“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.
There is no shortage of opportunities to coach at some level of athletics in North Bay. Between all the minor sports, high school level, major junior and College/University ranks, there are people who year-round are teaching and helping athletes fine-tune their craft.
Of all the coaches within the city of North Bay, only one gets recognized every year by the North Bay Sports Hall of Fame Awards Committee as the Al Brennan Memorial Trophy winner for the Coach of the year in North Bay and District.
Peter Handley, Bert Templeton, Bill Jacko and Larry Sheppard are just a few of the recognizable names that have been honoured with this award since its inception in 1977 and in 2018, long-time St. Joseph Scollard Hall Bears Coach John Whittet was bestowed with that award.
“It was quite an honour, certainly wasn’t expected,” says Whittet.
“I was happy to get it and my family was happy for me too.”
Whittet says he might not have gotten into coaching in the first place had it not been for a few influential people in his life during high school.
“I’ve always felt everything happens for a reason,” said Whittet.
“I remember in grade 10 it was a combination of my dad telling me that I have to find a job that I’m going to like, because it's going to be something you will spend a lot of time doing. And I had two Phys Ed teachers at Scollard, Mike Doyle and John Elkins who just seemed to be having the time of their life and that kind of all hit me as something I would really like to do. Combining sports and a good job. So, I pretty much had my mind made up then.”
Whittet is most well known for his play calling as the Head Coach of the Bears football team, but that’s not the only team he has had the pleasure of drawing up game plans for. In fact, it started with a community-based team.
“I started coaching with the North Bay Legion Track Club when I was going to University and it didn’t really stop after that point.”
Whittet says after finishing with his education in teacher’s college at Nipissing University, he got a job in Collingwood where he taught at the elementary level for nine years.
“I coached everything I could," Whittet reflected.
"It was a great way to interact with students and get to know people and then in 1999 I got hired at my alma matter at St. Joseph Scollard Hall and again, I coached whatever, and wherever they needed me to. Football, Baseball, Track and Field, Curling. And then in town, I got involved with minor hockey, and Stingers Baseball.”
For those keeping count at home that’s a different sport for every season; with some of those even overlapping. Dedicating that kind of time to cultivate those young athletic minds is no easy task, and once you do that for a while, Whittet says, “the thought always crosses your mind,” about possibly entering the professional ranks.
Whittet adds, “I really like my job, I like being a teacher and coaching at the high school level. But you go to some of the clinics. We went to one in Michigan State, and York University, and one at Guelph, and you just see the level of commitment from the professionals they bring in to speak at those clinics and that in itself is amazing. Those people that coach at that level is just another step above. When you get to see what they do, it’s a completely different level. In my personal life though, I don’t think I was ever thinking of pursuing that. Maybe as a younger person first getting into it, but I was 30 years old when I moved back home and started coaching football.”
“It really does show the amount of work and dedication there is at that stage. The amount of work, the amount of video, the amount of everything that they do is mind-boggling really.”
But coaching at the high school level can require just as much background work, video and dedication.
Whittet says, “in football, we all film our games and we’ll share that with each other. And there are websites that you can upload the film to, and it will break down the games using analytics. So, we’re using that at the high school level. We could be looking at a play that is second and eight and it will calculate the probability of what kind of play the other team will do. It depends sometimes on if we’ll have that for regular season games but come playoff time its amazing how much you will watch film and you will have your players watch film as well in preparing for that upcoming game.”
Using an advanced technology system to coach minor sports might be a newer model but Whittet says he found it easy to adapt to this method because of the help he had with some of his assistants.
“We had three guys that had just recently finished playing CIS football. And they will bring what they learned and teach dinosaurs like us how to structure practices on how to be more efficient,” said Whittet.
“Going to clinics and conferences you also learn so much, but it was such a pleasure to have a couple of new young coaches join our staff, and really they teach you and we learn from each other. It's amazing how much people are willing to share.”
Getting to teach and coach at the school he went to as a high school student is something Whittet is tremendously proud of and says it was a way to give back to a city that has a vibrant and historic sports scene.
“North Bay is such a great sports city,” Whittet says.
“There are so many good people that are involved in it. The longer I’ve been around the more and more I appreciate the people that have come before us that have done so much to start it and build it up.”
“Going back to my old high school was like a dream come true,” he continues. “That’s what I had always been inspired to do. There’s a long tradition there because its been around so long and there’s been some pretty historic coaches that have come prior and you have some big shoes to fill and, obviously you can’t fill them, but there are certain expectations that people hold you accountable to and if you’re not doing to well you hear about it pretty quickly.”
Of all the different sports Whittet has been a part of he says, “I never thought I would coach curling and that was more out of necessity than due to knowledge.”
But Whittet says that comes along with the territory of being available as a mentor and as a leader and doing whatever you can to help out your school and your students wherever they may need you to.
“It opens up your eyes to a whole different realm. Different athletes and different people and it was awesome. And we got to host the OFSAA Curling back in 2014 which was a wonderful experience,” he says.
But the gridiron is where he felt his true calling always was.
“I remember watching as a five-year-old. Whether it was playing, just sitting and watching as a fan, or being a part of it in some other way, I just find it the most diverse sport you can have. People from all different walks of life can enjoy it and play it. People with different talents, different abilities and different body types can come together as one unit and finding a way to make all that work is what I truly enjoy.”
Between his years as a track coach and his years as a football coach, Whittet understands how vital it is to have a state-of-the-art facility to play and practice on. That’s why one of his fondest moments as a Bear was when they were able to open Cundari Field in 2015.
Whittet says, “we were just so fortunate to have the perfect storm I guess, when we were looking to upgrade some of the facilities. There was a group of gentlemen associated with the Scollard Hall Foundation and they had some money and along with the school board we all worked together to create the turf facility, the track and the bleachers that you see today.”
“To host events and meets and track events, it's outstanding. We welcome all the other high schools to come and train on it, and it is good for our athletics program. I really do believe there has been an uptick in student enrolment because they see this facility and they want to be a part of it and use it, and its been a real win-win for everybody.”
And when people like John Whittet come along and dedicate themselves to your school and city in any area, you’re going to find a lot of those win-win situations.
If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at email@example.com