If you were lucky enough to have the opportunity of being in the North Delta Huskies gym last season, or countless season before, you may have spotted an a older gentlemen offering a hand and his two cents with whatever team may have been in the gym at the time. That man, was Stan Stewardson.
The Stan Stewardson standing in that gym helping out with a Junior Varsity or Varsity boys basketball team may not appear at first glance to be the pioneer that he truly was.
For those of us that are familiar in this tight-knit basketball community within the province will know that Stan Stewardson’s roots run deep in the basketball family tree.
Starting with his first team at Rossland High School in 1963. Stan left an incredible legacy in the sport of basketball before passing away on Thursday, October 26th.
Although Stewardson coached at Rossland for a year, he quickly moved to North Delta from 1964 to 1973 to head the Huskies varsity basketball program. A place where he not only won championships, but built a legacy and pioneered winning ways that were decades ahead of his time.
His legacy that in-part extends through the the players and coaches he produced over the years. One of those players is now 68-year-old Bill Edwards, a former North Delta head coach who played for Stewardson at the school in the early 1960’s. Then later led the team to B.C. titles in both 1975 and 1990 and has since always been a presence within the program. Edwards was at the school, attending a practice as the Huskies lead assistant coach on Thursday night when the news of Stewardson’s passing broke. “First of all, from the point of view of this school, the reason we are even practicing and everything (basketball-related) that has happened here, none of it would have happened if Stan hadn’t gotten it all going in the first place. So he has been huge”
In 1973 Stewardson left for Burnaby where he became an assistant coach of the Simon Fraser men’s basketball team under head coach John Kootnekoff for two years before becoming head coach from 1975-79 and then again from 1984-89. During his time with the SFU Clan. 11 of his players played on the Canadian National team and 16 of his players went on to play professional basketball. Which includes current Phoenix Suns interim head coach Jay Triano, and well as B.C. high school greats Mike McNeill, Mike Jackel and Dave Coutu. Proving that during his time with the SFU clan that Canadian teams could in-fact compete and beat top U.S. competition in their many 20-plus win seasons.
As much as we as a basketball community respected Stewardson for his banners and basketball products he managed to put out there on the court year and year. We respect him even more for the way he has truly changed way the game is both played and coached, not to mention the culture of the sport as a whole in B.C.
Stewardson has been known to incorporate many concepts from other sports into basketball. Perhaps his greatest talent was taking a group of young men who may have been average athletes, but astounding people and transforming them into a championship caliber team. As difficult and as complicated as that task may be (ask any coach), Stewardson in-part did it though changing the very makeup and culture of such teams. Although he was not the first coach in basketball to make blazers, dress shirts and ties a part of the game day ritual, his reason for making the demand of his players helped speak to how his innovative thinking and importance of unity and team culture changed the basketball work around him.
“He did it to an extent that it took over our presence...it wasn’t just about wearing the jacket, shirt and tie. It was about being prepared on game days because in his mind, everything led to the game. It was the way you acted, the way you prepared.” added former North Delta standout John Buis.
“He had us practicing positive imagery as a high school team in the early 70’s...we would sit down and think about positive outcomes. He was doing things then that a lot of university coaches hadn’t even begun to use” continued Buis.
Past his attention to detail and innovative winning strategies on and off the court, Stewardson also had the audacity to personally call some of the game’s all-time greatest minds and ask for advice. Stewardson was particularly noted for calling up his idol Bobby Knight and asking questions about his famed ‘help and recover’ defence which he would later use to win championships here in B.C.
Off the court Stewardson was known to place divine importance on relationships, events and birthdays. Never missing a phone call to friends or family on their special day. Truly an optimist and master of emotional intelligence as all of his friends and family could tell you. He even wrote a book of his life experiences titled ‘Lucky Me: My life in basketball’ which is a lost relic in B.C. Basketball.
He was honoured in 2012 at a Simon Fraser University men's basketball team home opener game ceremony. In 2004, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Metro Vancouver Basketball Foundation and in 2005 he was inducted into the Basketball BC Hall of Fame.
Stan Stewardson suffered a stroke on Wednesday, October 25th and passed away on Thursday around 1 p.m. He is survived by his wife heather, daughter Shannon and sons Kiki and Kevin. Today, October 27th, 2017 would have been his 79th birthday.