It was not exactly the desired result but the final standings of the Smithers Secondary Gryphons at the AA BC Secondary School Girls basketball championships were nothing to feel bad about.
The Chris van der Mark coached squad put up a great performance against teams from far larger communities and ended up with a 14th place overall finish.
Smithers went into its second game on a positive note and were leading the game most of the way against GP Vanier. They led the entire way and according to van der Mark had a large lead going from the first half into the third quarter.
“We kind of tightened up and unravelled a bit and struggled to score and lost by four. 49-44,” he said.
“In some ways it’s easier to get hammered than it is to lose a tight one. That would have given us a look into the top 10 and that was our goal. We lost that one and then played our third game which we won 58-30. That set up our fourth game which happened to be a real tough one.
“In our fourth game, we played for 13th or 14th place against Little Flower Academy. It was probably our best game and we dropped it 69-54,” he said.
Next year the championship tournaments on the girls side will look different as they will go to a four tier system, the same as the boys now have.
With the current system, schools like Smithers are at a disadvantage since they have fewer athletes to draw from.
“That will take between seven and nine teams out of double A and put them in triple A. We will stay on AA. It will help us out because we will be playing some smaller teams,” he said.
The season was also a difficult one due to injuries.
“If you look at our season, we were pretty banged up so it was pretty hard to practice, let alone play,” he said. “Over all we were pretty happy with our play. We ended up where we should have ended up. With a bit of luck the team might have ended up higher.”
Nine of the girls will be graduating and there will be a lot of changes to the roster next year.
van der Mark feels that there is a good group of Grade 9s and 10s coming up to move into the positions vacated by the grads.
Hopefully, three or more of the girls will land somewhere to play at the post secondary level. A few of them have been having conversations with college reps.
“It will be nice to see a few of them play at the college level in the future,” he said.
He doesn’t feel that more championship levels will make it any easier for girls to move on to the post secondary level. One thing that is important is for the girls to get the exposure such as they get when they go on a regular basis to the provincial competitions where they might get seen and scouted by people from post secondary level institutions. They are also around some of the blue-chip prospects who are being scouted and going south of the border or to the top teams in Canada. These athletes have been around a lot high level performances but its still a big leap going to the next level.
“It’s just too bad that we did not get a chance to show at out peak when we were at the final event. I’m pretty proud of them. I’ve never had nine Grade 12s that have stuck it all the way through. They’ve done a great job. We did the math on it and in regional competition, they’ve been 56-1. The record when going south to the provincial level competitions is not nearly as good. And that’s why we go down there.
“It’s important to go see that level and the budget realities make it difficult at times. I’ve been very lucky with parents who have been committed and some businesses in town that have helped us out. We’ve had a lot of support along the journey,” he said.
Coach moves on
van der Mark will be moving to a new position in Williams Lake next fall and the team will have new coaching and leadership.
As an educator, he feels that participation in sport is an important part of their education.
“I think it’s critical. There are so may things that happen in sport that are beneficial. Team sport in particular. You’re only as successful as the rest of the people around you. The number of decisions and the number of things that they have to navigate including the emotions is hard to nail down — the amazing breadth of what we call learning outcomes that kids are exposed to in sport that they would not be exposed to if they simply did the 9-3 schedule. There is so much learning that happens outside the walls, I think its absolutely critical. There are so many life lessons. There are also the life lessons that you have to navigate if you are the star athlete and you have to work with people who are not as gifted as you are.
“There us so much learning that goes on in that environment. That is why I’m so passionate about it.
Now that he is moving on to Williams Lake, he is unsure about how he will be able continue his experience with coaching until he has had a chance to settle down in the new community and the new job.
“But I’ve said it for a long time, especially the 11 years I’ve been here, the best part of my day was the time I got to be on the court with those kids every day,” he said. “Kids almost never frustrate me. Adults can.”
He said some people will say that kids have changed over the years, but he feels that they haven’t.
“Adults are different in terms of what they expect. They see things in terms of what impact it might have on them versus what they have to give. On the other hand, kids are pretty good about meeting whatever it is that we put out there. Kids will generally meet what we require,” he said.
On the other hand, it is getting harder to find adults who are willing to make the commitments that are necessary. It has always been important for adults to spend the time on kids but it is much more difficult now to find adults who are willing to understand that it is just as important now as it always has been.
“It does not happen miraculously on its own. There has to be someone there who is willing to spend that time and effort on that all-important task,” he said.
van der Mark is confident that there are others who will be willing to step into his rather larger shoes. It might take some time for those shoes to be filled but there is no doubt that they will be full.