ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The weekend of July 6 to 8 in Antigonish was a celebration of two things; Scottish culture and traditions and a certain retiring coach named Chisholm.
Former St. F.X. runners and current cross country and track coaches Eric Gillis and Gina MacInnis helped organize a couple of events to recognize the on-the-field accomplishments, and incredible positive impacts on athletes, of long-time coach Bernie Chisholm, who retired at the conclusion of the past school year.
Events were scheduled to coincide with popular Highland Games’ running competitions the 5-Mile Race on Friday evening and Elite Mile the following morning. Following the 5-Mile, there was a casual meet-and-greet event at the Golden Inn on the campus of St. F.X., and following the Elite Mile, a brunch reception, with a more formal opportunity to recognize and thank coach Chisholm, took place and filled the conference room at the Keating Centre.
“It went over as well as we could have hoped,” Gillis, a three-time Olympian, said, as he joined former and current St. F.X. runners on Sunday morning for a social run.
“I think the biggest telling thing and what we really wanted to have happen was to get Bernie enjoying it and I think, from being with him through the weekend, he has; that’s nice, it gives us satisfaction.”
Gillis attributed the strong turnout for the events being a credit to Chisholm.
“That’s the thing, really it was Bernie who brought everyone together because he has that personal connection to all of them, from the many years he has coached,” Gillis said. “It was great to bring everyone together.”
During the brunch, Chisholm’s son Marc had the honour of announcing a new endowment in his father’s name which has already grown to more than $12,000.
“On behalf of the Chisholm family, it’s my pleasure to announce the creation of the Bernie Chisholm Award for cross-country and track athletes,” Marc said.
“This fund will help generations of St. F.X. runners while honouring our father’s great tradition and legacy. Hopefully, with more donations over the years, the fund will grow and help attract top student athletes to St. F.X. and they can run for the Xaverian family and keep the championship banners coming.”
Marc had some stirring words in praise of his father.
“During my sports career, I juggled basketball and running and had many coaches, but I only had one running coach … and he was the best coach I ever had,” he said.
“Dad was able to nourish his athlete’s minds, bodies and souls … a feat few coaches can accomplish.”
He talked about his father somehow always knowing just the right words and the right time to use them.
“He is great listener, knows when to give advice, knows when to be stern and knows when to give praise,” he said, providing a personal story about his father often complimenting him, after a big sporting day, just as he was headed off to bed.
“He is not only loved as a coach, but as a husband, father, teacher, grandfather, neighbour and friend,” Marc said. “”He has been a role model to many Antigonishers and many Xaverians.”
Chisholm followed his son to the podium and his gratitude for the reception, and weekend overall, was evident in his tone.
He started by praising the administrations at both Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School and St. F.X., and listing people he worked with closely, at both.
“The past 10 years I’ve been so fortunate to have an assistant coach who always had my back,” Chisholm said, as part of those thank-yous. “His organizational skills, way with athletes and passion for running was simply amazing; thank you Kevin Grant, the program would not have enjoyed the success it did without your help.”
The veteran coach then turned to his family, seated at tables near the podium.
“To my four boys; Marc, David, Brent and Douglas, I owe a debt of gratitude to each of you,” he said. “Your interest, support and encouragement has been greatly appreciated. I know each of you have made many sacrifices over the years for me and I can assure you, none of them have gone unnoticed.
“And Brenda, I have said on many occasions that I think God has a special place in heaven for coach’s wives. You have allowed me, for over 40 years, to selfishly pursue my love of coaching. You have sacrificed a lot and I never heard you complain once. With your encouragement and support you made it all possible; you are, certainly, the wind beneath my wings and I thank you for that.”
As he addressed the large collection of his former runners, Chisholm did so with great pride.
“Your accomplishments and achievements have been very well documented but winning championships is not the most important thing about coaching,” he said.
“I’m reminded about a great football coach when he was asked by a reporter, following his team winning a NCAA championship and his players winning many individual awards, ‘what do you think of your team?’ He responded, ‘I’ll let you know in 20 years,’ for he knew his greatest victories as a coach of young people had very little to do with the scoreboard and much more to do with the impact he would have on them for the rest of their lives.
“As I look out here this morning and to see how successful each of you have been, it makes me feel so proud. You’ve exceled in the classroom, you have found successful employment, became great parents and many of you have given back to your communities through your volunteer work. All of you have been truly amazing; it has been a joy to be part of your lives. You’re great role models and I thank you.
“It has been said the journey is much more important than the destination and what a journey it has been. You have left me a lifetime of memories and thousands of friendships, which I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”