On the surface of things, Vladimir Nikić is the coach who took Delview Secondary’s ailing basketball program and turned it into a serious championship contender.
But behind the wins is a dedicated educator for whom athletic development and victory on the hardwood is merely a way to connect with his students and help them to achieve their goals.
“Basketball is just a tool,” Nikić quipped in Delview’s teacher’s lounge.
“I’m an educator first, I’m a teacher first. And basketball was just a tool to reach out to kids. It could’ve been a pysch club after school, but the circumstances at that time led us towards basketball.”
Arriving at Delview in 2007, he remembered the school’s basketball program was almost non-existent, and there wasn’t much interest in developing it.
“They had zero wins,” Nikić said.
“The closest they came to a victory was against Holy Cross the year before I came, and they lost that game by 28 [points]. We had five basketballs in the whole school, two of which were not usable because they were probably one of the first Spalding balls ever created in the 1960s. The school was created in 1969 and I think those basketballs were there in 1969.”
As a former semi-professional basketball player, Nikić saw an opportunity to not only create something that would bring together his passion for education and sports, but also that could have a hand in shaping future generations.
That his efforts would directly produce a winning troupe of athletes was “by accident,” he said.
“[Basketball] just happens to be something that people are drawn to, people love, and [something that] kids craved at that time to identify themselves in terms of school culture, belonging [and] connectedness,” Nikić explained, likening the program to Delview’s popular Thanks For Giving food drive each fall, during which the school collects tens of thousands of food items to donate to the Surrey Food Bank.
“So it was never really about basketball. It was about teaching young boys to become men, to be responsible for their actions, to be on time, to be good citizens, friends, sons and boyfriends. And now, to be good husbands.”
On the final day of the 2019 B.C. Boys High School Basketball Championships in Langley earlier this month, Nikić received the Ken Wright Memorial Scholarship Award, which honours coaches for their commitment and work to develop a school’s basketball program. His biggest success on the court thus far has been coaching the Raiders to a second place finish in the 2A division at the 2015 provincials.
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Congratulations to Mr. Nikic on receiving the 2019 Ken Wright Memorial Scholarship Award presented Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre during the provincial finals. The BC High School Basketball Association awards this to the coach who has improved and developed the school’s basketball program to be competitive at the local, regional, and provincial level. It is also in recognition of his commitment to and development of basketball at Delview. #sd37
More recently, as part of the school’s 50th anniversary celebration, Nikić helped organize a four-on-four basketball tournament for current and former students on March 6. The event, which he hopes to turn into an annual affair, served as way for students to connect with the school’s history and traditions, as well as meet alumni who can inspire the kids, even perhaps serve as mentors.
“We believe that tradition is very important for a community and it’s important to build a legacy for these kids, and kind of a connectedness to the school,” Nikić told the Reporter earlier this month.
He added that some people consider the school to be in a “low socio-economic neighbourhood,” but that shouldn’t be a barrier to students achieving success like some of the returning players.
“We want the alumni to come back and show the kids how successful they can be. It’s a great thing for kids to look up to someone that successful [who] grew up in this neighbourhood.”
In the first couple of years after he took over the team, Nikić recalled, he didn’t cut anyone from the team because he just needed bodies to fill the roster.
“I actually vividly remember walking in the hall way, seeing anybody over six feet and literally pulling on their sleeves, going ‘Hey, do you want to play basketball?’ and them going, ‘Who are you? What’s going on?’,” he said.
Despite being critical to Delview’s success on the hardwood in recent years, Nikić makes a point of giving credit to former and current Delview staff — including the school’s custodian — for their support in both his and the team’s development.
“There are schools that don’t allow people this much growth,” Nikić said, explaining that building a team costs money and school staff helped raise funds for trips and new team equipment.
“This is a student-centred school and students’ progress comes above everything, and the staff at Delview realized how much the school needed this program to develop. I can work all I want, but if I don’t get that support, none of it is happening.”
Coming from a pedagogical home in Novi Sad, Serbia, where his mother was a university professor and his father a high school vice-principal, Nikić said that he became a teacher above all because he likes to see progress and growth in kids.
“I see kids that are in need of doing something, and there is always progress. There is always something to look forward to.”
“Kids are the future of this world and if we foster them right, we’re going to have a very prosperous society. I’m a strong believer in providing every kid an equitable opportunity to succeed.”
Nikić spent a decade teaching math and social studies at Delview, and more recently took over as the school’s career advisor, connecting students with industries that fit their skills and interests.
Admitting it’s hard to make profound life choices at such a young age, Nikić said there is an epidemic of kids saying they want to be lawyers and doctors. Instead of chasing a career based on its prestige or paycheque, he wants to steer students onto a path that will eventually lead them to a career that fits their skills and passions.
“By the time they’re in Grade 12, [students] should have a direction towards what they’re good at,” Nikić said. “That’s all I want them to be [in position for]. The worst thing to do is to think about it in terms of a career.”
Apart from helping students figure out the rest of their lives, Nikić is currently writing his masters thesis on the recent and upcoming changes to British Columbia’s secondary school curriculum.
Although he can’t pin point the single biggest lesson he has taken from his students in the 13 years he has been an educator, he said he learns something new almost every day.
“I know it sounds like a corny thing to say, but actually you learn a lot,” Nikić said. “If you want to be a good educator, I think you need to be a learner for life and just seeing the different ways kids learn, and also the different struggles they have every day.
“It reminds me how human we are and how much we don’t know.”