Ken Dockendorf has long been recognized as one of the best coaches in Maple Ridge, and now he numbers among the greatest high school basketball coaches in B.C.
Dockendorf won the Ken Wright Award for coaching excellence for 2018.
He has coached at Maple Ridge secondary for 48 years, and was inducted into the Basketball B.C. Hall of Fame in 2015
Paul Eberhardt, president if the B.C. High School Boys Basketball Association, said during the nomination process, members of his group were looking over the list of winners, and there was a glaring omission.
“Doc’s name isn’t on this … what’s going on,” was the reaction.
Eberhardt said Dockendorf is an obvious choice based on his length of service, his success over the years, and his work for the association.
Eberhardt, himself a longtime hoops coach in B.C., said Dockendorf’s teams can always be expected to be fundamentally sound.
“Doc is respected. Even his weaker teams seem to be competitive,” he said. “Whether he has a top team or a weaker team, he always coaches what he has.”
He has hit the loftiest heights, winning a provincial championship in 1986, also played in the championship game in 1989 and 1997, and brought his teams to the provincials on more than 12 occasions.
The 1980s were the heyday of high school basketball, and the Ramblers were always one of the best.
Dockendorf remembers well that 1986 team that beat Vernon in the final, led by tournament MVP Todd Osborne and all-stars Glen Cote and 6’11” John Carlson. Darren Rowell, the principal of Garibaldi secondary, was the point guard.
“We had a loaded, loaded team,”Dockendorf said.
He came within a point of winning a second time, but lost to crosstown rival Pitt Meadows Marauders by one point in the championship game. The two teams had played about five times during that season, and there was always about five points or less difference between them. The Ramblers had beaten the Marauders in the Fraser Valley championship.
“We were so closely matched,” he recalls.
And there was huge fan interest in the games.
“You had to get to the gym 20 minutes or half an hour early to get a seat.”
He talks about the skill and commitment of those players – two provincial all-stars were Dean Adams and Craig Upshaw. In 1997, when they lost in the final to the Kitsilano Blue Demons, it was Shawn Halverson, Mike Eskildsen and Aaron Miller leading the way.
“We were a powerhouse in the glory days,” he said. “We were always able to compete every year, at the highest level.”
Working with the executive of the association, he was instrumental in creating a new quad-A division, and restructuring how the provincials are run. Now, with four different divisions based on school size, teams compete against similar programs, and they all meet for B.C.’s own version of March Madness at the Langley Events Centre.
“It has been phenomenal. It’s given a whole new level a team a chance to compete for a provincial championship,” said Eberhardt.
In the past, all that mattered to hoops people was the top tier. Now, coaches and players feel the same level of accomplishment, regardless what level they are winning at, said Eberhardt.
“It has really elevated the single A and double A tiers.”
Dockendorf said he modelled the new tiering system after what is done in U.S. high schools.
“It doesn’t matter which tier you win, it’s the experience,” said Dockendorf.
He retired from teaching 12 years ago, but hasn’t given up coaching, yet.
He is still heading to the gym to help run spring club basketball programs. During the season, he’s practising or playing six nights per week, and last season he coached both juniors and seniors.
As anyone who has coached knows, the job doesn’t really stop when you go home.
“When you’re not at the court, you’re thinking about practice plans or game plans,” he said.
It’s such a commitment, he would like to see Canadian schools start paying coaches for their time, as is happening in the U.S.
“The culture has generally changed, and people value their family time and personal time more,” he said.
He said coaching made his career as an educator more rewarding.
“If you’re doing serious coaching, it makes your teaching job more enjoyable. The school becomes a point of pride for you.”
He said the job has not changed much, except in how kids are treated.
“You can’t be as much old school… you could be tougher on them, and you could drive them harder,” he said. “But there are the same goals of commitment and hard work.”
The elite athletes now have more options. Basketball programs always lost kids to hockey, but now competitive soccer programs and more recently lacrosse have attracted more kids away from their high school teams to club sports. They start those sports at an early age, and that is where their commitment lies.
It makes the job of a high school coach in a smaller school more challenging.
Dockendorf said he is not sure whether he is coming back for year 49. These days, he generally waits until the summertime, to see whether it is finally time to hang up his whistle.
“As you get older there’s not the same fire, but there’s still a passion for the game and working with kids.”
The award includes a Ken Wright Memorial Scholarship, so the program at MRSS will receive $500.