When Kathy (Williams) Shields was growing up in West Vancouver in the 1960s, she remembers it being rare to see a girl practicing basketball by herself. It didn’t bother her; her passion for the game was all that mattered. That unswerving drive would lead Shields down the path to becoming one of the most respected coaches in Canadian basketball history.

Early on, Shields’ love for basketball came via her family. Her oldest round ball memory is waiting in the bleachers for her older sister Linda’s high school basketball practice to finish. Given a ball to bounce quietly, countless times the errant ball caromed down to the hardwood, while Kathy raced after trying not to disrupt the practice. Older brother Doug taught her how to shoot properly. Her parents exercised great patience with the constant thumping of basketballs against the homemade backboard and hoop on the side of their house.

In Grade Ten, Kathy’s coach, Bill Elliott, told her she could make the national team if she kept working hard and improving. This little piece of information spurred her on all the more.

Her first year at UBC, she played on the women’s basketball team under the legendary Ruth Wilson. A year later, the Thunderbirds won the Canadian Senior A championship. Five UBC players, including Kathy, later made Darlene Currie’s national team, a number unheard of from one university.

The coaches at UBC that year were a young Masters student named Ken Shields and Ken’s high school coach Norm Vickery. Kathy and Ken later began dating and several years after were married.

Before that, Kathy won two more CIAU titles under coach Vickery in 1974 and 1975 with Sudbury’s Laurentian University, while continuing to be a key member of the national team. A back injury and subsequent operation forced her into early retirement at age 25.

Ken took a job at the University of Victoria, so just to stay in the game and having never coached before, Kathy took on the UVic women’s junior varsity squad. Within two years, she was offered the head coaching position of UVic’s women’s team. Beginning with that 1978-79 season, Shields created a dynasty over the next 22 years.

Winning UVic’s first-ever “Bronze Lady” in only her second season, Kathy coached the Vikes to a CIS-record eight national championships and fourteen Canada West titles, at the same time compiling a remarkable 320-50 record in regular season play. Three times she was named CIS Coach of the Year and nine times Canada West Coach of the Year.

Her record at the university level inevitably brought Shields back into the national program. She served as assistant coach of the Canadian women’s national team for two stints from 1980-84 and 1989-92 and later served as head coach beginning in 1992. Two years later she guided Team Canada to a seventh-place finish at the 1994 FIBA world championships.
Upon her retirement in 2000, Shields received the 3M Coaching Award for Excellence. In 2003 she was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2008, she received the Order of BC.

Drive down suburban streets in any BC town today and you’ll see perhaps the biggest impact of coaches such as Kathy, who fostered along the growth of the game in BC. Like her childhood, you’ll be hard pressed to find a solitary girl playing basketball alone. That lonely girl in the driveway is now joined by two or three friends all shooting hoops together, each dreaming of a future in the game.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.