Logan Clegg (centre)

Sardis basketball team left in limbo

Coachless with two weeks before the start of preseason play, Sardis may not have a senior boys basketball team this year.

One of the best high school basketball teams in BC may not play this year if a coach isn’t found. The Sardis senior boys basketball team that finished fourth in the province just a few months ago has less that three weeks to find a bench boss to replace Kyle Graves.

If someone isn’t found by Dec. 1, the Falcons will withdraw from the AAAA Fraser Valley League, leaving several Grade 11 and 12 athletes with no place to play.

“I’ve been playing basketball for as long as I can remember, and to get to my senior year and have no coach and possibly no team, it really gets to me,” said Brayden Speaks-Chinda. “I get emotional about it.”

Graves led the team through the last five seasons, leading Sardis to an eighth place finish at the 2013 provincials and a fourth place finish at the 2014 tournament (the best ever showing for a Chilliwack-based team).

Three of those seasons he worked as a teacher-on-call in the Chilliwack School District. Still working as a teacher-on-call this year, coupled with part-time work at Chilliwack middle school, Graves didn’t think he could devote the time and effort needed to sustain the program.

“The unfortunate reality is that it will be too difficult, both personally and professionally, to not be at the school every day developing and strengthening the great relationships I have built over the years with each of the returning players and all of the new players,” he wrote in a letter that explained his decision.

The players had a feeling it was coming, but when he called the team together one day to deliver the news, it hit like a hammer.

“Kyle was like a father figure to some of us,” Speaks-Chinda said. “He understood us, and hearing that he wasn’t coming back just… went deep.”

Still the players figured a new coach would be found and the team would carry on. Not as good as it was, perhaps, but they’d still be playing.

“We figured someone would step up to do it, but here we are, two months later, and no one’s stepped up to do it yet,” Speaks-Chinda said.

The team has tried to stay sharp through the offseason, gathering in the early mornings to put themselves through drills.

“We’ve been working just as hard as we ever have, but without a coach we ask ourselves, ‘What are we working for?’” said Logan Clegg, who would be entering his first year at the senior level.

Clegg played for the junior team last year, watching the seniors roll through their magical season.

It was inspiring, with the Sardis gymnasium packed to the rafters on game nights — a stark contrast to the pre-Graves days when few people cared about Falcon b-ball.

“We had so much school spirit behind us last year,” Speaks-Chinda said.

“I think we took Kyle for granted, figuring we’d always be here and we’d always have a really great coach,” Clegg added. “He put five years into building a really great program, and now that he’s gone, it’s really hit us. It’s all in jeopardy.”

Sardis athletic director Brad Geary can feel the clock ticking, and is working long hours to find a new coach.

But he also feels there’s a distinction to be made between ‘team’ and ‘program.’

Even if the senior boys ‘team’ doesn’t hit the court this year, the ‘program,’ which also includes the junior teams and the senior girls, will carry on.

“We have had a lot of people at our school and in our feeder  schools, who have worked very hard as volunteers to build a winning program,” Geary said.

“That program will definitely continue.”

More than one parent has suggested that the school put basketball behind the Sardis Hockey Academy when it came to hiring priorities. The school did hire a social studies/phys-ed teacher with a junior A and CIS hockey background.

“That’s a really difficult question to answer, and I can’t comment on those priorities without getting into stuff we can’t get into,” said Sardis principal Diego Testa. “I can say that all programs are valuable, and the variety of programs that we offer is very important in terms of student engagement.”

It’s also been suggested that the troubles finding a coach may stem from lingering resentment over the teachers’ dispute. Teachers who feel under-appreciated and/or over-worked may not be quick to commit their off-duty hours.

“No one has expressed it overtly, nor have I gotten any hint of that,” Testa said, disputing the notion. “As a matter of fact, I think we have more people than ever involved in extra-curricular activities.”

For the basketball players left in limbo, time is running short. Some are considering a transfer to Chilliwack secondary school, willing to play for the Falcons’ biggest rival rather than not play at all.

“Basketball is everything to me and I don’t want to not play my senior year,” Speaks-Chinda said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to play.”

“We’re doing all we can here, and it’s sad to see it getting to this point,” Clegg said. “But what options do we have?”

The players are aware the CSS plan may not even work, due to eligibility rules. That’s why, before going down that road, they are working their own networks trying to find someone, anyone, to coach.

“We’ve been going around the last couple weeks asking old coaches, teachers, family members, everybody, to see if they’d be willing to step up,” Speaks-Chinda said.

“We are a team that’s been to provincials two years in a row, finishing top 10 both years,” Clegg said, delivering his well-practiced sales pitch to a potential bench boss.  “What other team would you want to coach? We have the heart, desire and chemistry to do it again. We would be very grateful if someone would give us that opportunity.”