Bill Thistle has been a long-time leader in the provincial volleyball community. With a coaching and playing career of over 48 years, his triumphs and contributions to the sporting community in Newfoundland and Labrador are innumerable.
Bill began playing with the YMCA’s team in December of 1970 when he was in Grade 11. Despite initially being an awkward and uncoordinated player, he quickly took to the sport and was able to not only keep up with the junior team but also played with the Y’s Senior Team as well. In 1974, Bill’s drive and passion for the sport led him, Sandy Hickman, and Stu Gulliver to start the ONCA Volleyball Club. This small club team would grow from a single mens’ team to 5-6 mens’ and womens’ teams. ONCA won many provincial championships and had a widespread influence on the development of volleyball in Newfoundland and helped to enhance not only the players; but also the development of coaching and refereeing within the province.
In the second year of its creation, ONCA ladies teams were added to the club with a senior and junior team. With Bill at the helm of the senior team, the start to a long and triumphant coaching career began. In 1977, Bill, named Canada Games Coach, scouted the top female athletes around the province and brought them together under the Canada Games Team. Over the next two years, he was instrumental in developing the ladies volleyball skills and fundraising to get the team to major regional and national competitions. With two years under Bill’s coaching, future Hall of Famer Kathy Noseworthy was selected to attend the National Junior Team Training Camp where she would earn a spot in 1978.
In 1978-79, the Canada Games team were asked to become the MUN Varsity Team. This highly talented team flourished under Bills leadership and earned many accolades and won many championships. From 1979-83 the team was ranked in the top ten University and Club Teams in Canada by the Canadian Volleyball Association; ranking as high as #4 amongst university teams and #6 amongst club teams. Current NL Volleyball Hall of Fame Inductee Sue Rendell would join returning Canadian Junior National Volleyball Team Player Kathy Noseworthy as the second of Bill’s players to make this team. The team won the Atlantic University Championships in 1979 and 1981. They won an unprecedented 5 consecutive Atlantic Senior AA Championships from 1979 to 1983. This 1980 MUN team would go on to provide some of Bill’s career highlights; including an unprecedented 2nd place in the Canadian National Volleyball Junior Championships with a 16-14 finish in the fifth set. The 1980 Memorial University Team would later become the first team to be inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Hall of Fame. Bill would also have a third player, Joan Buck, named to the Junior National Team. The MUN team had many more years of success; ranking amongst the top university teams at the national level and earning 1st place finishes at both the AUS and Atlantic Senior Championships.
Bill has also contributed to volleyball at the association level over the years. At the age of 21, he became President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association and its Canadian Volleyball Association Representative. He served on this committee for two years until coaching the Canada Games team required his full commitment. In the 1990’s, he served as President of Sport NL. Bill’s commitment to the sport and progressive coaching style became noticed at both the provincial and national level. In 1981, he earned his Level IV National Coaching Certification and was accepted as a Level V Coaching Candidate. Bill is a two-time recipient of the Reg Soper Trophy for his contributions to the sport of volleyball in Newfoundland and Labrador. Bill was also asked to join the National Team planning group and trained and travelled as an Assistant Coach with the National Team.
Bill married his wife, Elsie, in 1984 and had three children; Bill, Sean, and Michelle who he would later coach. As a parent coach, Bill would give countless hours to the sport at the school and provincial levels. Two of his children’s teams, the 2002 Male Booth Braves and 2007 Female Bishops College Team competed at the top level of provincial sports with many players from both teams going on to become Memorial University Volleyball Athletes and continuing to play in city leagues and provincial championships today. During this time, Bill would return to coaching MUN and impressively coached the daughters of two of his former National Team athletes Kathy Noseworthy and Joan Buck!
Bill would not only spend much of the last 45 years coaching but continued playing with many of his original ONCA teammates at the provincial level. Despite being (many) years older than their competitors, their team won the C Division Provincial Championships in 2018.
Bill’s coaching impact on the floor is undisputable but his level of dedication and commitment to the growth of players off the court is remarkable. He is a coach that truly cares about his athletes, encourages them to set high expectations for themselves and assists them in achieving their goals. A pioneer in the sport of volleyball in Newfoundland, Bill is a true builder of sport within our province.