Over more than three decades of guiding the athletic programs at Duncan Christian School, Tom Veenstra has never sought out recognition for himself, always putting the school and its teams first.
He finally did get some recognition this month, however, when the City of Duncan honoured him with its Perpetual Trophy for Excellence & Sportsmanship.
“It’s nice to be recognized for something I definitely enjoy doing,” Veenstra said. “There are a lot of intrinsic rewards in doing what I get to do. I’m blessed that I get to do things like hosting [tournaments] and leading kids.”
Veenstra started at Duncan in the 1985-86 school year, initially hired as a French teacher, with one P.E. class on his schedule. He gradually added more P.E. classes before taking that on full-time, and was eventually named athletic director.
Veenstra started at the school alongside the Grade 7s who would become the school’s first graduating class of Grade 12s in 1991. Even though the school had been open since the 1960s, previous students had moved on to other schools in their later high school years.
During his tenure, Duncan Christian has, despite being a small school even for single-A standards, regularly played host to a plethora of tournaments and other events, including Island and provincial championships in volleyball, basketball and soccer, and is typically among the contenders for at least one or two Island or provincial titles each year.
Veenstra thrives on keeping himself — and the school — busy.
“It’s a love of mine to organize and run things,” he said. “I have a supportive wife and family who know what my passion is. The school is supportive and always on board. They always know something is up when I bring to staff meetings a couple dozen donuts; they know it means a lot of work, but they always jump on board. Everyone does their part. People do a great job in their area, and it’s exciting how things come together.”
Duncan Christian’s attention to detail doesn’t go unnoticed.
“The visiting teams are always impressed by the way things run,” Veenstra noted.
Veenstra is also grateful for the help he has received from students, parents and other community members over the years, especially when it comes to coaching. He hasn’t had to coach a team in at least 10 years. That was when he and his wife, Sandy, returned from a two-year stint teaching in China. His oldest son, Bo, graduated in China, and his youngest, Reuben, came back to finish Grade 12 at DCS. Of course, the school hosted the provincial single-A boys volleyball provincials in the fall of 2010, just months after Veenstra returned.
Duncan Christian received the BC School Sports Outstanding School Award for 2006-07, and two years later opened a state-of-the-art gymnasium that was a longtime dream of Veenstra’s.
Veenstra’s work hasn’t only benefited Duncan Christian, but also the community at large, as the tournaments hosted by DCS bring hundreds of athletes and their families to Duncan and the Cowichan Valley, where they need meals and hotel rooms. Veenstra has also been a supporter of larger events in the Cowichan Valley, such as the 2008 North American Indigenous Games and 2018 BC Summer Games.
This year, of course, has been unlike any of Veenstra’s previous years at DCS, with all inter-school sports cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Had things gone as planned, the school would have played host to the single-A boys volleyball provincial championships in late November, and would have been among the favourites to raise the banner.
“This particular year of Grade 12s, girls and boys, is quite strong,” Veenstra commented. “I know they would have been contenders in both boys and girls volleyball and basketball, and now they lose out.”
It hasn’t been entirely bleak in the DCS athletic community. The school took part in the BC School Sports Cross-Country Pandemic Challenge, which encouraged schools across the province to run their own cross-country races and report not only runners’ times but also participation rates. DCS was No. 1 in its category, with the most students participating among schools with high school populations of 175 students or fewer.
“The kids ran with the new activity,” Veenstra said, adding that the students especially embraced the opportunity to compete against longtime rivals like Nanaimo Christian School and Credo Christian in Langley.
Veenstra’s endless optimism and school spirit have clearly worn off on the students.
“They’re going to make the best of what it is,” he said.