A crucial vote on May 1 will have major implications for the governance of football and other high school sports in B.C. (Eric J. Welsh/Chilliwack Progress)

Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions against new model; BCSS and its board in favour

A new governance model is proposed for B.C. high school sports and if it passes, it will change the way secondary school sports operate. And at its heart is a power struggle.

On one side, there are 15 high school sport commissions that want to keep the status quo. On the other side, there is the governing body of high school sports – B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board of directors – along with one commission, girls volleyball that wants the current model to change. (Aquatics, football, ultimate, and field hockey have not come out in support of either side.)

As power struggles go, it’s an unconventional one: neither side has any power to keep the status quo or to upend a governance model that’s been around for decades. Instead, the decision to go forward or not lies in the hands of the province’s 460-plus high school athletic directors (ADs).

Currently, most high school sports are run by BC high school sport commissions under the direction of BCSS. A few, such as girls high school rugby and high school hockey, are run outside of BCSS.

If the BCSS’s governance proposal passes at the AGM May 1, the 20 high school sport commissions would cease to exist. Some of them have long and storied histories that pre-date BCSS’s formation in 1970.

In the proposal, BCSS seeks to create a new legislative assembly that would replace the commissions with a ruling body of 55 appointees. Three reps from each of the province’s nine school sport zones would make up the first 27 members (one has to be a school administrator – principal or vice principal – and one has to be a female). Nine members of the BCSS board, committee chairs from 10 subcommittees, and nine appointees from “partner organizations” would make up the final block of 28 appointees. Partner organizations would be groups such as the BCTF, the high school superintendents union, and others. Each of those groups would appoint their own person to the legislative assembly.

Below that would sit 20 Sport Advisory Committees, or SACs. Each SAC would be made up of 10 people: a chair plus one rep from each of the province’s nine sport zones. This would add up to another 200 people layered underneath the top tier.

Except the SACs would be advisors only. In essence, they’d be a replacement of the commissions, but stripped of any type of decision-making power. They would also not have any control over sponsorship money anymore.

They’d still be expected to work at the grassroots level with the schools, coaches, and athletes, but the SACs would only be able to make suggestions to the subcommittees.

The subcommittees would then present anything they felt should go forward to the legislative assembly.

The assembly would then vote on any changes/proposals they felt should go forward.

And if the ADs do vote for change at the AGM on May 1, they will also be voting themselves out of the democratic process, as all decision-making power would then sit with the legislative assembly.

Walter van Halst

“The BCSS sees the commissions as a threat because they have a lot of autonomy under the current governance structure,” said Walter van Halst, a teacher at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary in Cloverdale. “The focus of our work is organizing the provincial championships, but we see ourselves as guardians of our sport throughout the year, who want our sports to grow and be inclusive.”

Van Halst is also the commissioner of boys high school rugby and he’s leading the opposition to the new governance proposal. Recently, van Halst sent out an open letter on behalf of 15 high school sport commissions, including boys high school rugby, to every AD in the province urging them to vote “no” on May 1.

In the letter, van Halst and 14 other commissioners say they “strongly oppose the proposal” for a few reasons.

They say the experience for student athletes will deteriorate.

“Those who are closest to and most familiar with each sport will no longer be making key decisions regarding the organization and play of each sport,” the letter says. “Instead, all decision-making authority would rest with a legislative assembly, which does not include any representation from these sports themselves.

“There is simply no way that people who have never coached in or organized any of these provincial championships can provide better guidance for our student-athletes than dedicated teacher-coaches with a lifetime of experience.”

The letter also argues that valuable expertise will be lost.

“Sports commissions consist of many volunteer individuals with a great deal of knowledge and passion for student participation in their sports … BCSS simply does not have the staff or experience to take their place.”

In the letter, van Halst also says provincial championships will suffer as some of these events involve “more than one thousand participants” and require “the continuing engagement of volunteers who are empowered to make decisions and feel valued for their commitment.”

Van Halst said the whole system relies on relationships. He doesn’t see how the BCSS will get the buy-in from the corps of volunteers that are needed to make championships successful.

According to van Halst, the proposed legislative assembly would be like the “British House of Lords.” He said the “elected representatives of each sport are not included and it’s full of appointed special interest groups which have never coached anything or run a provincial championship.”

Rick Thiessen

Rick Thiessen, president of the BCSS board of directors, and AD at Abbotsford’s Mennonite Educational Institute, said the new governance proposal is exactly what high school sports needs right now.

“It became evident, as our new executive director talked to more and more people, that there was a desire for change,” said Thiessen. “In talking with many athletic directors throughout the province, the governance of B.C. School Sports was their biggest concern.”

Thiessen said the new governance model will be better for student athletes because it will be better for athletic directors and coaches.

Both will find a more consistent approach in organizing sports. And he said there’d be virtually no change for most involved.

Ken Dockendorf

Ken Dockendorf has coached boys high school basketball for more than 50 years.

He worked within the framework of the boys basketball commission to create the AAAA division. He also helped restructure how provincials are run, creating the current system where all four divisions compete for championships at the LEC.

He said he’s heard all the arguments in favour of the new proposal and he’s still against it. In an email, he said the sheer number of committees concerns him.

“This new model … is so immense that decision making will be very difficult,” he said. “Each former commission would now need to be involved in at least 11 committees and there is no guarantee that our coaches’ voices would be respected.”

Dockendorf, current president of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association, said his commission has called on all basketball coaches to ask their ADs to vote against the proposal on May 1.

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