Ken and Kathy Shields have their day on the court.
KEN AND KATHY SHIELDS CAN SEE A TANGIBLE EXPRESSION of their legendhood every time they go to Vikes basketball games.
The floor at McKinnon Gym is now known as Ken and Kathy Shields Court following the official naming ceremony earlier this year to honour the 15 CIS national championships—seven by Ken’s UVic men’s teams and eight by Kathy’s UVic women’s squads—won by the iconic husband and wife.
“It’s the greatest honour I have received because McKinnon Gym was my workplace where every single one of my players sweated on those pieces of wood,” says Kathy, who coached for 23 seasons before health problems forced her into retirement in 2001. “This represents every player who has ever played at UVic for Ken and me.”
As remarkable a record of success as the Shields achieved, one word was never mentioned during their halcyon days at Ring Road.
“We never talked to our teams about winning,” says Ken, whose steely and unrelenting sense of purpose guided the Vikes to an unmatched seven consecutive national titles from 1980 to 1986. “We were performance oriented, not outcome oriented. We taught improvement. The issue was never about winning, but demanding maximum mental and physical effort on a regular basis. It was the sustained, relentless pursuit of excellence.”
When you get that nailed, the winning takes care of itself. And did it ever.
Practices under the Shields were renowned for their uncompromising, almost brutal, intensity. Mistakes were allowed and corrected, because that’s the only way a player learns. The only thing not tolerated was lack of effort. “If you have that attitude, you’re going to be pretty good,” notes Ken, who is most proud that of the players who completed their careers as Vikes under him and Kathy, only one did so without earning a degree.
“If our student-athletes didn’t do what they did—committing to basketball without ever compromising academics because academics came first—we wouldn’t have had success as coaches.”
Many of their players returned to McKinnon Gym and ringed the floor to form the honour guard on the night of the dedication ceremony.
“Whenever I get together with my former players, we never talk about big wins or championship games, but about how we feel about each other,” says Kathy. “It’s always been about relationships.”
And the Vikes of the Shields’ era were always about more than just UVic. It was a rare time in Canadian sport where university teams truly connected with the community at large. Going to Vikes games became the thing to do around Greater Victoria, creating a pulsating atmosphere in a McKinnon Gym that was usually jammed on game nights. In many ways, the Vikes were UVic’s face to the community and the communal meeting point between town and gown.
“We made a real effort to integrate and connect with the community and become Victoria’s teams and not just UVic’s teams,” says Ken, who went on to coach Team Canada for five years in Olympic qualifying and world championships, and has been consultant to the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls of the NBA the past two years.
“Victorians were proud to identify with the Vikes teams and their successes and we welcomed that because our players became role models. That helped in what we tried to instill into the players—being responsible for their behaviour and becoming good citizens.”
One young local fan who was captivated by watching UVic basketball was Steve Nash who, of course, came out of Victoria to become the current two-time defending NBA MVP with the Phoenix Suns. Nash recorded a video tribute to the Shields, his early mentors, for a luncheon in their honour that preceded the court naming ceremonies in January.
Ken and Kathy Shields were mentors for a whole generation that came through McKinnon’s doors. The two coaching legends have thoroughly earned—after hundreds of thousands of balls bounced on that floor by players they taught and taught well—the right to call the home hardwood theirs by name.
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