Story by Bob Carter
Paul Thiessen, the long-time senior boys’ volleyball coach and athletic director at Kelowna’s Okanagan Mission Secondary, spent the last day of September working at his school. Hardly work as usual, though, since he left after 2:30 a.m.. The impasse between British Columbia’s government and teachers, which delayed the start of school by three weeks, had much to do with that.
When the teachers’ strike ended on Sept. 18, Thiessen and other high school athletic directors knew their work load would explode when students returned full-time the next week. Especially those who serve both as coaches and athletic directors.
“It was like being shot out of a cannon,” Thiessen said.
Many forces suddenly were working against the ADs, who raced into overdrive. They immediately had to grow comfortable with BC School Sports’ new website and registration system. “It actually was easier than before,” said Delta coach and athletic director Shell Thompson. “But it took time to learn.”
When they opened their laptops, they often didn’t like what they saw: an avalanche of e-mails from coaches, ADs, school officials, parents and others, all hoping that fall sports schedules could be assembled in record time.Thompson said that leagues wanted to be playing games two weeks after classes began – “a really tight timeline.” Thiessen’s in-box had 285 e-mails one night, about 200 more than his normal amount. Thompson now typically turns off his iPad at 10 p.m., goes to bed and wakes up to 50 new e-mails. By the time he arrives at school, wham, 25 more, and by 3 o’clock another 50. “It’s a non-stop, e-mail nightmare,” Thompson said.
The squeezed time frame demanded not only longer days in September but quick decisions and strong organizing skills. Thiessen said he had 11 teams to mobilize, but only three head coaches in place at OKM, a school that had just undergone its third addition since 1992 and was now serving Grades 7-12. “The other coaches were hard to find,” he said.
Scoping out prospective coaches normally takes time, a commodity the athletic directors lacked this year.
“It’s a reality of the times, and we’re looking at 70 percent community coaches now,” Thompson said. “If you don’t talk about potential people for coaching, talk to people who might work out, it just won’t happen.”
Somewhere between all the e-mails, scheduling and pursuit of coaches, many athletic directors had to start coaching as well.
Thiessen, a 25-year coaching veteran who led OKM to fourth place in AA last year, had only eight players for his senior boys’ volleyball team as they prepared for their first matches Oct. 1.
“I didn’t work that much with my team at the beginning,” he said. “There was just so much to do. Instead of building a team like normal, we had to start condensing things and got into survival mode fast.”
Delta’s senior boys made the AAA BC’s last year with Thompson as head coach, but this fall he’s directing the Grade 8 boys and expects to assist the senior team with a pair of younger coaches whom he is mentoring.
The late start has him concerned about the players not having enough time to get into proper physical shape, and the lack of skill-building the first few weeks in practice.
“We focused on more simple skills and getting their attention, so they can function,” he said. “We couldn’t spend time on blocking or many offensive schemes. That may not come until the end of October.”
By mid-October, Thiessen thinks his work load may regain some normalcy, though Thompson sees the fast pace continuing.
“Volleyball won’t settle down until mid-November,” he said. “And as an AD you’ve got to have all the basketball stuff set and ready to go by then.”
However long the process takes, there will be little rest for the strike-tested souls doing double duty.
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