When the Swift Current Comp. Colts volleyball season ended on Nov. 17th at 5A SHSAA provincials a distinguished coaching career ended as quietly as it began 30 years ago in Govan.
Colts head coach Brian Wooff coached high school volleyball for each of his 30 years of teaching. For eight years he honed his skills coaching boys volleyball in Govan before moving to Eston where he coached girls volleyball for two seasons. In 1988 Wooff began coaching the Junior Colts in Swift Current and made the leap to the Senior Colts in 1994 where he has coached for the last 14 seasons.
When the Swift Current Comp. Colts volleyball season ended on Nov. 17th at 5A SHSAA provincials a distinguished coaching career ended as quietly as it began 30 years ago in Govan. Colts head coach Brian Wooff coached high school volleyball for each of his 30 years of teaching. For eight years he honed his skills coaching boys volleyball in Govan before moving to Eston where he coached girls volleyball for two seasons. In 1988 Wooff began coaching the Junior Colts in Swift Current and made the leap to the Senior Colts in 1994 where he has coached for the last 14 seasons. Sometimes statistics can be manipulated to say whatever anyone wants to say. In Wooff's case, however, the numbers do not lie. Over 14 seasons as head coach of the Senior Colts Wooff has registered 1,362 wins and lost 690 times in 2,052 sets coached for a career winning percentage of .664. By comparison the National Hockey League's winningest coach Scotty Bowman, who won 1,244 games, walked away from coaching with a .654 winning percentage. Over his four-year span of dominance from 1997-2000, Wooff's teams had an impressive .823 winning percentage, including a 135-15 (.900) season in 1998. The true testament to Wooff's coaching success is the way that he guided the Colts to the elite level in the province. In the 21 years prior to Wooff's tenure with the Colts the school won one provincial silver medal and one bronze. Fourteen years later, Wooff brandishes two golds, two silvers, and a bronze that he collected from 1997-2001. The remnants of Wooff's coaching legacy reach deeper than dusty medals and faded pictures on his classroom wall, as his former players are active in volleyball across the Prairies in a fitting tribute to his passionate approach to the game. Seated next to him on the Colts bench for the past two seasons were Travis Cuthbert and Conrad Funk, both players under Wooff from 1996-98. Unquestionable two of the top players to ever wear the red, blue, and white of the Colts, Cuthbert the dominating setter, and Funk a tremendous hitter, led the Colts to silver in 1997 and Swift Current's first ever provincial championship in 1998. In Frontier, coach Eric Anderson is still basking in the 2A girls bronze medal that his Raiders won in front of a raucous home-town crowd on the same day as Wooff's coaching career came to an end. Anderson, at 5'6' was not a prototypical setter in his playing career, but won silver and gold medals as a reserve and was the starting setter for the Colts 1999 repeat win on home court in his graduating year. In Caronport, Jon Chalmers, a current member of the Caronport Clippers men's volleyball team, heads to the gym for practice. Chalmers, now a father, spent four years coaching high school girls volleyball in Plenty before returning to school and being coerced into playing his fourth and final season of college volleyball. Chalmers, who grew up with Funk in Waldeck, was a key contributor from the middle position from 1996-98. In Lethbridge, Lane Scherger, a star hitter for the Colts from 2003-05, suits up for the 4-6 Lethbridge College Kodiaks, who sit in third place in the White Division of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. Last season Scherger was named the Kodiaks Most Valuable Player and this season continues to be among the team leaders in kills, blocks, and digs. In Prince Albert, Wooff's long time adversary and colleague Dale Regel, coach of Prince Albert St. Mary, ponders his future at the helm of the province's most successful 5A boys volleyball program. Regel's Marauders and Wooff's Colts squared off in three consecutive championship games from 1997-99 with Swift Current winning twice. Regel, a master motivator with a personality and coaching style almost more recognizable than his vaunted program, is left to wonder what volleyball season will be like without his friend and colleague across the net. Athletes call to mind a vast array of qualities when explaining what makes a good coach. Among them are a great motivator, a good communicator, a leader, a reliable tactician, dedication, innovation, and knowledge of their athletes. Ask a former player what distinguishes Wooff from his contemporaries and you will receive an equally vast array of explanations as those players ramble on in stunning tribute of the man who shaped their formative years both on and off the court. Cuthbert notes Wooff's unusual calmness when coaching in pressure packed situations. "He always kept a level head on the bench. When other coaches would yell at their players and inject fear into them to entice them to perform, Brian would always calmly point out our mistakes and positively encourage us to strive to eliminate those errors." Anderson believes that Wooff's ability to make everyone a part of the team was the key to his success. "Brian does an excellent job of letting all of his players know what their specific roles are on the team, and does it in a way that allows all players to feel not only a part of the team, but also that they are contributing to the overall success of the team. It could be as small as coming into serve for a player, but you always felt a part of the team under Brian's coaching." Chalmers will remember Wooff for his sacrifice and leadership by example. "Mr. Wooff taught me what it takes to win, not just games but championships. There is no magic pill, rather it is sacrifice and a ton of time. He sacrificed hours of family time for our team and we never would have reached our goals had it not been for his sacrifice of time for us every weekend. That has carried over into my playing and coaching." Jordan Harper, a talented power hitter from 2005-07 who captained the Colts this season, respects Wooff for his business-like approach. "If we go and we scout teams, or if we come back from a tournament on Monday, it is nothing but what we need to do, it is straight to business every time we get back on Monday. He has told me for three years the same things that I need to keep working on, and he never lets up, so there is always constant pressure and eventually you will get to where he wants you to be." Wooff admitted that the final game, a three-set loss to Regina Campbell in the quarter-finals, was a difficult one and he is certain what he will miss most about coaching. "Hanging around the guys, watching them become a team, and watching them really get better," said Wooff. "I think that would be my passion for coaching would be seeing how much they can improve and when they realize how much they can improve." Wooff's passionate approach and continued excellence in volleyball are somewhat surprising, considering he only played one year of high school volleyball and says that his position would most appropriately be described as bench-warmer. Wooff coached track for 20 years and also coached a lot of baseball and hockey when his son was growing up. But volleyball has been his passion and sole coaching endeavour for many years now. "It is a real team game because if one guy out there is not paying attention you're in trouble. And if you have just one superstar, well some of my teams over the years beat teams with the MVP of Canada by just picking away at them." He also appreciates the lack of violence in the game. "If you want to goon somebody in volleyball you have to be really good, you can't just send a non-skilled player out there to purposely hurt somebody else. It can be kind of a violent game, I have seen guy's noses get totally smashed, but the other team had to have three guys do something good for that to happen." Wooff also notes that volleyball players seem to respect their opponents. "There is an appreciation of skill and talent from opponents in volleyball because the net separates the teams, but there is still chit-chatting between teams." Of course over the years the players, as well as the game itself, has changed. The scoring system has changed to rally point where a point is won on each rally instead of only the serving team being able to score. Wooff believes that the new scoring system has taken away some of the excitement of the game and notes that now you can win games on missed serves by the other team alone. Wooff also points out that there are fewer natural athletes who can run, jump, and have good hand-eye co-ordination, a fact that he attributes to kids not playing multiple sports, as his athletes used to be soccer and baseball players in the summer, and also to kids playing a lot of video games. Speaking to Wooff, it is alarming the detail that he can recall concerning games almost a decade ago. He can still see missed serves at provincials, outstanding defensive plays, and recall opponents in many important games over the years. "There are lots you remember, some of the wins and some of the losses, you learn to do both," he says. Among his career highlights are his team being the focus of a feature article on the front page of the sports section of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in 1998 when they were competing at the prestigious Mount Royal Mustang tournament. "That was pretty cool," says a grinning Wooff. For many coaches and athletes one of the most impressive forms of accomplishment is to earn the respect of their opponent. From 1997-1999 no two teams excelled in 4A boy's volleyball more than the Swift Current Colts and the Prince Albert St. Mary's Marauders. Dale Regel, one of the most successful high-school volleyball coaches in the province has nothing but respect for his former rival's coaching ability. "Brian has the ability to take a team and make them into something special," said Regel. "If they are close to the top at the beginning of the year, you can be assured that they will be at the top by the end of the year. His coaching is always noticeable in the growth of his teams." Regel could not have been more complimentary of Wooff and his players. "Brian is one of those genuine individuals you meet in sport who is well respected and liked by everyone who comes in contact with him. His teams are noted for their strong work ethic, their positive attitude and their sportsmanship. I can't honestly remember ever seeing an unsportsmanlike act on part of a Swift Current player. Brian has them trained and competing for the right reasons." Might Wooff return to coach volleyball? Wooff often told his players to leave everything they had on the court and they would always be satisfied with the results. After 30 years of coaching the same now holds true of his coaching career. Whether it was carefully crafting practices to address a weakness in his team, making the long drives to and from weekend tournaments as far away as Meadow Lake and Calgary, or chasing down balls in warm-ups for his players, Wooff always gave it his all. If he never coaches another game he likely would be satisfied with the body of work he has helped create. Ask him if he will be back and he sounds like man walking away with no regrets, rather a lot of great memories stockpiled in his head. A few years back when the high school painted the hallways adjacent to the gymnasium the pictures and plaques that once celebrated former athletes and teams were removed and have yet to resurface, depriving the school of part of it's athletic heritage. Some might worry that the athletes, coaches, and teams who have represented the Colts and Ardens with honour, excellence, and sportsmanship over the years may be forgotten. In Wooff's case however, his player's need not worry as their former coach's legacy lives on not only with two SHSAA Championship banners hanging in the gymnasium rafters, but more importantly at volleyball practices and games across the province and in the lives of those fortunate enough to be touched by his passion, dedication, and genius.