the provincial Double A tournament and in 2009 won the B.C. title.
North Delta, which has traditionally played at the Triple A level, had a slight dip in its student population over the summer and became a Double A-tiered school this season for the first time.
And thus the league scheduler played matchmaker, pitting the pair against each other for what was likely their very first senior boys soccer clash.
“This is the one that everyone from both schools had circled on their calendars,” said Sands head coach Lucas Serres, a former UBC Thunderbirds player.
“Over all the weeks of training, this is the game that the boys all talked about,” admitted North Delta head coach Derrick Bassi, himself a Huskies’ graduate and former Simon Fraser Clan player.
SOCCER’S UNIQUE PULL
It’s easy to assume that high school sports rivalries have lost their intensity over the years, and at many levels that is the case.
Back in the day, before the proliferation of club sports blurred the geographic boundaries which made neighbourhood rivalries so special, high school rivalries in sports like basketball represented a zenith in terms of expended passion and intensity.
Soccer, however, has always presented a different dynamic.
Because its development has always come through its community-based club system, and because it’s vast enrolment numbers have demanded a much more intricate tiering system, by the time its players reach their final years of high school, most have not played together for a very, very long time.
“We have got some great talent on this team,” said Bassi, “but we’ve also got a lot of other kids who aren’t at the same level. But what they have is the heart and desire to want to be here. So we have HPL players and bronze-level players on the same team, and the best part of all is that they are all so level-headed and they are all gelling together.”
Think about that for a second.
These days, so many powerful high school programs in sports other than soccer are coming under scrutiny because of the student-athletes who over the course of the offseason, get the push, parental or otherwise, to try to find better situations.
High school soccer seems to be the polar opposite.
For so many student-athletes, the game represents a brief-but-welcomed respite from the structure of the club system.
And as they get ready to end their high school experience, it affords them all the chance to step back to their more innocent days in the game, when their teammates were the actual kids in their neighbourhood.
Bring two such schools together for the first time, schools separated by less than a mile, and you are going to get an old-school rivalry feeling.
“You saw the game today,” began Bassi, whose team won 2-0 behind goals from Gaurav Bassi, and Brazilian exchange student Gui Dias. “Hard tackles, yellow cards, emotions were high.”
Added Serres: “We knew that coming from Triple-A, that (North Delta) would be strong, and they were pretty much what we expected. They had a lot of depth. We have the underdog mentality for sure, and I think it showed a bit after their second goal. We’re a young team, and with about eight minutes left in the game, it kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
Both teams have gotten off to exceptional starts in Fraser Valley South AA league play. Sands sits at 3-1-0 heading into play Tuesday while North Delta was a perfect 3-0-0.
A GAME TO BUILD ON
Serres and Bassi have not discussed anything formally just yet, but both realize the opportunity to promote the game like never before at the high school level within North Delta.
The Scorpions, Huskies, Delview Raiders and Burnsview Griffins all play within the same Fraser Valley AA league. As well, North-enders Seaquam, as well as Ladner’s Delta Pacers and Tsawwassen’s South Delta Sun Devils, all Triple A programs, give Delta proper a total of seven public high schools playing senior varsity boys soccer.
“We’ve thought of the idea of having a Delta Champions League,” said Serres. “We have this great field here now, so I think it’s something we should work on, something that would be good for the community and good for the players.”
It may not represent the highest technical team experience for the players, but it may well be one of the most memorable they take from their youth careers. And that’s because the kids from the neighbourhood are getting the chance to play together one last time.
I still live in the neighbourhood. In fact, I never left.
I’ve got a piece of the old hardwood that made up the first basketball court at North Delta Secondary, where I never played any sport, yet through some weird form of osmosis, got the inspiration to write about the achievements of this province’s young student-athletes.
As well, I coached the Grade 8 boys basketball team a few seasons back at Sands, and have always appreciated the welcome I received from coaches like Serres, and Kevan Gaull, the teacher who brought soccer back to Sands and later coached them to the school’s only senior varsity provincial title in the school’s 42-year history.
To me there is a comfort in knowing that every time I bring my notebook and my camera to this place, even if its 40 years later, that I will always find a story to tell.
And maybe next time, just like it’s 1978 all over again, I’ll even arrive by skateboard.
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