Basketball coach Harvey Adrian finds fountain of youth guiding Sardis Grade 9 boys teams

Adrian runs two squads at Sardis Secondary School, imparting wisdom to players 60 years his junior.

Harvey Adrian turned 75 in December and some days he feels every one of those years.

Bones ache and joints creak as Adrian shuffles through the hallways of Sardis Secondary School. But as he gets near the gymnasium, his bent-over posture straightens a little bit, because he’s about to hop into his time machine.

As he steps through the door onto the hardwood floor of the gym, the years start to slip away.

He hears the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of basketballs before he even sees them – to an old coach the sweetest sound there is.

And he hears the chatter of a dozen or so Grade 9 boys who’ve been waiting for their sensei to arrive.

For the next hour or so, Adrian will bask in a fountain of youth, transported back to a time when he was young and full of energy and desired nothing more than to chuck a basketball through a hoop.

“They keep me young, and I’m going to keep doing this as long as I can,” Adrian says with a smile. “My wife always asks me, ‘How old are you on the inside?’ On the inside I’m not 75. Some days I feel like one of those teenagers because that’s who I’m hanging out with.

“This is my love right now and it’s what keeps me going.”

There’s a six decade age gap between the boys who look at him, eager to get practice started.

This isn’t just a generation gap.

This is the mother of all generation gaps, one that should be nearly impossible to bridge.

But here’s the magic of Harvey Adrian.

As he starts to speak, the boys actually listen. There are no wandering eyes, no glazed looks, no staring at the floor.

Somehow, a man who could be their great-grandpa holds their attention in a way that their parents and teachers never could.

He doesn’t quite understand it himself.

“When you’re my age, and 22 Grade 9 boys are quiet and listening to every word you say, it’s pretty awesome,” Adrian says. “I worked with young people all my life. I was 40 years with McDonalds and I’ve been coaching basketball since 1964 and they respect that life experience.

“Brad (Sardis athletic director Geary) asks me that too, how I relate to them, and he says, ‘You have more respect than a lot of the teachers around here.’

“Maybe it’s my presence, or maybe it’s my experience and what I say, but I really can’t explain it.”

Coaching basketball is a grind for a man or woman half Adrian’s age.

Between practices, games and tournaments the time commitment is enormous.

And that’s just for one team.

Adrian coaches two.

Thirty two players showed up to tryouts in September, and Adrian was determined to not cut anyone.

So he split them into two teams and doubled his work-load.

“When I look back at my high school days, the coach didn’t cut me when I was five-foot-seven in Grade 9, and by the time I graduated I was six-foot-four and a half.

“Some of these kids are going to hit growth spurts, and if we cut them in Grade 9 they’re probably not going to play basketball again.

“As for the time commitment, I’m retired so I have lots and lots of it.”

Adrian’s reason for coaching goes beyond the sport itself. There’s an opportunity, he says, to impart life lessons that will stick with these teenagers long after they’ve departed high school.

Each time he’s together with his team he gives them a word or phrase of the day.

At a recent practice, the word was ‘discover.’

“I used Winston Churchill’s definition, which is ‘He who dares, wins,’” Adrian explains.

The boys may not know who Winston Churchill was, beyond some British dude from a war.

But the way Adrian presents it, they understand.

“I’ve got a practice today and my words are ‘What’s next?’” Adrian says. “What you have done is not nearly as important as what you are about to do, because we’re heading into playoffs.

“What’s next?”

One of Adrian’s former players who now suits up for the Sardis seniors, Ramon Khosa remembers those pre and post-practice chats.

“Coach Harv would always give us a word to think about before we started practice, then at the end he’d ask us if we thought we fulfilled the meaning of that word,” the Grade 12 student recalls. “Thanks to Harv I still wake up and regularly think of words that I am to fulfill for the day, be it excellence, resilience or bravery.”

Another former player, Josh Janssen, calls Adrian the most joyful coach he’s ever met.

“Whether he was making us do pushups or giving us his wife’s signature cookies, he always had a smile on his face,” says Janssen, a star post player on the senior Falcons.

Ryan Shea, one of Adrian’s Grade 9 players calls him “one of the nicest and most caring coaches I’ve ever had.”

Shea marvels at his knowledge of the game, and teammate John Tillo agrees.

“I look up to him because he is wise and always forgives,” Tillo says. “Players look up to him and the best part is that he treats us like his own kids. He always gives even playing time and he’s a fun person to be around.”

Comments like that more motivating to Adrian than any win could possibly be, but make no mistake. His Falcons are winning way more than they lose, and as Grade 9 Eastern Fraser Valley playoffs begin next week, Sardis is one of the favourites.

“Winning is a lot more fun than losing,” he laughs. “It’s not life and death and I tell the guys that 20 years from now they won’t remember the a lot of these games, but winning sure is a lot more fun.

“So let’s go out and play our best and have fun doing it.”

eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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