For the past 19 years, the Hyack Football family has meant everything to me. As I step away into the next phase of my life it was important to me to offer somewhat of an explanation and also to say thank you. When we launched the program in Dec 2002, I promised my good friend and NWSS Athletic Director, Peter Battistin, that I would stay for at least 5 years, and here we are, almost 19 years later. One year after we launched the high school program we added the Royal City Hyacks Youth Football Club, to provide a feeder system. I believe both programs are now entrenched as important parts of New Westminster and I look forward to watching their continued growth with pride.
I’ve actually been coaching since 1987, so I’ve been at this for awhile, 33 years. Until now, my life has consisted of three pillars: My family, my career and running this football program. All three were huge responsibilities. And now there will be two.
When I think back to when we launched the program there was no football in New Westminster on any level. Kids didn’t play on the fields in gym class or in parks with their friends. No one even wore NFL or CFL jerseys around town. There was nothing. We came in with an idea and a vision, and the community bought into it, and 19 years later it is amazing to see it come to fruition.
I’ll never forget the first game, Friday, Sept 5, 2003, at Burnaby Lake against West Van. After 10 months of planning, we were finally going to get to see the fruits of our labour. On our first drive, we drove 11 plays and Nathan Pedersen scored our first ever TD! All the work it took from the players, coaches and parents to get us on the field for the first time, and we scored! Surely it was all going to be easy after this, right? Well, we lost the game 10-7, but that’s a small detail, because just by playing that afternoon we won. In 2004, we beat Ballenas in a thrilling back and forth playoff game, which still ranks as one of my favorite wins ever.
Players from both teams still talk about it! The next week we would play at BC Place for the first time. The 2005 team was one of my favorites, as we lost almost a month of the season due to job action. But the kids remained close throughout the year, and I am still close to many of them to this day. 2007-2009 was our first run of great teams that all advanced to the Provincial semi-finals. There were so many high-character kids in that group, many of whom received scholarships and some who are still involved with us. In 2011, we needed a goal line stop on the final play of our final game to make the playoffs. What a moment! Then after some rebuilding, we began to contend for titles again in 2014, and it culminated with a JV title in 2015 and our first AAA Varsity title in 2017. You all know how that game ended: Sev with “The Catch,” Lucas with the 2-pointer and a celebration for the ages! I look at the championship ring every day.
To all the players that have worn orange and black since 2003, I can only say thank you. Thank you for the honor of allowing me to be your coach. You have made me a better person for knowing you and your families. I will cherish our relationships forever and look forward to hearing more about your successes & challenges.
I have always said that I have three children: Lukas and Nora are my 2nd and 3rd, Hyack Football is my first. Want proof? Less than 24 hours after Luke was born in 2008, I was on the sidelines coaching in a game (Mary hasn’t let me forget;). I have given this program and community my heart and soul. The thousands of hours of planning and preparation, the relationships with players, parents, coaches and members of the community have been so rewarding. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and while I wouldn’t change anything, it did come at a cost, and it took me a long time to accept and realize that.
My “Come to Jesus” moment came in November 2019, the week of our final playoff game. I was at Lukas’ school to pick him up like I always did, and then hustle down to Mercer to open up the locker rooms. If you know Coach Lalji you know how much I despise being anyone late. For me, I had to be their first to open up the locker rooms. If I was late, that meant the players would be late getting in and changed, which meant practice could start late. Not acceptable. It turned out Luke’s class had a detention. While I was waiting, growing angry, there was an accident on the small street in front of me, and now a lineup was forming behind me, so I was stuck. Luke finally got out of school and came into the car and I was furious with him for making me late. The detention wasn’t even his fault and here I was, screaming at my own son, so that other children could start a practice on time. Sure people get mad at their kids all the time, but that moment told me something I wasn’t willing to admit earlier: that my life had gotten out of balance. There were many signs before that, but I wasn’t willing to see them.
The program I wanted to build is the program I wanted to play in, one that everyone would want to be a part of. And in the end, I learned that for me there is only one way to that, and that was to be ‘all in’ and give it every ounce of everything I had. I can’t do it any other way. If I tried I wouldn’t be true to myself or fair to the players. On some levels, that philosophy has come at the expense of my personal growth and more importantly, time spent with family. It’s time now for me to give them my focus. There was a time in my life when I felt I would run this program forever, retire in my late 60’s and be “that guy.” But my goals have now changed. As much as anything, I want to be able to set goals again, something I’ve always spoken to the players about, and not just goals involving football. A very good friend of mine once showed me a quote that said, “Don’t have the same year 75 times and call it a life.” I felt on some levels that I was doing that. So I’m now at the point in my lift where I need meaningful change. You will see that change in the months ahead & myself and our family are very excited about it.
Initially this was only going to be a one year sabbatical. The plan was to take the 2020 season off, recharge and return for 2021. I couldn’t bring myself to think I was actually going to step away permanently. So instead I just coached Lukas’ youth team last fall and had a wonderful time. I’m glad I could commit that to him because it might be the last time I get to coach one of his teams. But ultimately, no longer having the responsibility of running an elite high school program and keeping it operating at a high level felt like the right thing for me.
There is some irony to the timing of my decision, because Lukas is another year away from being in high school, and we both thought I would at least coach until he was done playing and that he would play for me and the Hyacks. But in discussing with him how I was feeling after the 2019 season, he told me that he had some different goals as well, which became a relief to me. Quite honestly I’m really proud of him for wanting to get out of his comfort zone, set some exceptional goals and take a risk. So I’m excited to help him reach his goals and spend even more time with Nora and Mary too, and try to help give them their best life.
It really does take a village to raise a child and I thank all of you for helping me raise all three of mine. Our family’s times at Mercer will be indelibly etched into who we are and always bring a smile to our faces. Nora especially, who acted like she owned the stadium on Friday nights when her dad was head coach. We won’t be far – we still own our home in New Westminster - and I’m looking forward to watching the Hyacks play on Friday nights when I can, especially at Homecoming, and hopefully in many Subway Bowl Championships.
There have been so many people that have helped make this idea a reality over the past two decades. At the top of the list is Peter Battistin. Pistol, when I first met you I thought you wanted no part of this program, but from the moment you and VP Bryan Ansley said “yes,” your support has been invaluable. You never said no to anything, you just rolled up your sleeves and worked next to us. This school has no idea how lucky they are to have you. Our program been very lucky to have your support and I’m blessed to have your friendship. You, Linda and the kids are like family to us. Since the program began we have had six principals: Cheryl Beaumont, Joey Sahli, Mary Bushman, Phil Cookson, John Tyler and Murray McLeod. All of them have been a pleasure to work with. They didn’t throw a bunch of bureaucracy and policies at me. They saw the value of what this program brought to the kids and said, “How can I help?” As did all of the councillors, teachers and office staff, led by Charlene Ducholke. We need more of that type of approach in education, now more than ever before. To former trustees, Brent Atkinson, Casey Cook & Jonina Campbell, thank you for all of your support. Your support was real, it wasn’t political. You came to games, cared and were proud. With leadership like that at the top it’s easy to succeed.
There have been so many committed corporate partners that have made us the envy of BC High School football. At the risk of offending some that might be missed, I still need to mention a few who have been with us since day one and some who’s support has been very substantial: The Record (Brad Alden & Lara Graham), Dave Vallee, White Spot (Matthew Omen), G&F Financial (Louise Perry & Curtis Hughes), Key West Ford (Adam Isfeld), Ryan Beedie, Nash Custom Homes, Trailside Physio, Save on Foods, Tim Hill, Hyack Tire and so many more. Thanks to all of you for generosity and making sure these hard-working kids had everything they needed. Also special thanks to my good friend, David Sidoo, who was there from the start and helped us on every step along the way. Dave, you have been so good to our players over the years, making sure you were always there to fill in the gaps, and it’s probably fitting that we are moving on at the same time.
To all the parents, thank you for everything and please continue to stay involved. We have been blessed with so many wonderful parent-volunteers, I look forward to seeing that continue so that the experience these kids receive is second to none. Many of you have become lifelong friends. None more so than Deb and Alan Wardle, who are pillars of the community in New Westminster. Their son Graham (yes, that Graham Wardle) was a co-captain on our first team in 2003. Since he was in grade 12, that was his only season with us, but Deb and Alan have stayed on ever since, taking pictures at games and helping whenever needed. They also gave us the honor of becoming Luke’s Godparents.
To the coaches, you are the strength of our program. Andrew McKechnie was with me when we walked in the doors in 2002. Ryan Leslie was also on our first staff and was a staple in both the high school and youth programs until he moved to Seattle. Darnell Sikorski is the brightest young coach I know and a shining example of the type of person we are proud to have come through our program. Clint Uttley, your passion and experience are rare at our level, these players are lucky to have a mentor like you. Chad Oatway, you’re a unique blend of throwback intensity and modern teaching, and I appreciate your family’s friendship. Many of us grew up together through this program. We showed up single and now most of us our married and have had kids while coaching here. Cheng, Dim and so many others, past and present, this program depends on the alumni to stay involved. Thank you all for putting up with my act and most importantly, for your commitment to these fine young men and women.
I should also thank my old high school coach, Alex Reid, for being my inspiration. You were and are the definition of a “good man.” I hope I have been half as good, in attempting to carry on your legacy.
To the folks at TSN, especially Ken Volden and Brett Baily, thanks for indulging me. Yes I know I was a pain: flying back and forth from Grey Cups during the week to coach in games, taking vacation time from BC Lions games so that I could coach, having the tightest travel schedule at the network so I wouldn’t have to miss a practice, sending me swag for auctions, etc. I still plan to be active in the community and I appreciate knowing my employers see the value in that. Also to friend and cameraman Owen Korbeld. Thanks for meeting me at Mercer to do standups all the time so that I could be at practice, and everything else continue to do to make life easy.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my wife, Mary (aka Mrs. Coach). When I was considering starting a program in 2002, two or three other programs in BC heard about it and asked me to instead come and take over their programs. Mary and I spoke about it and she was the one who encouraged me to start something new at NWSS. To do it right the first time. Boy was she right! Since that day, she has supported me, the players and all of our initiatives. She has taught me patience and made me a better coach. I always joke that Mary loves every part of the program except the football part. But that’s ok, without her sacrifices at home to help me achieve my dreams this never would have happened. And even in recent years when the signs were there, that I was losing balance, she didn’t hit me over the head with it. She let me figure it out by myself. Thanks Mary, you are my rock. I love you. It’s your time now.
My one final request is that this village still remain in-tact to help continue to raise the children of Hyack Football. This community has always been the backbone of our program. Please don’t use a change in leadership as a reason to change your support. The program is in good hands. Coach Uttley, Sikorski and Mac are as good as it gets. Please give them your support as they care deeply about your children.
Thank you all again, for an experience and memories that I will always cherish. I will forever bleed orange and be a part of Hyack Nation.
Forever your coach,