Hawley Bennett heard the news and there was no hesitation.
One of her former high school teachers and coaches, Gord Dennison, had called Bennett, asking for permission to discuss their relationship in a speech.
Dennison was preparing for his induction onto the Coaches Wall of Distinction at Langley Events Centre on Friday night, an honour bestowed upon him at the Langley District Athletics Evening.
He was one of three inductees, alongside Walnut Grove’s George Bergen and Langley Secondary’s Frank Roberto.
The trio join Greg Leino (DW Poppy), Ivan Adrian (Brookswood) and Grant Inkster (Walnut Grove) on the Wall of Distinction inside Langley Events Centre.
Dennison spent 34 years teaching and coaching in the Langley School District, the majority with Aldergrove Community Secondary School, helping build an elite rugby program at the school.
Unbeknownst to Dennison, Bennett – a world-class equestrian athlete who has represented Canada at the Summer Olympic Games and now resides in California – booked a last-minute ticket to attend, surprising her former coach at Friday’s banquet.
Bennett’s parents divorced when she was in high school and it was a difficult time, she admitted.
“He was a huge factor in my life,” explained Bennett, who graduated from the school in 1995.
“It was a really rough time in my life, it could have gone left or right and he pushed me in the right direction.”
Bennett is both an elite rider as well as an equestrian coach.
“The way I coach, the way I teach was influenced by him,” she said.
“He was always positive, always pushed us to be better.”
Dennison, who retired in 2015, said that the reward of coaching is not always instantaneous, but comes down the road, such as when a former student surprises you with an unannounced visit.
“That is what coaching is all about, giving back,” he said. “In the long run, the real reward, whether you win or not, the important thing is the ‘thank-you’s.’”
The goal of coaches is to make the students positive contributors and good citizens to society.
Bergen concluded a 40-plus year reaching career last June and had been at Walnut Grove Secondary since the school first opened.
He thanked the strong support group at the school and the administration for all the support they provided along the way.
“I had no intention of getting onto a wall of distinction. That is not why I got involved with this,” he said.
“It’s an honour to be involved with all these good athletes. It has been a blast.”
Under Bergen’s tutelage, Walnut Grove has established itself as one of the premier boys’ basketball programs in the province.
He remains the first and only person to win a BC Boys Basketball provincial championship most valuable player award in the sport’s highest tier – something he accomplished as a player for MEI Secondary and coach a team to a title.
“Winning is important. Winning is the difference. It makes kids feel like they have accomplished something. I am extremely proud of the culture and the winning environment that we built,” Bergen said.
He also added how special it was that for the last six years of his coaching career, his son Jared served as an assistant coach.
“I couldn’t express in my speech how special that was. “It probably extended my teaching and coaching career by five years.”
The third inductee was Roberto, who helped spearhead establishing a football program in Langley.
He retired last year.
Roberto said the importance of athletics was instilled in him by his own coaches back in high school.
“I know that I was a better student because I was involved in football and basketball in high school,” he said.
“Because of my high school coaches setting such high expectations both academically and in athletics, I was fortunate to be awarded an athletic scholarship to SFU.”
Roberto added he could never done any of this without the support of his schools, the parents and the students, who helped keep him young.
In addition to the three inductions, RE Mountain cross-country and track and field coach Debbi McKinnon was awarded the Jim Ehman Memorial Difference Maker Award.
The award is presented to a teacher who exemplifies the Langley School District’s core values of integrity, courage, community and excellence and makes a difference in the lives of students, staff and the school community.
McKinnon has taught in the district for 29 years.
“My success comes from those who would never do something who are now in love with (the sport). That is where I feel best as a coach,” she said.
“I love to see the pride they take in getting here, the journey.”
She added that she has received far more from coaching than she has ever given.
Walnut Grove track and field coach Gary Lutes was recognized for his efforts in fundraising to help resurface the Walnut Grove track.
The evening – which featured Canadian soccer legend Carl Valentine delivering the keynote address – also included having all first-year, 10-plus, 20-plus and 30-plus coaches honoured.