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"A" Private Affair

March 1975. The sports section in British Columbia’s main daily newspaper highlights an upcoming basketball game.

Stags, Knights meet in “A” private affair, the Vancouver Sun reports.

The “A” confirms the provincial tier for smaller high schools. The reference to private reflects the status of the teams set for compete for the provincial championship. Both are Independents. Shawnigan vs host St. Thomas More Collegiate.

I am the Shawnigan point guard. We enter the tournament somewhat under the radar, but play well together en route to the final. The Knights move smoothly through their side of the draw.

Clearly the local fire marshals have not been informed about the game, as the band box gym is packed to overflowing. Fans jam into the small bleachers, fight for space in the nooks and crannies, spill out over the sidelines, cram together along the baselines. The walls are literally sweating, the steam heat oppressive.

The contest is close throughout, only a few points either way, STMC riding the impassioned home support. Space on court is at a premium, as the Knights’ swarming defence makes every possession a struggle.

With three minutes to play, tired and frustrated, I foul out. Seven points down. We claw back to within one, but concede a back breaking bucket with just seconds left. Lose a 71-68 heartbreaker.

As the disappointment subsides, I admit to myself the Knights deserve victory. Fit, disciplined and uncompromising, they reflect their coach.

His name is Rich Goulet.

Flash forward 17 years and another BC hoops championship. A Saturday night in March 1992, though this time the venue is a bit more flash. The Agrodome, on the PNE grounds, seats some 6,000 spectators.

The event plays host to what many consider the deepest, most talented field in tournament history. Certainly, Goulet’s reputation, as a highly motivated, driven and superior coach, is now well established. Having moved to Pitt Meadows SS, he turns a moribund program into a perennial provincial contender, winning titles in both 1983 and 1989. This time round, he once again expertly steers his squad, at longish odds, to the final game.

Ironically, I now find myself the head coach of SMUS, the opposing team. Perhaps not surprisingly, led as we are by a young phenom named Steve Nash, we are favourites. However, for nearly three quarters we cannot shake the Marauders. Driven by a highly skilled and dynamic power forward, and a posse of gritty, determined role players, they give us all we can handle.

In the end, waves of pressure do tell, the dam does crack a little, and we emerge relatively comfortable winners.

At the post game handshake, Goulet is gracious and humble in defeat. You are the stronger team. Just wore us out, he concedes.

I get set to head back to the changing room. But, as I turn away, he grabs my arm. You and I are now 1-1, so let’s play again this Tuesday, he suggests. At Pitt Meadows. It will be a sellout. We will cover your travel expenses, then split the gate receipts. Give our team a chance to rest up in preparation.

I am not sure if he is kidding, and besides, it is time for spring break. But I would never put anything past him. For, in addition to being a master coach, he is also a savvy entrepreneur, forever seeking the chance to raise funds, to put basketball in the spotlight. And, while he can be gruff, vocal and demanding, it is never about him, just always about looking for opportunities, always with a burning desire that players maximize their potential.

Needless to say, in addition to coaching multiple teams at school, then running spring leagues, then summer camps, Goulet also leaves an indelible mark on BC age grade representative programs. Year after year, he shares his gifts through the medium of sport, administering life lessons such as hard work, dedication and the pursuit of excellence. Several of SMUS' absolute best play for him in various competitions. All return enriched by the experience.

In the same vein, he tirelessly mentors young coaches, passing on his considerable knowledge to the next generation.

In 2000 Goulet guides Pitt Meadows to yet another BC crown, his fifth overall. Four years later, the squad again finishes second. My only regret is that, as provincial basketball expands to four tiers, our paths increasingly do not cross often enough.

Nonetheless, he remains a strong, forceful and commanding presence. I can feel it, because on those occasions when he is in a gym and a team I coach is on the court, I want us to perform well. To be like his teams. To play the right way, to be hard to play against.

Alas, past years, from a health perspective, are not kind. Yet, though hampered by a litany of medical woes, including a stroke, kidney dialysis, and circulation issues which necessitate a leg amputation above the knee, he soldiers on. As tough as an old boot. Basketball his life.

We manage to reconnect, albeit too briefly, at various times over his final months. A series of emails, a handful of texts, a short phone call.

One last time, getting affairs in order. In private.

I just hope I convey well enough how much I respect him. How much I admire his accomplishments. For, if the measure of a man is the impact he leaves on others, then Rich Goulet measures up extremely well.

Coach extraordinaire. 1946-2021. RIP.

1 Comment

Apr 07, 2021

You have a lovely balance of grit and gift Ian. Thank you for the emotional connections.

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