Former Teacher, principal and BSS President
John Minichiello was 24-years old when he arrived at Britannia to join the teaching staff. Although he had lived in the adjacent district of Strathcona all of his life, that fall morning in 1963 marked the first time he had set eyes on our school. With this introduction began a journey that would encompass seventeen years over four decades. John’s contributions have had a dynamic and electrifying impact on Britannia, the school and its constituent community.
During his career John performed brilliantly in four major areas of involvement. Firstly, he excelled as a technical coach in track and field. Secondly, he was very progressive in the area of curriculum development. His social urban studies program proved to be a real learning experience for the students involved. Thirdly, he then served as principal for six years, retiring in 1998. During his tenure he attracted a dedicated team of staff who grew the school in academics and sports. And fourthly, he was a key player in the establishment of the Britannia Community Services Centre, truly his ultimate legacy.
It is fair to say, however, that on his arrival at the school John wasn’t too happy to discover that we didn’t possess proper track and field training facilities, if any at all. At the previous year’s sports day, Brit had earned only 1 1/2 points, ranking 37 out of 38 schools. If ever there was a challenge to meet, this was it.
Although not a sports jock himself, John started coaching track and field as a student at Van Tech. He sort of drifted into it because a friend and neighbour of his, Wesley Woo, needed some help with his training. John explained that Wesley had gone to China with his parents when he was around seven years of age, but unfortunately became ill there and had to return. “Once he regained his health, however, he took up sports, doing weight training on his own”, said John. “By the time Wesley was in grade 9 he was fit and really quite strong”. He was doing his training by reading a book, Modern Track and Field Techniques. They were living in the Strathcona area and one day, John recalled, Wesley came over to his house and asked if he would observe him as he practised the shot put.
Wesley said he didn’t know what he was doing but he had been reading this book. “So, I began reading Wesley’s book too,” said John. “It described the technique used in throwing the shot. In interpreting the explanatory text, I would say to Wesley, ‘Well, I think your foot is too far out or whatever.’ After a while I did the same thing for him at school. Then other kids began asking for similar help. By the time I was a senior at Tech, I was basically coaching the track team. In grade 12, we won the aggregate at the Vancouver Relays. That’s how I got started coaching”.
It paid off greatly for Brit. John went on to explore technical coaching skills designed to improve an athlete’s conditioning, training and performance. In his first year at Brit, John helped us place eighth in the inter-city high school sports day events. The next year we placed seventh!
John coached track and field at the international level culminating in his being named to the Canadian National Team coaching staff for the 1968 Mexico Olympics. He founded, with Milton Wong and Wesley Woo , the Vancouver Optimist Striders, an elite track and field club which produced many Canadian champions and record holders. Harry Jerome, his most famous athlete, set world records in the 100 metres and 100 yards.
At 28, John was appointed head of the social studies department. In this capacity he fostered a compelling and innovative urban studies program. This project gained funding support from the Canada West Foundation. The program became so exciting and promising that the entire social studies department became involved. The team comprised George Rapanos, Eric Schieman, Derek Grant, Joe Hurley, Frank Simpson and of course young John Minichiello. The group employed a strategy similar to John’s proven theories about coaching. In particular, they advocated transcribing written concepts into heightened performance in the field. “We would do some theoretical work and academic work on the theory of urban development”, recalled Minichiello. “This was followed by community surveys and presentations to city officials. It was a way to inspire civic awareness and participatory citizenship”.
In the late Sixties, ATTAC, the Association to Tackle Adverse Conditions, grew out of this social studies course experiment. John served as mentor while his students, Joe Ferrara, president, Enzo Guerriero, vice-president, and Diane Romaniuk, secretary, provided the leadership in the research, publicity and execution of urban projects. These former students and others like Van Tech’s Janet McGregor, the group’s treasurer, soon became interested in the novel concept of using school facilities for community activities after school hours, as pioneered in Flint, Michigan. Thus was born the Britannia community centre dream.
After persistent lobbying, mostly by students, the project was placed on the city’s five-year plan proposal which subsequently gained approval of the electorate. In 1978 the Britannia community centre became a reality. At the opening ceremonies John took his place alongside several dignitaries in the centre’s senior’s lounge. During his remarks he applauded the achievements of the students, commended local residents for endorsing the unique project and thanked the politicians for funding the enterprise.
John passed away on May 4, 2017