From initial athlete selection through interviews and later, to photo sessions, pre-production meetings, and finally to the finished product you see today on newsstands or on the browser of your choice.
Head of the Class is a three-month journey from start to finish.
The following are remembrances of each of the 18 student-athletes who make up our Class of 2018.
Some became clear over the past few weeks, others from the moment I began reporting on their exploits three, four, even five seasons ago.
There is also a brief homage to both our Coach of the Year and School Spirit award winners, a lock-step pair who represent the best parts of our high school sports community.
Mason Bourcier, Kelowna, basketball, UBC
If there is one thing I love about the kid, it’s his level of absolute self-belief. Read his story and you’ll understand what I mean. Yet aside from all of that, there is a significance to Mason deciding to stay in B.C. to play his university basketball which can’t be overstated. In most years, players of his stature have decided to leave B.C. for a U.S. destination, feeling they couldn’t get to where he wanted to go by remaining at home. UBC has not won the national men’s title since 1972. This might be the guy to help change all of that.
Hannah Bennison, Vernon, cross-country/track and field, Providence
She could very well have had a golden going-away party at the B.C. high school track and field championships earlier this month.
In mid-spring, when I called up Hannah to chat about life in her senior season as one of the top middle distance runners on the planet, we got around to the timing of the B.C. meet.
The Vernon Secondary senior was hurt and had missed the meet in 2016, so I asked her how she was feeling.
Good, she said, but unfortunately, her high school grad festivities were planned for the same day as the championships.
There was no question which was more important to her. She had trained so hard for her races, and a collegiate career at Providence was the tangible reward for all her toil.
But nothing was more important than finishing her high school experience in the truest fashion of all: Being together with her fellow seniors to celebrate the end of such an important chapter in their lives.
For all we missed in not seeing her high school swan song, we gained with a mature statement from a young person as to what, in the end, really matters.
Maryn Budiman, Surrey-Lord Tweedsmuir, basketball, Cal Baptist
I was crouched on the baseline at a big game during the 2016-17 B.C. senior girls basketball season, holding my camera and taking pictures for Varsity Letters.
At one point of the game, Maryn Budiman stepped up to the free throw line, and through my lens, I noticed that her socks were emblazoned with Superman logos. Or should that be Supergirl.
I started laughing to myself because it was perfect.
There is a fierce level of competitiveness within the Lord Tweedsmuir point guard, but as well, a level of understated humility.
Leaders have to lead. They can’t flinch.
Maryn understood this, and her response was to bring a presence which inspired both calm and confidence in her teammates, while also letting them know that she was counting on them.
It was tough terrain to navigate, but in the end her team won the title and she was named the MVP.
Sophie de Goede, Victoria-Oak Bay, rugby/basketball, Queen’s
We in B.C. have been privy to her story for the past few years.
Yet de Goede’s story of two-sport excellence, one which has under-pinned this province’s grass-roots movement towards a multi-sport renaissance, is so intriguing that when Queen’s University got hold of a story I had written on her during her Grade 11 year, they seemed to be in the midst of realizing just how marketable an athlete they were getting in the Victoria-Oak Bay grad.
Rugby and basketball.
An odd couple of sorts, but the two perfect sports to show the grace and the power she possesses.
When I picked up my copy of The Province this morning and saw her on the very front cover, I had to smile.
I said to myself ‘Kids like this don’t come around very often.’
Savannah Dhaliwal, Surrey-Panorama Ridge, basketball, Portland State
Here’s what I will always remember most about Savannah: In a world of off-season AAU tournaments, academies, and all the stuff that is the reality of present-day youth basketball in our province, this is a kid who would fit right into the 1970s.
Old school is a cliche until you start to apply it to Savannah.
You know the drill: Rise at 5 a.m. to hit the gym. Pump iron. Put up shots.
My favourite quote from her Head of the Class story: “My nose has been elbowed and bloodied in so many tournaments, but aggressiveness is a mentality.”
Shanya Dhindsa, Surrey-Panorama Ridge, soccer, Washington State
For as talented a player as she is, it’s hard not to be impressed with level of person Shanya is.
When we spoke during Head of the Class interview, it was clear that the Washington State-bound soccer star wanted to talk about all the things she wanted to get better at, which was really refreshing because my guess is that a lot of people tell her how good she is.
The level of importance she placed on things like coming out of her shell of shyness, and understanding the importance of effective communication tell the whole story of someone pursuing higher goals for all of the right reasons.
Anastas Eliopoulos, Vancouver College, track and field, UBC
He was on my radar heading into the 2016-17 high school sports season. His 110m-hurdle win last season at the provincial meet foretold his potential. But over a magic span of just over a month earlier this spring, the Vancouver College senior hurdled over almost everyone, posting one of North America’s fastest schoolboy times and then capping his career with three gold medals at the B.C. meet. The best part of all: His bubbly, positive outlook on life is just as noticeable as his speed on the track.”
Louise Forsyth, Langley-Brookswood, basketball, Gonzaga
One thing really struck me about Louise as I did some research on her standing this season within the North American high school hierarchy.
Think of how many thousands of young girls across the U.S. play basketball, and how ingrained it is in with the culture stateside. And then discover that ESPN ranked her No. 13 among its graduating class of guards for this season.
When I see that, I think of how far she has come since joining the Brookswood senior varsity as an eighth grader and how much further she still wants to go when she begins her collegiate career in the fall at Gonzaga University. She was so good this past season, I hope you got a chance to see for yourself.
Joel Harrison, Burnaby Central, soccer, Michigan
How humble is this guy?
He’s played some pretty serious hoops and if he had stayed at his old high school, would likely have been fitted for a championship ring along with the rest of his Walnut Grove Gators’ teammates.
Then there’s the whole track and field thing.
Would he have won the B.C. cross-country title as a senior if he had continued to compete on the trails? After all, he had won the B.C. junior title.
And how about the senior varsity title in the decathlon? As a junior he won the national title in multi-events.
Of course Joel won’t bring up any of that stuff unless you ask.
And as I wrote in his HOC story, knowing that he dropped all of those sports to play soccer tells you all you need to know about how talented he is on the pitch. The Michigan Wolverines are getting a good one.
Coltyn Liu, Vancouver Technical, volleyball, UBC
He was picked The Province’s BC High School boys volleyball Player of the Year. That tells you all you need to know about his skill. Yet there is a depth to Van Tech’s unflappable front row hitter that transcends sport. His gritty comeback from an horrific childhood accident has been navigated with such maturity that you need to check Coltyn’s date of birth to make sure he’s actually still just a high schooler. When we look for the complete package as part of Head of the Class, Coltyn Liu sets the bar.
Fynn McCarthy, Lake Country-George Elliot, volleyball, UBC
I have followed his exploits since the start of his Grade 11 year in the Okanagan, and I can honestly say that I have never seen any athlete so quickly climb the ladder of their chosen sport as quickly. In just two years he has cemented a spot within the Canadian national program, and this week he’s in the Czech Republic for the World Under-21 championships. It is no wonder that UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald feels McCarthy has no ceiling.
Grant McDonald, South Delta, football, Maine
I remember distinctly my first interview with the South Delta football star in the late fall of 2015.
Both that season and the one before, McDonald has been so dominant on both sides of the ball that when we finished talking, I asked him which university he was going to be playing at the next season.
To which he replied: “I’m only in Grade 11. I’ve got another year left.”
And then as I watched that senior season unfold I got an even better idea of what kind of a person and athlete he was after he got hurt and had to cool his sore ankle from the sidelines for a good portion of the campaign.
It not only magnified just how much one guy could mean to his team, but how much one guy loved his teammates and everything high school football represented.
In the end, tt made him better, and I am pretty sure those intangibles will make him an even greater man of influence during his NCAA football career at Maine.
Steven Moretto, Vancouver-Notre Dame, baseball/football, Sacramento State
This guy is a leading man.
Last week, photographers Rich Lam and Bob Frid, myself and our photo editor Niki Bennett all met after a shoot for photo selection and great Italian food.
When we got to Steve’s photos, I said ‘Guys, I feel very strongly about this one’. The back-lighting, the casual but confident nature of the subject.
If this was 1989, they could have been promo stills for Field of Dreams.
And really, that is what this kid created at his school over his amazing senior year. That he did it as a football player was almost not the point.
Whatever rallying point Notre Dame Secondary students were destined to meet at, this is the guy who would be there to lead their charge.
Intangibles are by their nature rare and special. And this kid is full of them.
Quinn Ngawati, Victoria-SMUS, rugby, Toronto WolfPack
As I finalized selections for HOC 2017, the theme of so many conversations I had with colleagues surrounded the wave of multi-sport athletes — I feel the most ever — in our 18th edition.
Quinn was a no-brainer just based on his rugby skills, but I was just as impressed that his mind was open enough to realize that he wouldn’t be hurting his future in the sport he so dearly loved, by also dedicating himself to the basketball court.
The end result?
Multiple provincial tournament appearances in both sports and earlier this month, a perfect capper to his high school career with the B.C. Double A Tier 1 rugby title.
There is a such a high level of maturity to him, and it’s especially apparent when you hear him talk about his future plans, which have already gotten a huge head start as the youngest member of the professional Toronto WolfPack rugby league team.
Connor Pattison, New Westminster, wrestling/football, Simon Fraser
What I heard in Connor Pattison’s voice was the level of maturity that comes when you have to make the toughest decision of your young life.
To set the scene, Connor and I spoke just after his Head of the Class photo session with photographer Richard Lam.
As a two-sport star in both wrestling and football at New Westminster, our initial plans were to try to illustrate both sports in his picture, even though Pattison had chosen to specialize in wrestling next season at Simon Fraser.
To do that, Pattison had to walk past spring football practice at his high school to pick up his gear. To hear him talk about everything he would miss about the camaraderie of that sport, where he was a two-time provincial all-star, was gut-wrenching.
Yet just as clear was his excitement to talk about studying molecular biology and reaching his greatest athletic potential as a wrestler at SFU.
And as I heard that tone in his voice change, I told myself to remember it. because it would make a great talking point for the next time I interviewed him.
Camryn Rogers, Richmond-R.A. McMath, track and field, California-Berkeley
I loved the way in which, at every turn, Camryn talked about the people who have supported her dreams in track and field.
Her mom. Her late coach Richard Collier. Her current coach Garrett Collier.
To her, trust in those around her was an important as trust in herself. And together, the results were obvious.
She became one of the most dominant throwers we’ve ever seen in the B.C. high school ranks, so much so that she spent her Grade 12 year breaking her own records.
She was clearly in a class of her own in her specialty of hammer throw, and what was most impressive over the course of her senior year was the way she clawed to get better despite a distinct lack of age-group competition.
Ty Rowell, Langley-Walnut Grove, basketball, Cal Baptist
I covered my first B.C. boys high school basketball championships in 1987, which means I missed seeing Darren Rowell help the Maple Ridge Ramblers win the top prize by one season.
I did, however, get to see his son win it all this past March in his senior season with Langley’s Walnut Grove Gators, and for me, the highlight of interviewing Ty Rowell for Head of the Class was waiting for him to bring up the fact that he dreamt of following in his father’s footsteps, which he did.
Hang around long enough — for an entire generation-plus — and you get to experience cool moments like that one.
They are priceless.
Kiera Van Ryk, Surrey Christian, volleyball, UBC
Kiera was identified as one of the country’s top age group talents by the time she was in the 10th grade, and while I always had a feeling she would be an HOC athlete in 2017, I had suspected it would be for an NCAA Div. 1 program. Her inclusion on a UBC team which is coming off a return to U Sports national championship status is the surest sign yet as to the renewed upward trajectory of the program.
Head of the Class Coach of the Year, School Spirit Award
For the first time ever, the same school has won both of The Province’s Readers Choice Awards.
On one level it’s a coincidence, yet on another, it speaks to the level of importance that high school sports carries as a vehicle to teach life lessons. In fact, it seems to be a way of life at Burnaby South Secondary.
To have the Coach of the Year in well-deserving Frank Giallonardo, as well as placing first in our inaugural School Spirit Award category is proof that volunteer activities like a sports program truly matter to the mental and physical well-being of a school’s community.
That point was driven home to me when I interviewed Burnaby South students Dewa Zafar and Hadie Honardoust about the impact social media has had in bringing their campus so much closer together.
Really, the efforts being made here are pioneering and should serve as a blueprint for other schools around the province hoping to do the same.