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A Sudbury stint leads to Shields' legacy at U Vic

On eight different occasions, Coach Kathy (Williams) Shields would hoist the Bronze Baby Trophy, emblematic of Canadian university women's basketball supremacy, leading her University of Victoria Vikes to a national championship banner.

A native of British Columbia and graduate of both UBC (University of British Columbia) and Laurentian University, Shields remained part of the Team Canada staff from 1981 through to 1995, assuming the role of head coach in the final four years of her tenure.

She is among the most decorated U Sport coaches ever, recognized as Canada West Coach of the Year eight times and capturing the honour on an even larger scale (CIAU/CIS) twice. The top rookie in university women's basketball, in the country, garners a trophy that bears her name.

The gymnasium floor at UVIC, home to more victories than she could ever remember, was renamed as a tribute to Ken and Kathy Shields. Yet as the 69 year old ultra gracious trailblazer talks of her playing days, one can immediately sense that tinge of additional excitement in her voice, a little more jump to her step.

"No matter how much I enjoyed coaching, playing was always what it was all about for me," Shields said recently. "To be on a national championship team as a player is a great feeling, different than when you're coaching. It's a different feeling of accomplishment."

It was an emotional euphoria that Shields (then Williams) would embrace four times as a university athlete, twice each at both UBC and LU. It was also the era that ultimately paved the path to her ascension in coaching, exposing her to the men who would influence her future to an extent that she could not have possibly foreseen.

In Williams' second year at UBC, Ken Shields was named as coach of the women's team.

"Ken brought with him a totally new approach, an intensity, a work ethic to our game, to my game," said the woman who would later become his wife. "He was the first one who really coached us as basketball players, and not as females. He really set the tone and the trend for UBC women's basketball, at that time - and Norm was his assistant coach."

As in Norm Vickery, the man who would propel the Laurentian Lady Vees to five consecutive Canadian crowns (1974-1979), the first two of which included Williams. The truth is that the young woman whose dream of an appearance at the 1976 Olympics was derailed due to a serious back injury, was more than ready to welcome the teachings of Shields and Vickery.

Williams was primed for that change of mindset - she, along with the bulk of a very special group of women who formed the UBC Thunderbirds of the early 1970s, a squad that would produce no less than five players who would don the maple leaf on their jersey.

"When I was in high-school, I never thought anything of limitations for myself," said Shields, who holds a distinction as one of only four members of the very first graduating class of the Sports Administration program, at Laurentian, in 1975.

"I was practicing more than any of the boys in my high-school, at that time. But I was very fortunate. I had a principal, a basketball coach, and a boys' basketball coach at our school who thought this was great."

"I had the good fortune to be in environments that were always supportive."

The Sudbury stint, for the Shields, was, relatively speaking, short but special. In a matter of just a few years, Ken made his mark as coach of the Laurentian men's team, so much so that he was offered the same role, along with that of Athletic Director, at the University of Victoria. He and Kathy would leave northern Ontario in 1976, the same year they were wed.

"That was a difficult decision," Shields confessed. "We enjoyed our time in Sudbury so much, met so many tremendous people, had so much fun. The only reason that Ken left Laurentian, which we both dearly loved, was that our roots were here, in western Canada."

These were roots that would flourish quickly, and grow to produce an incredible yield over an impressively lengthy period of time. The Shields' legacy in Victoria will certainly stand the test of time. And yet for as much as it had already become apparent that Ken was born to coach, that revelation for his spouse was more gradual, something that she ventured into, somewhat by chance, at the outset.

"We had a junior varsity team here (in Victoria) and Ken asked me if I wanted to coach, just a couple of hours a day," said Shields. "The next year, I was an assistant with the varsity team. It was kind of me not knowing what I wanted to do, but having these opportunities. That's kind of how I started in coaching - and I grew to love it."

For as much as there is no denying the extent to which her vision of coaching was shaped by both her husband and Norm Vickery, Shields would, fairly quickly, begin making a name for herself in that very same field.

"I would say that Ken and I are very different as coaches, but not necessarily in every way," she stated. "Our personalities are different. In the beginning, I only knew his manner and Norm's manner. I tried to be them, at the start. It took me time to allow myself to find my own way, my own manner of applying all of the great things I had learned."

"I would say it was a good five to seven years for me to be confident enough to just be myself and still have an intensity about me, all while doing it within my true personality."

The milestones, along the way, are far too numerous to mention. Shields points to the involvement of so many others - players, coaches, etc… - all key contributors to the string of awards. Friendships forged throughout the journey are bonds that she holds tight - and greatly cherishes. Players that she has coached who have progressed to the national team create an incredible source of pride.

And still, a few things stand out.

"One of the awards that Ken and I are so proud of, together is having the floor at U Vic named after us," she said. "It just represented so much to us. All the good times and the tough times, the challenging times, all of the players that we interacted with, they were all represented on that floor."

Her story, fittingly, comes full circle.

"I loved the game, I had an incredible passion for the game," said Shields. "I couldn't be in the gym enough."

And centric, to this wonderful tale, is a basketball court, one which now displays her name - and the name of the man who has been at her side, virtually every step of the way.

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