Builders of the Program

Gert van Niekerk

“I’ll be quite honest with you – if I compare what they [the faculty staff] are doing now to what we were doing in the 70s, there’s no comparison. I mean, we did a good job enough [laughs], but they’re just taking it to another level completely. Just completely.”

Getting the Gears in Motion

Gert was hired on September 1st, 1970, as the first and only staff member to spearhead the Sport Science department (then called Physical Education). He was appointed with two major tasks: establishing the Physical Education program* and starting the Athletics program as the College’s athletics director.

Gert’s first month at the College was dedicated to writing and preparing courses for the SPSC program. Because the program’s singular purpose at the time was to prepare and direct students for university transfer, Gert, after research, constructed the program guidelines with the surrounding universities’ curricular expectations as referential scaffolds.

Having drafted the program layout, Gert arranged interviews with these institutions (UBC, UVic, and so on). With the guidelines he had prepared in hand, he went to each university to discuss the prospects of transfer and all its associated technicalities. After discussions were complete and the SPSC curriculum was officialized, Gert bought all the necessary sporting equipment for the courses. This was the first month at the College.

*To avoid inconsistent naming, the PE program will be referred to as the SPSC program from this point onwards. Please note the program’s name officially changed to Sport Science in 2001.

Teaching Out of the Car Trunk

When classes officially commenced in October 1970, the department offered four classes: Badminton, Basic Track and Field, Volleyball, and Recreation – all taught by Gert.

Because the College had no permanent campus or facilities (such as gyms or equipment rooms) at the time, Gert hopped around the Lower Mainland to carry out his classes. In a day, he would teach an 8 o’clock class in New Westminster, a 12 o’clock class in Surrey, and then a 2 o’clock class in Richmond. He would finish teaching theory in the College’s portable classrooms, and then drive out to the track or field (location depending) with the sporting equipment (shot puts, javelins etc.) in his car trunk to offer the practical side of the course.

Before the College’s permanent New Westminster campus opened in 1982, Gert worked tirelessly to secure facilities and resources for the department all around the Lower Mainland; a notable example is the procurement of the Queen’s Park Arenex in 1971, a building which Gert convinced the New Westminster Parks and Recreation Department to reopen for the College’s use, rent-free, in exchange for doing its renovations.

Wearing Two Hats

Apart from running the Sport Science department, Gert also worked as the College’s athletics director. In the first year, he organized the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams, men’s soccer, and badminton.

Other than coaching teams himself (alongside other Douglas colleagues who helped coach the various teams), Gert covered the administrative duties of the Athletics program; these ranged from renting facilities for team practices and games to ensuring that every sport competition ran smoothly. The position required thoroughness and dedication: for example, if the teams had a game at a local secondary, Gert would arrive around 5 or 5:30 AM to get the custodian to open the school, set up the necessary equipment, and make sure there were officials to referee the games.

“It was a lot of hard work, but it was fun too. It was okay – I didn’t mind it.”

– gert, on the hefty workload he had in the earlier years

With the boom of both Sport Science and Athletics in the 1980s, the workload Gert shouldered continued to grow. Feeling that the size of the two programs were evolving beyond the management of a single individual, Gert left his position as athletics director to dedicate his energies solely to Sport Science in 1982. The role of athletics director was passed onto Lou Rene Legge, who continued to further Athletics to new heights.

Snippet of Gert’s success as athletics director and SPSC chair

Through the Decades

Gert continued working in the Sport Science department throughout the following decades.

He saw the program through all its milestones, big and small, from its four-course beginnings to the establishment of the Coaching Diploma, the SPSC Diploma, the Post-Graduate Diploma, the BPEC degree, its many international exchange programs, and finally, SSEEP – accomplishments, he noted, that could not have been achieved without the dedication and drive of the incredible cohort of faculty staff throughout the years.

“I was very, very lucky – very lucky that we managed to hire just so much people through the years. They were just amazing.”

Gert, on the SPSC faculty staff

Gert retired on August 31st, 2015, after working 45 years at Douglas College.

“I worked at Douglas for exactly 45 years. I started working at Douglas on September 1st, 1970, and I retired on August 31st, 2015. And you know, I never had a bad day at work [laughs].”

Gert, on his time at Douglas College