The year was 1998 and rumour had it there was a pretty good soccer player who was a new teacher at nearby South Park Elementary.
“It was Kate Qually and Ali Johnstone who came over to the school, along with Travis McFarlane. They were all in Grade 12 that year and they had no coach,” recalled Stephen Burns. “I had never coached girls before, only boys and men’s teams. I remember Kate saying to me ‘Burnsie, we are going to make provincials but (at the time) it meant nothing to me.”
Sure enough, the former UBC and Vancouver 86er standout did guide the South Delta Sun Devils to the provincials that year, launching a remarkable run at the Tsawwassen school. Burns’ teaching career eventually shifted to SDSS where he has been coaching boys and girls soccer and basketball teams since his arrival.
The girls soccer team has qualified for a record 20th straight provincial tournament after repeating as South Fraser zone champions with a 3-0 win over Richmond’s McMath last week. Co-coach Brent Sweeney has been alongside Burns for much of the remarkable run, that includes B.C. titles in 2008 and 2022. The pair have welcomed another SDSS teacher, Ricky Gill, onboard this season.
Much of the Sun Devils’ provincial tourney qualifying streak was done in the old Fraser Valley zone where they were up against top schools from Coquitlam, Abbotsford, Langley and Surrey. It set the stage for how high the competitive bar had to be each season.
“We knew we had to step up when we played the Coquitlam schools, the ones from Abbotsford and Surrey too. It was the hardest zone to get out of. The one thing we wanted to do was to compete with them. We weren’t always the best team but we were usually right there when it came to competing with them. It’s always been that way,” continued Burns.
The year the streak started will always have a special meaning to the 54-year-old.
“It was May 7, 2002 and that was the day my dad passed away. It was also the day of our first playoff game that started the whole streak and we beat Riverside 4-0. It was a great group of kids and parents (that rallied around me) and it just went from that.
“I think we have had a few really good leaders every year. That’s the key were you have a couple of good leaders and everyone else will kind of buy into it while we are pushing them.”
The Sun Devils will defend their provincial championship starting May 31 in Kelowna.