High School Coach Rick Desclouds taught students important lessons in sport…and life

Posted: May 31, 2019

By Martin Cleary

When it comes to winning championships in a wide range of sports involving elementary school-aged children, Rick Desclouds has an enviable and golden record.

But, he insists, there’s no magic formula.

It’s all about common sense and letting the young boys and girls enter, embrace and experience the sporting activity.

Desclouds, who retired as a dedicated teacher/coach after 37 years at Glashan Public School in downtown Ottawa, has amassed an inconceivable 112 Ottawa board championships in volleyball, basketball, track and field, cross-country running, touch football, flag football, gymnastics, badminton and soccer.

We also can’t forget his numerous championship titles as a baseball manager in the Pinecrest Little League program or as a community hockey coach in his early years behind the bench inside Lions Arena.

And now his sports coaching career will hit a crescendo on May 31 as he will be inducted into the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Lansdowne Park’s Horticultural Building.

“You have to develop the base and give them the opportunity,” Desclouds said, explaining his basic approach to athletic success. “Then, it’s up to the coach to make the kids realize their strengths. You have to treat each player differently and to make (them) realize their strengths and weaknesses.”

For his four decades at Glashan, Desclouds developed the base through his dedication to volleyball, which spilled over to every other sport he touched.

Every day he taught at Glashan, Desclouds would arrive at 7:15 a.m. and open the school gym for 90 minutes to allow any students the opportunity for skill development in volleyball and sometimes basketball. That early-morning Open Gym program, which was complimented by after-school Friday Open Gym sessions, were the seeds that allowed him to build an elementary school dynasty.

A year before Desclouds, 67, took retirement, Glashan named its school gym the Rick Desclouds Gym.

Desclouds has guided the Glashan Spikers boys’ team to 32 Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Athletics Association championships and 10 Ontario Cup titles (provincial elementary school finals) from 14 finals. He estimates the boys’ career match record at 1,500 wins and 35 losses.

The 2009-10 season was his grand finale and the Spikers were on their game, posting a 71-1 record. Glashan’s only loss came in the quarter-finals of the Ontario Cup.

“I start new every year,” he said. “We’re proud to have won in the past, but when the kids arrive, I want to give them a memory, too. I don’t want them to live in the past.”

The morning Open Gym sessions attracted as many as 35 student-athletes each day and Desclouds didn’t miss any of the estimated 6,600 availabilities. He also was there for the after-school Friday Open Gym times, when former students would return from the high school and university teams to take part in the fun, learning experience.

Volleyball was such a big deal with Desclouds at the helm, that one year almost every one of the 405 students participated in some form of volleyball.

The sport also was used as a healing therapy for some student athletes, after brothers Gary, Danny and Sunny Thach died in an apartment fire on April 5, 2005. Students would often play outdoors until sunset to cope with the loss of their peers.

Gary was a Spikers’ captain and Danny was slated for that role in 2006. Sunny was attending Cambridge Public School, a feeder school, and looking forward to joining the Spikers’ program.

Volleyball is almost a subject unto itself at Glashan, which has a wide-ranging ethnic diversity covering more than 60 nationalities. The sport helps the students learn life lessons.

“They’re on their own side of the net, they shake hands after and there’s no trash talking. What’s neat about our kids is that they’re taught to respect the other team or the game isn’t worth playing,” Desclouds said.

The Glashan volleyball program also has produced three notable players. Pat Thomas played for the Canadian junior national team and Ontario’s squad at the 1997 Canada Summer Games. Thomas (1997), Stuart Hamilton (2004) and Alex Oneid (2008) won the Ontario Volleyball Association’s Ken Davies Award for demonstrating the qualities of determination, leadership, athletic ability and sportsmanship for their community teams.

Baseball was a sport Desclouds cherished as he learned the game from his father Gordon, who coached the original all-star (competitive) Pinecrest team in 1963 and was a past president of the organization. Gordon was a top-calibre fastball pitcher in his day in Montreal and Ottawa and had learned the game from Bill Durnan, the ambidextrous Hockey Hall of Fame goalie who won six Vezina Trophies with the Montreal Canadiens in his seven-year career.

Desclouds dedication and commitment to elementary school volleyball smoothly transferred to baseball in the summer. During his Little League Baseball coaching career with Pinecrest from 1973-97, his competitive teams enjoyed immense success.

The Pinecrest majors team (ages 11-12) captured 16 Little League district championships and qualified for an equal number of Ontario championships. From 1986-88, Pinecrest won three provincial titles while reaching a total of 11 finals.

As the Ontario representative at three Canadian Little League championships, Pinecrest reached the final twice, losing 5-1 to Valleyfield in 1986 and 1-0 to Glace Bay in 1988.

Coming out of high school, Desclouds headed for the hockey rink, coaching in the Westboro Kiwanis program for six years. He won a championship in his first year with a lineup that included Tim Higgins, who played 12 years in the NHL. In his final year, his club won another title, sparked by Jeff Brown, who played 14 seasons in the NHL.

Desclouds accomplishments were highly recognized by the Ottawa sports community. In 1989, he won the Gord Trivett Memorial Trophy as the sportsman of the year award at the annual Associated Canadian Travellers and Cities of Ottawa and Nepean Sportsman’s Dinner and Amateur Award Night (now the Ottawa Sports Awards Dinner).

In December, 1999, The Ottawa Citizen newspaper published its top 100 sports icons in Ottawa and Desclouds made the list.

Away from the playing fields of Ottawa, Desclouds is an accomplished author. He has written three books, including two based on the Thach brothers, and five Black History players, which he also has produced and directed using two full casts of more than 100 students each plus a choir.