Big changes are coming to high school sports.
B.C. School Sports (BCSS) won its governance proposal vote at their AGM May 1 and this will immediately change the way high school sports is run in this province. The vote passed 212-77, garnering the required two-thirds majority of votes.
As of May 2, the 20 sport commissions in B.C. and their many volunteers are basically out as decision-makers for their respective sports. But some of the commissions are legal entities and it’s unknown what they will do moving forward, or what type of influence they’ll have.
Paul Eberhardt, treasurer for the boys high school basketball commission, has already indicated his commission will continue to work in the best interests of boys basketball, whether it be from inside the new system or from outside.
“We are very disappointed that the BCSS Governance proposal was adopted,” Eberhardt told the Cloverdale Reporter via email. “We do not believe this is what is best for high school sport in this Province. Our Association has been around for 75 years, and we are certainly not going away. We will continue to work hard on behalf of all our coaches and student-athletes to make sure their voices are heard.”
Jordan Abney, BCSS executive director, said he’s thrilled the proposal passed.
“It was a lot of years of work from a lot of different people,” he said. “It was a very strong mandate and clear message about the direction the membership wants to go.”
Abney said he was surprised at the “big margin” by which the vote passed. The proposal needed 66.7 per cent of “yes” votes and ended up getting 73 per cent. Usually there are about 450 schools registered with BCSS, but Abney said a number of smaller schools didn’t pay their fees this year as there were no high school sports due to COVID. He said there were only 375 fee-paying member schools that were eligible to vote.
“Of that, there were six abstentions and 80 schools didn’t vote,” he explained. “So, 295 of 375 schools participated. Given the fact that this was probably the single largest vote in the 53-year history of the organization, it also explains the need for a bit of a tweak from a governance perspective, as well.”
Abney said there were 247 advance ballots cast and only 48 ballots cast at the AGM.
He said BCSS already has all the paperwork prepared and ready to go out the door so the next steps toward this sweeping change will begin immediately.
“The legislative assembly will come together quickly. The transition from the commissions to the SACs (sport-advisory committees) will also help with zone reps—we have invites going out to various commissioners—and other committees will be formed.”
He said he wants to get all the wheels in motion before the summer break, adding the new governance system will mean business as usual for student athletes.
“I don’t think the student athlete experience is going to change drastically, especially for the high-profile sports,” Abney explained. “We’re hoping to continue to maintain the status and level of the high-profile sports and to elevate the experience for athletes in some of the sports that have not had quite the same experience.”
He added after the transition to the new model, they’re going to look at ways to help improve all sports.
“Our commissions—that are essentially being phased out here—have really focused on championships,” he noted. “But only about 13 or 14 per cent of student athletes make it to championships. So there’s a whole swathe of kids that don’t make it that far that we are also responsible for. So we’re going to take a look at that and look at how we can serve all 70,000 student athletes.”
Walter van Halst, commissioner for boys rugby and a teacher at Cloverdale’s Lord Tweedsmuir, said he’s disappointed with the result and “very disturbed” by a voting process that he says wasn’t transparent.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” he indicated. “But I’m very worried about the future of high school sports in British Columbia—which were already in decline.”
According to van Halst, the number of teacher-coaches has steadily dropped across the province.
“Big drop in the last five to 10 years, and that’s bad for kids because it means less teams that kids can play on.”
He said the new governance model, which he fought against, devalues community-coaches in favour of teacher-coaches and takes the voice away from community-coaches.
(Community-coaches and retired teacher-coaches are not allowed to be a part of the new governance system, only active teachers and administrators. This is different from the commissions which have quite a high number of volunteers that are not active teachers/administrators.)
“When coaches aren’t valued, it’s bad for kids, because fewer people will be willing to volunteer. And this new model doesn’t show appreciation for community-coaches.”
He said he doesn’t think the SACs (essentially powerless replacements of the commissions, that sit below two new layers of empowered decision makers) will attract the same massive numbers of volunteers.
“These people volunteer because they’re passionate about their sport. They feel appreciated and empowered. And that’s why they do it.”
Van Halst also thinks the voting process wasn’t entirely transparent.
“Many of the ADs, or principals—because I’ve heard some principals were voting in place of their ADs—who voted in advance didn’t know exactly what they were voting for,” he said. “The people who voted Saturday (May 1), didn’t either because no one knows how many stakeholder groups were consulted.”
Two days before the AGM, information came out that the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, one of the stakeholder groups listed as being involved in the new legislative assembly, wasn’t asked to be part of the new model. BCSS responded with a statement from their board of directors that said, “An invitation for the BCTF to name a Legislative Assembly member is already prepared, should governance pass so they can begin their process. Just as invitations are prepared for all other stakeholder groups, who as a result of our current relationships have varying levels of knowledge of the proposal.”
Abney disagreed with van Halst, saying the entire process was very transparent. He said the actual vote covered the bylaws and handbook and the proposal was a supplementary document.
“What was in the bylaws … was never changed or altered at all,” he said. “What was voted on in the advance voting was exactly what was voted on in the live voting.”
He also said the voting system was very secure. “Every school had to register their vote and got a secure pin that was individualized to their school that was sent directly to their principal of record in our membership system.”
He said a lot of the people that were against the new proposal and unhappy about the change have since contacted Abney to say “job well done” and have told him they are looking to move forward together.
“I think the margin of victory, over 73 per cent, is a strong mandate from our membership … our focus right now is looking forward on how we now put this into action and ensure we’re ready to go for the fall.”