STELLARTON – It was a familiar sight over parts of five decades, seeing Keith Melanson in a gym flipping volleyballs in the air to set up returns over the net as he taught and coached the game.
Melanson announced last week that his time with the game has officially closed, ending an era of coaching excellence that can be traced off and on to the 1960s.
He said he felt it was time to leave coaching behind and he was gratified for the successes achieved by teams and individual athletes he coached.
Melanson was an educator who taught classes and was later a guidance councillor at East Pictou Rural High School. He coached more than volleyball, including the three track and field teams, three cross-country teams and three rugby teams he coached to high school championships between 1968 and 1973.
However, Melanson reached greater prominence during his first eight years coaching volleyball. He coached AA school boys’ volleyball teams to five Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation AAA championships from 1973 to 1980.
“I never played volleyball, but I like volleyball,” he said. “It’s a hard game to play — three years to develop a good player and three years to develop a good volleyball team.”
The Blue Eagles went undefeated for three years from 1974 to 1976. It was during that time that the Eagles became the first and only high school volleyball team to play in and qualify for the Atlantic university senior men’s league.
“I’m a teacher first — this is where the legs go; this is where the hands go so it comes naturally to people,” he said.
The 1970s were rewarding for Melanson in other ways. He coached Nova Scotia’s men’s volleyball team at the Canada Winter Games in 1975 in Lethbridge, Alta.
The team included six Pictou County players: Danny Dewar, Leonard Thompson, Neil MacKinnon, Greg MacDonald, John Bannerman and Allister Stalker.
“They were all great volleyball players,” Melanson said.
MacKinnon qualified for the national junior team, while Bannerman kept playing volleyball and was on the Canadian Masters team in 2015 in Turin, Italy.
Later standout volleyball players from East Pictou included Rod Walsh who played for eight years on the Canadian National Team and Jamie Sangster, who attended the Royal Military College for four years and played internationally with the Canadian Armed Forces team.
Melanson also spent three weeks studying volleyball in Moscow in 1975, gave clinics for three weeks in Sweden and Belgium and toured Nova Scotia for two weeks with the Japanese national coach.
Melanson took a sabbatical from high school in 1981 to secure a Masters degree in guidance counselling at Acadia University. He coached Acadia’s men’s volleyball team to its first ever Atlantic university finals.
“It was a good deal,” he said. “I taught a class, they paid my tuition and gave me a meal ticket.”
It was during these years that Melanson concentrated on counselling instead of coaching. He resumed coaching volleyball in 1993 and helmed a sixth high school boys’ volleyball title in the AA division.
He retired in 1998 after having been a coach, as well as district co-ordinator for seven years and Northumberland Region director for four years.
Melanson more recently formed the Nighthawks Club girls’ volleyball team at Northumberland Regional High School. His teams were undefeated in their age class in 2014 and 2015 as Volleyball Nova Scotia Under-13 and Under-14 provincial champions.
Jamie Crockett was selected most valuable player at the 2015 championship, while eight of the team members have played for Nova Scotia since 2015.
Melanson graduated from Stellarton High School in 1963 and was named its best student athlete that year. He captained the Nova Scotia Teachers College’s hockey team to two small college championships.
He played an exhibition hockey game for the Truro Bearcats and played old-timers baseball for the Stellarton Albions.
Melanson has received awards from the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame, the Pictou District School Board, NSSAF, Sport Nova Scotia and Dalhousie University.
Keith Melanson holds a volleyball, symbol of his contributions to local sports that goes back to the 1960s. (Goodwin photo)