2011 Community Sport Winners
What talent Sean Bosko may have lacked as a basketball player, he makes up for as a coach. But those two things may not be unrelated.
This year will mark a quarter century since Bosko, as a senior at Sardis secondary, first picked up his coach's clipboard and led a Grade 8 boys team into action.
As a young player, Bosko said he didn't receive the push that players need to develop their game. And for the last 25 years, that experience has informed his relationships with his players.
"Usually what happens is a coach says, you're not good enough, you're not going to make it, and you give up on somebody," said Bosko. "I developed a real need in myself to believe in other people to help them overcome some of the things that maybe I didn't."
Bosko, who has coached at pretty much every level, has the experience and knowledge that comes with living and breathing a sport for years.
But when he talks about his abilities, he comes back to fostering an inner drive in his players.
"It's a question of having the kids believe in themselves," said Bosko. "God's given me a gift and that gift is making people feel they can do anything, that I believe in them and there's no mistakes."
He said that his belief and acceptance opens players up to learning those skills that form the basis of any athlete's toolkit.
Bosko has also coached football, baseball and soccer teams over the years. But basketball has always been his focus.
During his decades in Chilliwack—within the last year Bosko has moved to Abbotsford and begun coaching at Columbia Bible College—Bosko coached boys and girls teams, from Grade 8 to Grade 12, in public schools, private schools and after-school programs.
He vividly remembers his first major victory as a head coach of a senior team—albeit an interim head. It was a Sardis-Chilliwack senior boys game where the head coach was absent. Bosko was left to take the reigns and lead his Storm team into a packed CSS gym.
"We won by 38 points and no one ever thought we'd win," he said.
That very first gig coaching his Grade 8 team in 1986 also remains etched in his mind. The team ended up losing in the Fraser Valley championship game that year in overtime. Many of those victories are far in the past, but the memories remain fresh in Bosko's mind.
"I remember being at home. I lived with my grandma, I was 18 years old and I had all these trophies and I was so excited about how successful we had been as a team."
As those wins slip into the past, that first year coaching sticks with Bosko.
"Those guys, they're all my buddies, they're all friends now," he said.
His sponsor coach on that team was none other than past sport hero Jack Covey.
Few who saw it will ever forget the emotional short program skated by Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette at the 2010 Winter Games just days after her mother’s sudden, tragic death of a heart attack at age 55.
For longtime Cheam Skating Club volunteer Sharon Dahl, that day is among the most memorable things she has experienced in 34 years of giving her time to the sport.
“Everybody was crying,” she said, “downstairs, in the tunnels, all the workers, all the people in the stands. It was just boxes of Kleenex everywhere.”
Dahl was at the Coliseum that day, one of four field of play security supervisors heading a staff of 52 security volunteers, whose job that day was to get Rochette on and off the ice and keep her away from the media mayhem.
“We basically provided her with total security,” said Dahl.
Dahl’s six weeks at the 2010 Olympics provided plenty of other highlights as well, but not all her volunteering has taken place at such high-profile events.
It started humbly 34 years ago when she was 11 years old and volunteered to help coach younger kids at the Cheam Skating Club.
Growing up in a family already plugged into the figure skating world (her mom was a judge, her dad was a music technician for Skate Canada and her sister went on to become a professional coach), her own skating career lasted from age five to 20.
Volunteering was always part of the picture, even while she was still competing, but it really took off when her own daughters started skating in the 1990s.
She sat on the club’s board of directors for 12 years, including terms as treasurer and vice-president, and has been involved in countless other ways besides from helping out at registration days to MCing the club’s annual carnival.
Starting in the early 2000s, Dahl also began taking on volunteer work outside of Chilliwack, and she now spends about 12 weekends a year donating her time at competitions throughout B.C. and the Yukon, sometimes working in security but most often as a computer data specialist.
“The scoring system that they’re using now requires ice-level computer systems,” she said, “so what I do is I go in with the computers and network them all and push all the events out to the judges so they can put their marks in, and then I pull it all back in and do all the calculations.”
So far her volunteer work has taken her to three international competitions, including the Olympics, and numerous Canadian championships.
She also sits on Skate Canada’s B.C. board of directors.
After more than three decades of volunteering, Dahl says what keeps her coming back, is the camaraderie both at her local club and at competitions away from home.
And then, of course, there is the sport of figure skating itself.
“I just love the sport, she said. “It’s a beautiful sport to watch.”
For Chris Gadsden, starting up a local Sunday afternoon badminton club last fall brought his community sports involvement full circle.
“Badminton was sort of the thing that got me started here in ’64,” he said.
Back in the 1960s, a job with the ministry of highways kept the Duncan, B.C. native moving around the province, and his racquet and birdie were a way to plug into the communities where he lived.
“Wherever you go, there’s always a badminton club,” he said.
Chilliwack was no different.
During the times he lived here, he played with the Chilliwack Badminton Club organized by longtime former city councillor Dorothy Kostrezwa.
When he finally settled in Chilliwack in the 1970s, though, badminton was only one of a diverse collection of recreational interests he threw himself into.
And he didn’t just participate either.
After playing for a while in a spring fastpitch league, for example, he organized a summer league, and the two eventually merged to form the Chilliwack Recreational Softball League, which in its heyday fielded 14 teams.
In the 1980s, the league’s annual, year-end tournament was a major spectator event.
“You wouldn’t find a seat there at those times because softball was so big in those days,” said Gadsden, who eventually also co-founded the Chilliwack Softball Association.
To fill the winter months, Gadsden started up the Chilliwack Recreational Hockey League and filled the roster of his team (Cheam Sports) with off-season softball players for a 12-month recreational-sports cycle.
“I tried to start things that were for more the casual, recreational players, although it turned out to be quite competitive sometimes,” said Gadsden, who admits his hockey skills were never on par with his badminton skills.
(Fortunately his oldest son was on hand to witness a hat trick he scored during a game in Hope.)
When his two sons were old enough, Gadsden put his organizing energies to work in their leagues, coordinating various divisions in Chilliwack Minor Hockey and Chilliwack Minor Baseball for about six years.
“I like organizing and bringing people together,” he said.
Another recreational passion that has claimed a good chunk of Gadsden’s volunteer time over the years is fishing.
In 1984 he helped co-found the Fraser Valley Salmon Society, and in 2002 he founded the Chilliwack-Vedder River Cleanup Coalition, which has so far taken 62 tonnes of garbage off the stream.
“That was always my dream, to start an adopt-a-river program,” said Gadsden, an avid angler.
For fitness, however, he still relies on his old standby—badminton, and his penchant for organizing never seems suppressible for long.
Besides the Sunday afternoon club he started last fall, he is toying with starting a junior club this fall to give youngsters a chance to take up a sport that’s served him over a lifetime.
“Badminton is a game you can play for so many years,” he said. “My mother started me going when I was six years old, and I’m 68 now and still playing.”
Despite putting in dozen-or-so hours a week into coaching basketball and committing 25 years to the program at Chilliwack secondary school, Joe Mauro deflects all plaudits and credit to others.
For Mauro, the school administration has been flexible, the parents have been supportive and the athletes are dedicated.
But his contribution to coaching girls, boys, juniors and seniors over the years has truly made a difference in hundreds if not thousands of lives.
For Mauro, coaching basketball is a way to teach life skills as much as it is about teaching strategy or driving the lane or shooting three-pointers.
"If you are involved in any extracurricular activities, that in itself will make you a better person," he said. "You have to be organized, you have to be committed and you have to toe the line."
Over the years Mauro has volunteered countless hours for practices, games and tournaments, including his annual December tournament for all local teams.
He has hosted summer basketball camps for elementary school kids. He quietly works behind the scenes supporting other coaches with organizing buses, referees and schedules.
So why does he do it?
"These kids give me a rush," he says. "It's an adrenaline rush to see things that happen on the court in practice that last into the game."
Mauro speaks about certain players who had success after high school in basketball as if he is talking about his own children.
There was John Dykstra who was a star under Mauro in the early 1990s, went on to play for Tennessee Tech in the NCAA and Alaska-Anchorage before finishing up at UBC.
More recently was Jay Gladish who, at the University of Northern British Columbia, was named to the BCCAA all-star team, was named UNBC's most outstanding player and best defensive player twice and was top scorer in B.C. in 2005/2006.
More important than the few kids who played basketball after high school are the kids that Mauro coached and gave them something to do rather than get into trouble.
But even here, he takes no credit for steering students down a more productive path when a different extra-curricular activity or a family member may have done the same thing.
He's even humble when asked if he has had an influence on some lives.
"It's not for me to say," he said. "But you know you've made an impact when the contact you, when they stay in touch."
Mauro has dedicated two-and-a-half decades into coaching so far at CSS and he isn't done yet.
"As long as I'm having fun and I get the support, I don't see a reason why not to continue," he said.
Coach, equipment manager and vice-president Suresh Parray believes in the Chilliwack Minor Football Association and the difference it can make in kids’ lives.
Looking back on his 14 years of volunteering with the organization, one of the first highlights that comes to his mind is Tylor Engel, a young man who “didn’t know which way life was going to go for him,” according to Parray.
Chilliwack Minor Football took the young man in when he was 16 years old, and when he graduated from the program a couple of years later, he and his mom thanked the organization for giving him a second chance in life.
“That’s why we do these things,” said Parray, preferring always to talk about players or the organization rather than his own individual contribution.
But his own commitment has been impressive.
“He devotes countless hours to our football association in all three of his positions,” said CMFA president and founder Wayne Bjorge. “He also volunteers for every event we have, and he is usually one of the first ones to arrive and the last one to leave.”
Parray started with the club 14 years ago, coaching receivers on his nephew’s bantam team.
He had caught the coaching bug nine years earlier when he was still a senior player at Abbotsford secondary and helped coach a Grade 8 team at a school nearby.
“You realize you can’t play forever,” said Parray, “so you kind of think, ‘If it all ends tomorrow, what else can I do?’ and coaching was something I enjoyed doing.”
When his son started playing in Chilliwack at age seven, Parry’s involvement with the CMFA kicked into high gear.
“From that point on, it’s been go go go every year,” he said.
Altogether he has spent nine years as a head coach, and about three years ago, he also took over as equipment manager (no small job in one of B.C.’s largest associations).
As a coach, he moved through the ranks with his son’s team until 2009, when they graduated from the program with a bang, winning the provincial championships after a perfect season.
Parray, however, shows no signs of slowing down even though his son’s minor football days are over.
He has continued on as head coach of CMFA’s midget team and is now going into his second term as vice-president of the association.
The behind the scenes work appeals to him.
One of his prouder achievements has been building up the association’s May spring camp, a fun, one-day introduction to football for kids ages six to 18 that has grown from about 50 kids six years ago to about 200 today.
Whether he’s calling in plays from the sideline, making adjustments on a helmet or getting players in touch with college and junior football teams, Parray says his time is well worth spending to make a difference in kids’ lives.
“We all do it for the same reason, to see kids get a chance in life,” he said. “At the end of the day, if you get one that succeeds and moves on, that’s what you’re hoping for. You can’t save them all, but you sure try.”
“Play hard, play fair and have fun.”
As far as Chilliwack Football Club coach Rob Visagie is concerned, those are the three most important lessons his players can learn from him.
“Those are three things I kind of live by,” he said. “You can do that in soccer; you can do it in life.”
His teams have worked the ideas into their cheers, and the attitude behind them has paid dividends, not just on the score board but in players’ lives as well.
“Prior to knowing Rob, my son lacked confidence in his skills and was ready to give up on the sport,” wrote soccer dad Jonathan Ferris in a Sport Hero nomination letter for Visagie. “Rob took him under his wing, and he is now thriving under Rob’s leadership.”
The key, according to Visagie, is focusing on players’ strengths.
“You can always find something,” he said. “If a guy’s not real skilled, maybe it’s his work ethic. You never criticize them for doing something wrong, but you sure pat them on the back when they’ve done something good.”
Although winning isn’t everything, Visagie’s teams have had their share of success, like finishing first in the league two seasons ago against clubs with a much bigger player base.
Chilliwack born and raised, Visagie took up coaching when his own two boys were still just starting out in seven-aside soccer.
After 20 years of playing in the Chilliwack Men’s Recreational Soccer League, he didn’t consider himself any kind of expert, but parent volunteers with any soccer experience were few, so he took up the whistle.
Personally, he says, he was never more than a recreational competitor himself.
“I was never a gifted athlete,” he said, “but I tried hard.”
That’s probably why one of his favourite parts of coaching is watching his teams play with heart.
“That’s rewarding,” he said, “when they play right to the final whistle, winning or losing. We could be getting hammered, could be getting beat 5-0, but they’re out there still trying.”
Visagie has coached soccer for eight years in Chilliwack (two in Agassiz), and most of those years have been a father-son affair, but last year, his son (the younger one, who had kept on with the sport) decided to move on to other things.
Dad decided to stick to coaching anyway, despite the sometimes-solitary drives to games.
“I’ve built such a relationship with these boys,” said Visagie. “They’re not just numbers; they’re personalities and I care for them, and I’d like to see them get off that computer, get off that Nintendo, get out and do something and build some camaraderie and meet some people from different schools.”
He coached the team to a second-place league finish and an appearance in the Conference Cup final in U16 this season and has already committed to moving on with them to U17 next year.
“It’s still fun,” he said, “and if I didn’t do it, what’s going to occupy all that time? Do I become a couch potato?”
Dennis Welsh knew too much about hockey to be a spectator.
As a former Chilliwack Bruins goaltender—this was back in the 1970s with the Jr. A team that came before the Chiefs—Welsh knew a thing or two about the game is young son was playing.
But as, many hockey-players-turned-dads and -moms can attest to, the enthusiasm fellow parents have for the game does not always correlate to their volume level in the stands. And even for an easygoing guy like Welsh, that can grate.
And so, Welsh turned to coaching. That was more than 20 years ago. The 2011 sport hero hasn't stopped since.
"I've always enjoyed it. I'm a better coach than I am a spectator," he said, with a grin.
As his son Kevin grew and grew and grew, Welsh coached and coached and coached, from novice all the way up to midget. And jokes about spectators asides, Welsh also took on roles beyond just standing on the bench during his son's games, including volunteering as coaching co-ordinator, and serving on Chilliwack minor hockey's executive and discipline committees.
When his daughter Jody started playing softball, Welsh inevitably started coaching softball. He continues to help run the woman's league, and serves as a team rep on the Chilliwack Softball Association executive.
But while Welsh's serious sporting past helped led him to the coaching bench, he has always approached his volunteerism with a fun-first mentality.
"It's always nice to win a game—I don't like to lose any more than anybody else," he said. But winning isn't everything for Welsh.
When he coached rep hockey teams, everybody still got a chance to play on the power play.
"I try to teach everybody to do the job [so] whatever the situation they can go to do it," he said.
And fairness was always paramount.
The kids are grown now; Kevin is 27 and Jody is 24. Welsh, meanwhile, has traded in his goalie pads for a curling broom; "I've already had my time so it's time to move on," he explained.
But Welsh continues to coach, and his philosophy hasn't changed for the woman's softball team that he manages.
"I don't tell the people we don't want them because their skill level has fallen," he said. "It just seems to be the right thing to do.
"I like to think I'm extremely fair for everybody. I mean, you pay your money, you get to play."
That "go-with-the-flow" approach, as he puts it, serves Welsh well now that he's coaching adults—adults who happen to include his wife, his daughter, his sister in-law and "10 other girls who think they're my wife."
Sure some women may play better in certain positions. "A pitcher has to pitch," Welsh notes. But treat everyone fairly and you're more likely to end up with a motivated and happy team, and, in Welsh's case, less likely to be eating alone.