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Port Coquitlam school throws a surprise celebration for beloved basketball coach

Terry Fox Ravens' basketball coach Don Van Os retired last spring after 40 years at the Port Coquitlam school.
Don Van Os was part of the basketball program at Terry Fox Secondary School for 40 years.

Don Van Os finally got the send-off his colleagues thinks he deserves. He likely wasn’t too fussed about all the fuss.

Van Os, the longtime social studies teacher and basketball coach at Terry Fox Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, was honoured before the start of the Ravens' opening game in the annual Legal Beagle basketball tournament Thursday evening, Jan. 11.

He was presented with a special custom jacket and among the crowd in the bleachers were several alumni, former players and their families who’d been invited to join the celebration.

“He won’t like this at all,” said Brad Petersen, the current head of the school's senior boys' basketball program, prior to the event that was a surprise. “But he deserves it.”

Van Os retired last spring. He didn’t tell anyone he was ending his 40 years at Terry Fox until the bell rang at the end of the last school day before summer break.

That’s just the kind of guy he is, said Rhonda Trunkfield, the athletic director at Fox for the past 25 years.

She said Van Os shared the same kind of humility and simple ideals as the Canadian hero after which the school is named. So much so, he still maintains a close relationship with members of the Fox family, including Terry’s brother, Fred, who is a regular at Ravens’ basketball games.

As unassuming Van Os could be, he also had a fierce determination and charisma that brought players and other coaches into his world, to buy into his vision and goals for the basketball program at Fox, said his longtime associate on the bench, Rich Chambers.

“He’s a teacher on and off the court,” Chambers said. “He’s demanding but fair.”

Mark Prinster so admired Van Os' style and capabilities when he was teaching and coaching basketball at schools in Surrey, Mission and Burnaby, he made it a goal of his career to someday work with him.

“Everybody knew what Fox basketball was about,” he said. “I wanted to be around Don.”

When Prinster finally achieved his ambition in 2002, he was a sponge for whatever he could learn from Van Os.

“When you know him as a teacher, you understand him as a coach,” Prinster said. “He really connects with the kids.”

Part of that connection came from the extra effort Van Os put into his work in the classroom and the gym, whether that was arranging field trips to bring book lessons to life or putting in countless hours conducting basketball camps, workshops and extra practices, said Petersen.

“He set the tone.”

Chambers said while he and Van Os may not have always seen eye-to-eye in the heat of a basketball game, their shared vision for the overall program — to create an environment of hard work and excellence that started with the Grade 9 team and extended up to the seniors — never wavered.

Petersen said that was apparent the moment he joined the school in 2008.

“He treated everybody the same,” he said of Van Os. “He had the same expectations for all the players and everybody had a role.”

Trunkfield said while Ravens' games aren’t the same with Van Os on the bench anymore, the standards for leadership and dedication that really took hold when the school won its first AAA provincial championship in 1992 continue.

“We’ve always had such consistency,” she said. “It makes it fun.”

Tournament final is Saturday

The annual Legal Beagle invitational tournament continues through Saturday, Jan. 13, with the final scheduled for 7 p.m. at Terry Fox Secondary.

Five of the eight teams participating are ranked among the top 10 in the province:

  • Oak Bay (1)
  • West Vancouver (4)
  • Vancouver College (7)
  • Semiahmoo (8)
  • Kelowna (9)