Anne Marie Watts, president of the Okanagan West Zone, said there is no mistaking where the majority of Okanagan Zone representatives stand on the seismic shift in B.C. high school sports governance that took place this past Saturday (May 1).
Watts, a longtime coach and physical education teacher at Valleyview secondary who is also a B.C. School Sports [BCSS] director, said Okanagan representatives are in support — nearly 100 per cent in the west, central and south Okanagan zones and with a lesser majority in the north — of the new model.
On Saturday at the 53rd BCSS annual general meeting, membership voted 73.3 per cent in favour of establishing a 54-person BCSS legislative assembly to run high school sports and eliminating the longstanding model of governance, which saw 20 or so volunteer commissions rule their sports under the BCSS umbrella.
The coach-led commissions — at least 15 of which signed a letter opposing the changes — are relegated to serve in advisory capacities.
Among commissions with rich histories are the B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association, B.C. Secondary Schools Girls Basketball Association, B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association, B.C. High School Track and Field and B.C. Secondary Schools Rugby Union, none of which are left with final say in policy.
Under the new system, the legislative assembly will include three representatives from each of the nine BCSS zones, the nine-person BCSS board of directors, the chair of each of the eight BCSS policy committees and one representative each from 10 stakeholder organizations — the BC Schools Superintendents’ Association, BC School Trustees’ Association, BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils, BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture (sport branch), BC Teachers’ Federation [BCTF], Federation of Independent Schools, and Indigenous Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation Council.
The Province newspaper reported on April 30 that the BCTF said it had not been consulted about its role in the new model.
B.C. Secondary Schools’ Rugby Union commissioner Walter Van Halst spoke to the Province last week after learning the BCTF had not been consulted by BCSS.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “All hell is breaking loose tonight. Everyone is stunned that this has happened. [B.C. boys high school basketball executive] Paul Eberhardt and I are outraged, but still in shock that someone could try to do something like this. The system of governance proposed is completely top-down.”
Watts said 14 of 15 athletics directors in the Okanagan West Zone, which includes the Kamloops-Thompson school district, showed support for the new governance model during a meeting last month, with one undecided.
“The biggest thing for me is equity, in terms of male and female representatives on the legislative assembly and board and zone reps,” she said. “There is a huge push for that. In the past, if something contentious came up and the Lower Mainland supported it, that’s where most of the schools and votes came from. We often, in these outlying zones, felt like we haven’t been heard. Now we have the same number of votes as every zone in the province. That is big.”
Watts, a teacher and coach for the past 30 years, said the new centralized system will be streamlined, user-friendly and benefit athletics directors across the province.
“Navigating those two systems, and there is such a huge turnover every year, losing close to 30 per cent of our athletic directors … this will help and support our ADs so much better and that will only benefit students in the long run,” Watts said. “We’re kind of the last province in Canada to go that route. We needed to go there. It needed to get done.”
A proposal for the new BCSS governance model stated “We are lucky to have over 7,000 school coaches in B.C., for without them, school sport could not happen. However, with the significant increase of non-educators coaching in schools, we have seen an increase in decision-making centred on the purpose and philosophy of sport development, often with the narrow focus of a specific sport or sometimes only a specific tier. This is in contrast to the desired educational, multi-sport, organization wide focus we strive to maintain.”
Concern is easy to find among longtime coaches and executive members of longstanding commissions — where are the voices of the coaches and commission members who have amassed experience and expertise over years of volunteering time?
Eberhardt, speaking to Howard Tsumura of Varsity Letters: “I don’t understand why you would vote ‘Yes’ when voting ‘Yes’ means that you will never get to vote again.”
Brien Gemmell, B.C. Secondary School Football Association commissioner, speaking to Varsity Letters: “My opinion is that it’s not something that we feel overall benefits the BCSSFA and football as a singular association, because we feel we do a very good job.”
Watts and the BCSS are touting newly formed advisory committees, noting commissioners and others in leadership roles will have influential voices within the new structure.
“If you’re a commissioner right now, let’s say a basketball commissioner, you could transfer and become the chair of the new sport advisory committee,” Watts said. “We’re not losing commissioners, losing any of these sport bodies. They’re just evolving into something different. That’s why the sport advisory committees were created, so that coaches can sit on them. You don’t have to be an athletics director or a teacher.”
Prominent tournaments, such as the boys’ and girls’ provincial basketball and rugby championships, championed and run by their respective commissions, will not lose steam under the new form of governance, Watts said.
“Nothing will change,” Watts said. “Nothing will be cut back. We’re hoping that if you’ve been involved in the past providing that for students, that you’ll continue to do that. There are championships committees. You can be on sport advisory committees. Whether those championships are held locally at a school, BC School Sport will now support that a little bit better. There will be more checklists as to what will be provided for people who are hosting championships. It shouldn’t lose its lustre at all.
“Whether it’s the Langley Events Centre, those contracts are going be honoured. We’re going keep going there, unless people motion that they want to change it somehow. Things will stay as is.”