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Award honours entire team: coach
It’s funny sometimes, how the smallest of things can sometimes affect the rest of one’s life.
Take Paul Chiarenza, for example.
Had he been a more conscientious student in his senior year at Vancouver’s University Hill Secondary, he may never have found himself at the Langley Events Centre last weekend – 20 years later – accepting a Basketball BC Coaching Award of Excellence.
After all, a teenage Paul Chiarenza had no designs on coaching basketball. But it was either that or detention.
“I played for the senior team, and I got roped into coaching the school’s Grade 8 girls as a way to get out of being punished – I had missed a bunch of classes. They needed a coach, and that was the alternative,” he explained. “It’s ironic, the way it all turned out, but that was my first coaching gig. After that, I was hooked.”
Chiarenza, who teaches English and coaches the senior girls team at Southridge School, was honoured Saturday by Basketball BC for his work coaching the Capilano University Blues women’s team. The 37-year-old Vancouver native has been on the Capilano bench for more than a decade – “11 or 12 years – I lose track easily,” he laughed – and just last season led his team to a B.C. Colleges Athletic Association (BCCAA) title, and a top-four finish at nationals.
“Winning something like this, it was super exciting – it’s always nice to be recognized, and normally these kind of awards go hand-in-hand with team success, and our team this year was awesome,” Chiarenza said.
“Juggling the team here (Southridge) and the team there (Capilano) was a new experience for me, but I had a phenomenal set of assistants in both places, and JP (Southridge athletic director James Porpaczy) was very understanding, as I tried to do both jobs.
“It took a lot of help from a lot of people, and that’s why it’s nice to get this kind of award – because it took a whole team.”
Chiarenza is in his first year teaching at Southridge and, speaking again of fate, may have never been a teacher had the NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies not bolted for Memphis in 2001.
After going to school to study journalism, Chiarenza ended up, upon graduation, with what he still calls his dream job – working in the media-relations department for the expansion Grizzlies. He was at every game, and as post-game reporter for the team, got the opportunity to interview countless NBA stars, from Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson to Larry Bird and a slew of famous broadcasters.
“It was all my idols. It was a very sad day when it was done – that was the best gig ever,” he said.
But when the team moved south, Chiarenza instead went back to school to finish up an English degree, and from there he turned to teaching.
And though he was honoured last weekend for his college coaching success, high school basketball holds his interest just as much these days.
He’s excited about being at the helm of a Southridge senior girls team that, despite being made up primarily of Grade 10s last season, finished 10th at provincials.
“The Southridge girls this year were phenomenal, and the future is very bright – I think this team could have a lot of success.”
Chiarenza wasn’t the only local to be honoured in Langley last weekend. Former Elgin Park Orca Jess Franz – who played last year for Chiarenza at Capilano – was the BCCAA player of the year, and another Elgin grad, Carly Graham, was a nominee for a most outstanding player award (for out-of-province players), but was edged for top spot by University of Saskatchewan’s Katie Miyzaki. Rounding out the Elgin Park trifect, longtime coach Stu Graham was given a Special Merit Award the same evening.
“And it’s funny, Stacey Graham – Carly’s younger sister – played for me (at the club level) last year – such is the South Surrey basketball sewing circle in which we live,” Chiarenza laughed.
Another winner Saturday was York House School girls coach Winston Brown, whom Chiarenza has been friends with since the pair’s first days of kindergarten.
And though the two are still extremely close – they coach club hoops together in the summer and also coached high school ball together in the early 1990s – neither knew the other had won an award until Brown happened to mention it to one of his players, and Chiarenza overheard.
“We had no idea – none. He told one of his kids about this award, and I looked at him and said, ‘Hey, I didn’t know you won, I won that, too,’” Chiarenza said. “We hadn’t even really considered it, to both get the same award in the same year. Somebody said to me recently that most people don’t even still know anybody from kindergarten, so to have this happen, it’s pretty rare.”
The only downside to the award, the coach said, is an old photo that’s made it’s way into the hands of his students.
“I haven’t really talked about the award too much – not a lot of people here probably know about it, but one of my Grade 10 students found an article about me online – with a picture of Winston and me when we were six,” he laughed.
“That’s gone viral now throughout the school, so I’m fighting that as much as I can.”
However, online popularity aside, Chiarenza said it’s all been worth it.
“I might not win another one like that ever again, so I definitely cherish it. It was an amazing night.”