A group of five-year-old boys were waiting in limbo on the sidelines of the Lynn Valley soccer field in 2003.
There was no coach to be seen.
Soccer parent Sheila Balzer and her husband had made a plan: She would coach her son’s hockey team and he would coach soccer. But that plan fell apart after Balzer’s husband developed some health issues.
That predicament would kick-start Balzer’s volunteering streak which has been going for almost two decades.
It was the age group co-ordinator of the Lynn Valley Soccer Association who told Balzer in that 2003 season: “You can do this. You can totally make this happen.”
The hook for Balzer, she says, was having one of the five-year-old soccer players introduce her as Coach Sheila to his kindergarten teacher.
“It just melted my heart,” Balzer recalls.
That original Broncos team of 10 players holds a special place in Balzer’s heart.
“In that first year of soccer we lost half of our dads,” she says.
There was a brain tumour, pancreatic cancer, addiction, and divorce. Unfathomably, two of the dads died, while three others were no longer part of the day-to-day lives of their sons. The 2003 Broncos soccer team inherently became a family guided by Balzer and other volunteer parents, who pitched in to get everyone to the field.
“We were this community of ‘OK, let’s find way of making this together,’” says Balzer, who coached that team until 2008. Balzer’s favourite plaque still sits on the bookshelf in her Lynn Valley home – a gift from all the original Broncos players, along with a signed soccer ball. There is also a bench with all the players’ handprints immortalized in orange paint.
Balzer volunteered on and off the field for both her son and daughter’s North Shore soccer teams from 2003 until this season, tackling many positions from coaching to refereeing to first aid to board member.
At the same time, Balzer made good on her promise to coach hockey – also starting in that serendipitous 2003 season.
“I was really passionate about hockey. I grew up in a hockey family. I loved the game,” says Balzer. Gender prevented Balzer from playing ice hockey competitively when she was growing up. The late bloomer learned Canada’s game alongside the tykes, including the power skating drills, which gave her a good glute workout to boot, she says with a laugh.
“And I learned how to do it and become a better skater. Because I participated that closely … then I was able to know how to teach it,” says Balzer, who was a North Vancouver Minor Hockey Association assistant coach from 2003 to 2011.
When baseball season popped up so did another volunteer opportunity for Balzer, who was an assistant coach for Lynn Valley Little League for two years.
At one point Balzer was simultaneously coaching soccer and hockey, the PAC chair for Lynn Valley Elementary, a Girl Guides leader, and teaching students piano.
With her daughter set to graduate this year, Balzer is leaving behind a strong legacy of volunteering with Argyle Secondary’s music and soccer programs. Balzer stepped up as fundraising chair for the school’s music program during a transitional period, and also coached Argyle junior girls’ soccer teams.
On any given day, Balzer has a volunteer project on the go. “I’d rather be a participant than a spectator,” is her philosophy.
With golf season almost in full swing, Balzer is gearing up for some more volunteering at Gleneagles Golf Course where she is currently an executive team member, and tournaments co-chair.
Balzer’s countless volunteer hours were recognized when she was named the Community Sport Volunteer of the year at the North Shore Sport Awards held last month at West Vancouver Community Centre. Balzer has instilled the value of volunteering and connection to community in her children.
“I think it’s probably one of the best things for teaching my kids because kids learn from seeing and not necessarily by what you say,” says Balzer. “And now my kids are out in the community doing volunteer things.”
Balzer has advice for those who are new to volunteering.
“Find something that they really love to do – and then find the volunteer opportunity within that,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you have two hours a week or if you have 40 hours a week, there are organizations that could use any amount of your time that you’ve got available to give.”