Grade 9 teacher in Inuvik is Sport North's Coach of the Year

Stephanie Parkes has been named Coach of the Year by Sport North. She was recognized for her efforts coaching the boys' basketball team at a school in Inuvik, N.W.T.

'When you hear from teenagers that they appreciate you ... it kind of makes it all worth it'

A young basketball team with two coaches on either side pose for a photo.
The East Three Secondary School boys' basketball team from Inuvik, N.W.T. Stephanie Parkes, on far left, says she's coached this group of boys for about six years. (Submitted by Stephanie Parkes)

Stephanie Parkes didn't previously play basketball. 

But recently, she was named coach of the year by Sport North, in honour of her efforts coaching the boys' basketball team at a school in Inuvik, N.W.T.

"I was shocked," she said. "Honoured. It's nice to have the recognition."

Sport North aims to develop and promote amateur sport in the Northwest Territories. It's responsible for providing programs and services for organized sport throughout the territory.

Parkes teaches Grade 9 math and is the boys' basketball coach at East Three Secondary School.

She said her journey into coaching began around 2008 when a friend needed her help chaperoning. It was a chance for her to hang out with the kids outside of the classroom setting — and she loved the experience..

"I see the kids a lot in the building. But it was really nice to get out of the school, make connections with the kids. Some of the students that maybe struggle academically — you really get to see a different side of them," Parkes said.

"You get to see them shine. I just fell in love with it."

A women crouches down to speak with boys sitting on chairs wearing basketball gear.
Parkes seen from behind, speaking with the boys basketball team she coaches in Inuvik. She says it's more than just coaching — Parkes offers guidance, leadership and a safe place for the kids. (Submitted by Stephanie Parkes)

For the last six or seven years, she's stuck with the same group of kids, who are now in Grade 12.

"It's been a journey for sure," she said. "A lot goes into coaching."

That includes five days a week in the gym, a lot of effort fundraising and travelling with the kids to Yellowknife.

"There's a lot to juggle," Parkes said. "It's time away from your own family. And my family has always been super supportive of me working outside of the house and chaperoning."

The time commitment, she said, pays off.

"We've had a pretty consistent team through the years. The kids are super dedicated," Parkes said.

"When you hear from teenagers that they appreciate you, and the things that you've done for their life, it kind of makes it all worth it."

'The long game'

The big reason she sticks with it, on top of her passion the kids, is to help promote staying in school.

"For some of our students, it's a reason for them to be in school, it helps to motivate them," she said of sport. "The ultimate goal here is graduation, right? So whatever we can do to help keep kids engaged in school, wanting to be there... we'll do what it takes."

While Parkes said she's seen the kids "through all the ups and the downs," she said she's confident "they're gonna get there."

A row of boys on a basketball team pose with a coach on either side. Many of the boys are holding up the number 6 with their fingers.
Parkes, left, poses with the boys basket ball team she coaches at the East Three Secondary School. (Submitted by Stephanie Parkes)

"It's always been about the long game," Parkes said. "Sport for me has always been about a way to motivate kids, you know, to show up and to do the best that they can do so that they can have these opportunities."

What was perhaps most touching about winning the award, to Parkes, was getting to read the written submissions sent in by the athletes she coaches.

"They were pretty special, pretty emotional," she said. "[I'm] very grateful."

With files from Lawrence Nayally