By Mike Kirby, Past President of Belleville Spirits
Liane Woodley has probably coached more local high-school basketball teams than any other person, male or female, in the last 50 years. Over the course of her 38 year career in education, the recently retired Liane has served at four different high schools as a teacher, vice principal, and principal. And in every one of those schools (Quinte SS, Trenton HS, Centre Hastings SS, Centennial SS) she has coached both girls’ and boys’ basketball teams. That means that she has started in early September and finished in late February with a game or practice nearly every day of the week. Add another ten weekends per year in tournaments and you get an idea of Liane’s dedication. That depth of commitment is exceedingly rare but she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Liane fell in love with basketball while playing on star-studded teams at Moira Secondary School in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Those Trojan teams featured future coaching legend Ken Smith at an early point in his career. After great success in high school she went on to play two years at McMaster University as well as for St. Catherine’s, an Ontario senior women’s team, winning the national championship in 1983. She also got to represent Canada for one game, playing against Korea at York University. Recalling wearing the Canada colours and lining up for the national anthem brings a smile to Liane’s face.
After university and teacher’s college, Liane was hired to teach at Quinte Secondary School and her life as a coach began. Since there were very few opportunities to continue playing basketball after university, she saw coaching as a way to stay connected to the game.” Her love for the game along with the opportunity to work with young people made coaching a natural choice.
Now, more than three decades later, Liane has accumulated enough memories to fill a gymnasium. She is hesitant to choose specific players or teams that stand out for fear of leaving someone out but one of her most vivid memories is the Bay of Quinte Championship game in 2002 where, co-coaching with Maren Edgett, her Quinte Saints senior girls defeated the heavily favored Moira squad on a last second free throw by Sarah Bullock. In that same school year Liane, along with John Chapman, coached the Quinte senior boys’ team to an emotional B of Q title over their long-time rivals from Nicholson. That feat of coaching both senior boys and senior girls to titles in the same year is quite likely unmatched in the area.
The chance to learn from other coaches has been a very valuable tool for Liane. Any true coach welcomes the opportunity to gather information from peers, even if they are opponents. In many ways the coaches form a community and, although everyone is intent on winning, there is rarely any hesitation to share tips. In a similar fashion, Liane has provided learning and leadership possibilities for many students over the years through the creation of elementary school leagues run out of the high schools. Leagues like Little Hoops out of Quinte and Charger Hoops out of Centennial provide an exciting opportunity for elementary students, but just as importantly these leagues have allowed high school students the chance to act as coaches, referees, and organizers.
Liane’s coaching philosophy is simple: the basketball court is a place to prepare kids for life and the challenges they will face. The qualities that make a good teammate are the same ones that make a good employee, employer and community member. Teamwork, commitment, determination, and respect are crucial skills for success in life. And, while most coaches espouse this philosophy in theory, when it comes down to actual practice, for some coaches the ego takes over and suddenly winning is more important than any life lesson. Liane’s ego is non-existent so decisions made are always based on what’s best for the team and for the development of the individuals on that team.
Liane cites two main influences for her basketball passion. One is the aforementioned Ken Smith, whom she credits for teaching her so much, not just about basketball but life as well. She says that the players felt like part of his extended family, particularly since the first Smith child was born in that era. Liane even remembers “going to rake leaves at the Smith house”, as well as working together at car washes to raise money for the team. The other significant influence on Liane came from a former assistant coach at McMaster, Sue Lindley, who Liane says would spend extra hours on the weekend working with the players. Lindley had been a star player at Guelph University before arriving at McMaster as a coach. Liane would later get the chance to play with Lindley, whom she describes as “a phenomenal player”, on the senior women’s team.
When asked about the future of basketball coaching in the area, Liane is quick to name younger teachers who are anxious to “give back to basketball”, a sort of repayment for all their coaches did for them. She names Jen Tripp, Erin Rose, Josh Chambers, and Kyle Ripley but acknowledges there are many others as well.
Among the changes that Liane has seen over her career is the number of high schools that now have non-staff members as coaches. These so-called community coaches, usually the parent of a player, were almost unheard of when she started her career but now are a regular feature. Although she gives credit and praise to those community coaches for volunteering their time, Liane feels that in the best case scenario a high school coach would always be a member of the school staff. “You have the connection to the kids and see them day to day. It’s easier to hold them accountable.”
Even though she had retired as principal of Centennial, Liane had planned to continue coaching at that school but the arrival of covid put an end to those plans. The good news, however, is that in Liane’s final year the teams she was coaching, junior girls, once again with Maren, and senior boys, both won Bay of Quinte titles. Not a bad exit.
This is the first in a series of articles about outstanding and dedicated local basketball coaches, both past and present.