A teacher synonymous with Walnut Grove Secondary School (WGSS) actually needed a little persuading to join the school’s staff 25 years ago.
George Bergen, 64, has taught P.E. at the school since it first opened its doors in 1991.
Before the school even opened, WGSS’s first principal, Mary Wright, had asked Bergen to join the faculty.
But Bergen was perfectly content teaching Social Studies and P.E. at what was at the time known as Aldergrove Secondary School (now Aldergrove Community Secondary School).
“I went into the board office for an interview and she offered me a job here,” Bergen shared on Saturday, during WGSS’s 25th anniversary celebration. “I found it extremely difficult to leave Aldergrove. I had a really good group of guys there as a coach. It was heart-wrenching to leave Aldergrove. In fact, I turned her [Wright] down three times. But it was a new start and a new challenge.”
When Bergen coached the Aldergrove Secondary boys basketball team at the provincials in Victoria, Wright and Dave Coutu, WGSS’s first vice principal, phoned Bergen daily, asking how the Aldergrove boys were doing.
“Something about that left an impression,” Bergen said. “And I then said, ‘let’s renegotiate.’”
Later, when Bergen took a trip down to Walnut Grove Drive to take a look at the 14.36-acre school site, he was quite surprised at what he saw.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s supposed to start in September?’ There was nothing there. There were these piles in the ground and some building on the north end,” Bergen recalled.
As head of the P.E. department, Bergen said he had the boys change in one portable and the girls in another.
Since construction on WGSS’s gym wasn’t completed yet, P.E. classes were held outdoors, in the elements, at James Kennedy Elementary throughout that first year.
Looking back, Bergen said the years have gone by very quickly.
“I think if you look at the longevity of 25 years of anything, whether it’s coaching, teaching, or a new school, there’s the peaks and the valleys and the ups and downs, right?” Bergen said. “We had some struggles in the early years. It’s like, when you’re building something new, you need to create an identity. So we tried to create an identity.”
Bergen said he established a few core values in the early years that “the students bought into, and there’s been tremendous success.”
To wit: Bergen was at the helm in 2013 when the Gators won the B.C. senior boys Triple A basketball title for the first time in school history.
Fast forward a couple of years and, like a new millennium version of Welcome Back Kotter, WGSS alum Logan Kitteringham is now the school’s vice-principal.
Bergen saw promise in Kitteringham, who captained the WGSS senior boys basketball team that finished fourth in the province in 2000.
“Logan definitely had leadership qualities [as a student],” Bergen said. “That was evident when he was in my team sports class in Grades 9 and 10. He was a leader. He was a go-getter.”
There are other teachers at WGSS who, like Bergen, have been at the school since it first opened its doors. Among them: Paul Favaro (languages), Glen Johnston (math), and Mike Angell (music).
A quarter century of working together has formed a bond.
“I mingle with those three guys a lot,” Bergen said.
“It’s a very, very positive relationship. We’ve been together a long time, we’ve gone through the good and the bad and all of that, so it’s a good, fun relationship.”