HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
When Deb Huband of Ottawa retired last year as head coach of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds women’s basketball team after 26 competitive seasons and one COVID-19 pandemic non-season, she was looking forward to more time for herself, family, community and other interests.
One thing she has found early in her new lifestyle is she can’t say no to basketball.
Late last year, Huband was asked by one of her neighbours, who had two children at the nearby Lord Nelson Elementary School, if she would consider being involved with the basketball program for the older students. Huband couldn’t say no and had a plan to instruct the Grade 6 and Grade 7 teams along with some teachers.
For a school that isn’t recognized for its basketball achievements, there was a good turnout of students to start to learn the game in January.
“I thought I would do developmental skills and drills, but it turned into coaching,” Huband said with a smile and soft laugh. “I chose the girls’ teams to give them something unique.
“They’re learning the game. The school is happy with what it is seeing and the kids are keen. The Grade 7s have playoffs and the Grade 6s have games, but no playoffs. It’s a short season, but it has been fun to be more involved. It’s a lot different (than coaching at the university level).”
During her more than three months with the young players, she found the grassroots-level coaching experience gave her flashbacks. Huband told the girls she also was a young basketball player many years ago and you never know what rewards you might get from the sport.
Huband, a multi-sport athlete in her youth, could write a book about her basketball career and achievements, whether as a player or a coach at the university or national-team level. And at age 65, she recently learned a new chapter is on the horizon in September.
During the UBC Homecoming celebration, Huband will be inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame along with basketball’s Art Willoughby, volleyball’s Betty Baxter, football’s Mark Nohra and the 2002-03 women’s soccer team.
“I feel honoured,” Huband said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I am well aware of the hall of fame and the recent inductees. I know a lot of the inductees I am joining and the people in my class. I have a lot of pride for those who are in it.
“I feel like it’s a family of inductees. I am aware of their bios, their backgrounds and this makes it more special having that insight.”
Huband’s stellar career on the court and on the sidelines has seen her inducted into five halls of fame, either as an individual or as member of a team, and two other honour walls.
A former star basketball player at Bishop’s University, captain of the Canadian women’s team from 1979 to 1986 including the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and a top-10 Canadian women’s university coach, Huband has been inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame, Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, Basketball Ontario Hall of Fame, Concordia University Sports Hall of Fame (the 1976-77 team) and the B.C. Football Hall of Fame (member of the Vancouver Mardi Gras Women’s touch football club).
She also has her name and photo posted on the Nepean Wall of Fame at the Nepean Sportsplex and the Bishop’s University Sports Wall of Distinction.
As she has settled into retirement, Huband is amazed where basketball has taken her. Huband was the UBC head coach from her first season in 1995-96 until her final term in the no-game, practice-only 2020-21 season. Before becoming head coach, she was an assistant coach for three years.
“It shows you what a positive impact sport can have in one’s life,” said Huband, who moved to Vancouver from Ontario to complete her Master’s of Science, Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology at UBC.
In her 26 years as UBC head coach, Huband led the Thunderbirds to national championships in 2004, 2006 and 2008 and captured Canada West Universities Athletic Association titles in 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2015. She also was named Canada West coach of the year for the 2003-04 season.
Her 26 years as women’s basketball head coach is the most of any female coach in any sport in UBC varsity sport history.
Two months before the arrival of the pandemic, Huband broke the conference record for wins by a coach, when she won her 338th regular-season game on Jan. 11, 2020. Kathy Shields of the University of Victoria held the former Canada West mark.
When you look at her coaching record, her name can be found in three top-10 lists. She is ranked fifth for U Sports conference wins at 344, sixth in overall wins involving all games at 537 and seventh in wins against Canadian university opponents at 509. Her Canada West record is 344-171 for a winning percentage of .668, and her overall win-loss mark is 537-295, .645.
Meanwhile, Betty Baxter was the captain of back-to-back national university championship teams at UBC in 1973 and 1974 and was a standout for the Canadian women’s team, which played in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. In the late 1970s, she turned to coaching. Baxter guided the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees to the silver medal at the Canadian university championships in 1980, which also was the year she was named national coach of the year.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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