After 43 years of coaching, and 22 with the St. Thomas men’s basketball team, Dwight Dickinson is retiring.
For Dickinson, coaching goes beyond making people better basketball players. He wants basketball and other sports to make players better people.
“I think we just use the sport as a tool to grow the minds of young people,” said Dickinson. “Our world is a shaky place. It’s getting shakier all the time, so I have a great respect for sport and what the sport can do. The competitive world is a good thing if it can bring out the good in us.”
Dickinson, who started coaching in 1972, has many highlights to look back on. He recalls just a few years ago, when Corey Delong hit a fade away three pointer to force overtime against Mount Saint Vincent University. The Tommies went on to win the ACAA championship and won a bronze medal at nationals. He also remembers one of his players hitting a pair of free throws to win the game to go to the national finals.
But not all the highlight moments are epic. Sometimes they’re as simple as a player finally understanding a play during practice.
“When you see that, the body language of realizing, ‘I have it now’, as a coach, that’s when you go, ‘yes that’s what I wanted to see.’”
While most coaches want to make their team the best they can be, Dickinson wants to make the other teams better too.
“Like when we play Holland College, we hope to do something to make Holland College better. And they’re going to do something to make us better,” said Dickinson. “That’s the way I think sports should be. It should bring out the best in us; and if it brings out the worst in us, I don’t think we should be doing it.”
Dickinson’s first coaching job was at McAdam High School, where he coached for seven years. Then Dickinson coached the AA team at Fredericton High School with Rick Stocker until Dickinson took over the head coaching job at STU 1993. At FHS he only missed the playoffs once.
That success carried over to his time at St. Thomas. Dickinson characterizes his teams as hard-working squads, who exceeded expectations. Dickson won silver and bronze medals at nationals with STU. He has also won seven ACAA championships, and was coach of the year for the ACAA four times. His teams, like those at FHS, only missed playoffs once.
Team captain Calvin LeBlanc regards Dickinson as the smartest coach he’s ever had. He says Dickinson is always able to stay one step ahead of the other team and knows how to motivate his squad.
“One game we were playing Crandall, and one player kept on hitting threes,” said LeBlanc. “He came in and he was really, really angry with us. He whipped the water bottle against the wall and told us that if he hit another three, we’re doing a suicide for every shot he made.”
Missing playoffs were the only real low points of his coaching career that Dickinson recalls.
“It’s rough when you look in their faces, and they’re not going to get the chance to play for a championship.”
One season Dickinson lost a handful of players halfway through the season due to academic issues, and some rugby players filled in. But the team still made the playoffs.
“When an adverse situation happens, we don’t look at it as a bad thing,” said Dickinson. “We look at is an opportunity to learn something.”
Still, he’s ready to move on. The position has become more like a full-time job, and he wants to spend more time with family. He also wants to travel the world with his wife.
Dickinson will have one last chance to win a national championship for St. Thomas.
“We’re a team that can bring it right to the bitter end, but we got to put a string of games together to do that. You can’t miss one game. That means you have to be very consistent. We’re not consistent yet, but we’re getting better at it.”
LeBlanc remembers a few weeks ago, when Dickinson told the team he was in his last season and couldn’t help but get choked up. His last game, whenever that might be, is going to be a tough one.
“I’m hoping the emotion is in a championship game, because that emotion would be the same whether it’s your last game or your first one.”