After 27 years of coaching high school athletes, Karl Wiebe still considers himself as much a pupil as a teacher.
"Sometimes I learn more from the players than they learn from me," said the Westgate Mennonite Collegiate teacher, who was recently named the 2010 Grey Cup Legacy High School Coach of the Year.
Wiebe, 50, led the Wings to the provincial championship in AAA varsity boys’ basketball in each of the last two seasons. While coaching basketball is his first love, Wiebe has also been involved with the Armstrong Point school’s badminton and track programs, and has served as a de facto athletic director since arriving in 1983.
The Wolseley resident even continued coaching basketball at the school when he took a yearlong deferred-salary leave, taking breaks from his wife’s home-renovation projects to concentrate on the pick-and-roll.
"Part of that was selfish, I knew it would be a very good team that year," he said with a laugh.
Wiebe said he viewed his award as a tribute to all the players he coached and the support of his wife, Arlene, and three children, who put up with all the long hours he devoted to his coaching.
"My reaction to winning is I’m quite humbled," Wiebe said. "I know some of the coaches who have won the award in the past, and I’ve admired the work they’ve done with student athletes over the years. To be included in the kind of prestigious group is an honour."
Jen How, who has taught phys-ed alongside Wiebe for the last 11 years and helps with the athletic department, said her colleague was deserving of the honour for much more than just the two provincial championship banners hanging in the school’s gym.
"For (Wiebe) it goes beyond the things he’s done as a coach, which in the last four or five years have been incredible," How said. "The guidance he provides all the coaches in the school, the work he does administrating the athletic program… when all is said and done, from Grade 7 to Grade 12 we have over 20 teams a year."
Wiebe’s varsity boys’ team had been inching closer to that elusive basketball championship in recent years. The team had three top-five finishes at the AAA provincials — including a third-place finish in 2006 for a team with his son, Kyle — before finally breaking through in the 2008-09 season.
"The skill level of the kids certainly has been a step up these last couple years," Wiebe said, "but you also need to be prepared to work hard. The kids have had a really good attitude as far as setting team goals as opposed to individual goals."
With a student body of just 315 from grades 7 to 12, Westgate is the kind of small school that really gets behind its teams, Wiebe said.
"We get a lot of support from the parents, not only of the basketball players, but all the kids at Westgate," he said.
"Especially the younger kids get excited about what’s happening at the varsity level. It’s great for the players when you pack the stands and everyone is cheering you on. It’s been like that at a lot of home games."
The award, which was given out by the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, comes with a cheque for $2,000 from the Grey Cup Legacy Committee.