The Program: Byrne Creek Bulldogs "Family Tings"
Plenty of ink has been spilled on the diversity of Byrne Creek. Over fifty percent of students who attend the school are not Canadian citizens. Over seventy different languages are spoken at the school.
In an area as unique as Edmonds — the area of Burnaby in which the school is located — it is the basketball team that has united the community and has also given back tenfold.
“The unity that these kids [at Byrne Creek] find through academics, through dance, through basketball, that’s a language everyone understands” said Byrne Creek head coach Bal Dhillon. “Some of our biggest fans of our basketball team this year were immigrants from Syria. Their English wasn’t even that strong. But they knew when Byrne Creek won, they felt good.
When that kind of stuff starts happening, you realize it’s a special place and it is a blessing to be here.”
Starting from scratch
Over the past two seasons, the Byrne Creek Bulldogs have achieved as much as some programs have in the last decade. They won two straight Lower Mainland titles, went to the final four of the provincial tournament for two straight years, and going to the 3A final last season.
All of this is impressive considering the school didn’t come into existence until the year 2005. After previous coach Wayne Best departed the program, it lay to Dhillon to continue building upon the foundation that was left for him.
“The first three years, we were a game away from provincials” said Dhillon. “The first year we got blown out, the second year we got a little bit closer and the third year was down to the wire, we were ranked third in the province and didn’t get it done. [. . .] The standard was set that we got to do this thing.”
That standard? Not only making provincials, but making serious runs once you get there.
Take this year for example. They beat Caledonia in the first round, survived a scare against Charles Tupper in the quarter-finals, beat a tough North Delta team in the semi’s, and then faced South Kamloops in the final.
Although they weren’t able to pull it off, it served as a learning experience for not only the men in charge of the program but the players as well.
“When you fall just a little bit short, okay we know what to do and build on that for next year” said assistant coach Shaun Hake on what the program takes from its first provincial final. “The kids are all onboard, they’re ready to go the next day. They want to go back into the gym and start training.
I think there’s [also] an emphasis more on the conditioning and the off season program. Getting them to the gym and understanding the physicality. We had to really grind out that tournament and I think that's really key thing is to get back in the gym and the weight room to help you throughout that tournament.”
“That [they] just need to come back fighting harder” said graduating senior Tyler Whitebear. “I gave it my all and I know the players did too. The returning players need to put that work in so they can get that banner next year.”
Another huge reason for the success that Byrne Creek has had is the approach that Dhillon takes to building the culture surrounding his team.
Almost more than anything, Byrne Creek emphasizes a togetherness and family like bond that has helped the team get to the heights that they have today.
“He’s like family” said Whitebear on what coach Dhillon has meant to the team. “As soon as you join his team, that’s what he does. He makes you feel like part of a big family. [. . .] He connects with us and he knows how we are. That’s what he uses when we’re at practice.”
“You want to get these kids to the next level but you want them to become better individuals and members of the community” said Dhillon on how he’s approached running the Bulldogs. “So we’ve really stressed the importance of community, treating the team as a family. I think that’s the biggest change and kids are buying into that. They feel like they’re a brotherhood and they’re all involved and getting to the same goal. When you gets kids on board, it really makes a huge difference.”
One thing that may be unique is the psychological assessments that he gets his team to take. As Daniel Chan explained, “It gets you to realize hey I may not be this, but I can still be this and that can still help the team.”
“When Bal took it over, it was a mindset change” explained assistant coach Shaun Hake. “We tried to change the culture amongst the kids and we had a great group of seniors with Aaron Cruz, Daniel Chan, Tyler Whitebear. [. . .] They bought into something and they really changed the culture here at Byrne. Now you have kids that are grade 8 and 9 that want to get to the next level and really push themselves."
The future goals of the program also reflect Dhillon’s emphasis on community and family. It’s not just about winning titles — it’s about developing a bond between teammates and the program for years to come.
“Our goals are more about growing our alumni game, growing our sense of connection to our alumni to our program, and giving students more opportunities” said Dhillon. “If we do that, I’ll be happy. If that means we win a provincial title or never win another tournament again then so be it. But the sense of community is really at the crux of all of it.”
“We’re at that stage where we’ve built that program” said Hake. “Now it’s about maintaining it and getting it to that next stage. With the family and the sense of community, it’s great. They rep their ‘Dawgs Gotta Eat’ shirt, they want to be out in the community. [The players are] representatives of the community.”
A community on and off the court — that’s what the Byrne Creek Bulldogs have managed to build from the ground up.
Written by: Nick Bondi