Cowichan community mourns beloved soccer coach Bill Keserich Jr.

“Billy was the person who showed up when times were really tough,” says one community member about Keserich Jr., who died at age 52.
Bill Keserich Junior is pictured at the centre of this photo, from chest-up. He is wearing a white, short-sleeve, collared button-up that has many small, coloured diamond shapes printed on it. His beard is shoulder-length and black and he is smiling in the photo. Behind him is a green field.
Bill Keserich Jr., seen here at the 2019 wedding of his friends Tyler and Kayla Hughes, died in his sleep last week at age 52. He was widely loved; the Remembering Billy K Jr. Facebook page already has more than 1,200 members. Photo courtesy of Kayla Hughes.

If you’ve driven by the Sherman Road soccer fields in Duncan over the past week — before the snowstorm — you’ve probably seen a growing impromptu shrine of flowers, balloons and candles to commemorate the memory of Bill (“Billy”) Keserich Jr., who died in his sleep the morning of December 12 of natural causes at age 52. 

One of the Cowichan region’s true characters, Keserich Jr. was recognizable for his Duck Dynasty beard and renowned for his selflessness, sense of fun and ability to connect with people of all ages.

Involved in all aspects of the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association — as a technical director, coach and referee — Keserich Jr. had genuine relationships with a couple generations of local soccer kids. The long-time coordinator of the U5/U6 division, he was often the first person new soccer families met and part of the reason they kept coming back.

Over the weekend, local youth soccer teams paid tribute to Keserich Jr. in various ways, including wearing black armbands, initializing socks, taking a moment of silence and simply giving a big cheer for Billy. Earlier last week, the Cowichan Steelheads masters team met to honour their teammate and coach and the gathering swelled in size as news spread about his unexpected death. 

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That’s because Keserich Jr. was beloved well beyond the soccer community, through his involvement with the local restaurant and brewery scene, participation in other sports and his construction business. The “Remembering Billy K Jr”  Facebook page has more than 1,200 members and is full of stories about Keserich Jr.’s playfulness, friendship and generosity.

The photo is taken from above, showing the legs of seven soccer players pointing their feet into a circle. They're wearing their soccer uniform, with cleats, shin-pads and socks and black bands that don the initials BK for Bill Keserich Junior.
On Sunday, Dec. 18, Team Yeti, a U11 girls team from the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association participating in the Indoor Winter Classic Youth Soccer Tournament, wore black bands featuring the initials of Bill Keserich Jr. over their socks. Photo courtesy of Andrea Ferrie.

Community response has been a balm for the Keserich family

Each day since his passing, Keserich Jr.’s parents, Wendy and Bill Keserich Sr. have been sending people to collect condolence cards addressed to them that have been dropped off at the soccer fields, says Michelle Keserich, one of his four sisters. She says their family is deeply moved by the outpouring of support. 

“People from all walks of life have come and offered words and thoughts and pictures and food and flowers and tasks,” she says. “We had no idea of the impact that he had on such a cross section of people, who in return are … consoling us with all these wonderful stories and gifts of time and memories and photos and services they’re providing for us. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s so heartwarming, and it really has been a balm for us.” 

A line of lit candles are on the ground in front of a fence that surrounds the soccer field. Flowers are placed behind and around the candles and balloons and cleats are hung on the fence above the candles and flowers. A photo of Bill Keserich Jr. is seen as well.
People are sharing their grief over the untimely death of Bill Keserich Jr. by leaving cards, flowers, balloons and candles at an informal shrine at the Sherman Road soccer fields in Duncan. Photo courtesy of Rachel Shaw

Keserich says that she and her parents have “bounced in and out of shock that this has actually happened.” She says they all keep expecting her brother, who used to check in on his parents almost every day “to pull up with his truck and waltz in the door.”

Growing up, Keserich says her brother was “an imp” who liked to have fun, despite their parents being extra protective of him because he had a congenital heart condition, with a hole in his heart that eventually appeared to close before surgery was needed. She describes her brother as “perfectly imperfect,” with even the obituary from the family noting how Keserich Jr. could be “infuriatingly stubborn” along with his many winning traits.

As an adult, Keserich Jr., who never married or had children, would spend most of the time at family gatherings with his nieces and nephews, because children were “his chosen people,” according to his sister.

Keserich Jr. showed up when times were tough

Formerly a shop steward at the Catalyst Crofton mill, Keserich Jr. in recent years ran Cowichan Steelhead Renovation & Construction in partnership with his soccer teammates Luke Massey and George White. When White’s 10-year-old daughter Poppy was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017, Keserich Jr. grew out his beard with plans to shave it off as a fundraiser. He also spearheaded fundraisers for Poppy.

While much of the White family spent the better part of a year in Vancouver for Poppy’s cancer treatment, Emerald White, then 17, and her 15-year-old sister Lavender remained in the Cowichan Valley to attend high school and run the family’s hobby farm. Emerald White says that while many people helped out, Keserich Jr. was their rock. 

Poppy White stands on the left, wearing a red shirt. Her head is bald and she has a smile on her face. Bill Keserich Junior is on her right, hunched over with his hand around her shoulders and smiling. He wears a grey shirt, jeans and black ball cap. His beard is lengthy and black.
Keserich Jr. grew out his iconic beard with the intention of shaving it off as a fundraiser to support Poppy White, the daughter of his close friend, teammate and colleague George White, in her battle with leukemia. He never had to shave it off because Poppy went into remission and remains cancer-free. Photo courtesy of Emerald White.

“I talked to him every day during that time and he was coordinating people to come and chop firewood, and do all of these things that felt insurmountable at the time. And I never had to ask, he was just always there,” Emerald White recalls. “He was my dad. He was my mom. He was our ride … It’s really hard to not have a parent, but it kind of felt like we did with Billy.”

She adds, “Billy was the person who showed up when times were really tough. I think a lot of people had that experience with Billy, that he really was at his best when he was helping other people.”

White recalls how when she started to referee soccer games while in high school, Keserich Jr. got her all set up by gifting her a referee jersey, flags and a whistle. While always supportive of his linesman when he worked as a referee, Keserich Jr. could get riled up when he coached teams, White says. “Billy might hold the record for the most cards while on the bench. He was really passionate about the game.”

Because Poppy eventually went into remission, Keserich Jr. never had to shave his beard, which became as iconic as the handlebar mustache of Keserich Sr., who in 2019 received the President’s Award for BC Soccer.

He knew every kid and family in the soccer club

Keserich Jr. knew every kid in the Cowichan Valley Soccer Association and their families, says Tyler Hughes, the club’s other technical director and co-founder of the affiliated TIDE Soccer Academy, where Keserich Jr. was one of the coaches.

“He always had time for them, whether it was to help a grandparent figure out what field their grandkid was on or help a four-year-old and their mom and dad to what field that they’re on,” Hughes recalls. “There was no ego with him. It was all about the kids, and what can we do to help, to promote, what can we do to make it better?” 

Keserich Jr. opted to be the coordinator for the club’s youngest division, U5/U6 boys and girls, because it was his favourite age group, Hughes says.

A team soccer photo, with the team standing on a field and smiling in their uniforms.
By all accounts an excellent soccer player, Keserich Jr. was a player and coach for the Cowichan Steelheads masters team until a bad back kept him on the sidelines. But this Spring when the Steelheads made it to Provincials and both of their goalies were unavailable to play, Keserich Jr. gamely agreed to step in, even though it wasn’t his usual position. Photo courtesy of Luke Massey.

Every Saturday, Hughes says he would take his two-year-old son to the soccer fields and as soon as they would pull into the parking lot, his son would start looking for Keserich Jr’s blue Toyota Tacoma truck. 

“Before we do anything, before we go anywhere, we have to find Uncle Billy,” Hughes recalls. “When he comes and we see him, he [Hughes’ son] lets out a big scream and goes and gives him a big hug and they go play.” 

Hughes is worried about how it’s going to be for his son the next Saturday there is soccer at the Sherman Road fields. “He’s gonna ask where he [Keserich Jr.] is, and I don’t know how that’s gonna work. I mean, that’s my two-year-old son who he’s had this impact on him, and there’s obviously a lot more people out there that he’s made a bigger impression with.”

This includes the group of boys that Keserich Jr. would coach all the way from U13 to U18 before starting over with another fortunate group of U13 boys, according to Neall Rowlings, vice president of the association’s adult soccer and TIDE Soccer Academy co-founder. He says that Keserich Jr’s contributions to the club, including sometimes being at the soccer fields seven days a week, are “irreplaceable.” 

Hughes and Rowlings say there is already a small committee forming to figure out how best to honour Keserich Jr’s legacy at the soccer club.

It’s not just the soccer community in mourning

Last Wednesday evening, the Craig Street Brew Pub in downtown Duncan was jam-packed due to a spontaneous gathering of people grief-stricken by the news, says pub co-owner Lance Steward, also co-owner of Just Jake’s, Jake’s at the Lake and the Red Arrow Brewing Company. He says that some of them, such as himself, were from outside the soccer community.

“All these different lives and everyone sort of considered him their best friend,” Steward says.  “I’m looking at the immense amount of work that he did with the soccer club, and I was like, ‘Well, hang on. He was always with me. How did he even have time to do that?’”

Steward says that after they became fast friends through playing on the Just Jake’s softball team, Keserich Jr. helped plan the creation of the Craig Street Brew Pub and became a founding shareholder. He later contributed to the business plan for Jake’s on the Lake restaurant in Lake Cowichan. Keserich Jr. also served on the pub’s board and was an advisor and shareholder with Red Arrow Brewing Company.

Steward says that he saw Keserich Jr. “through thick and thin” and saw how his friend would get energized by helping others. He says Keserich Jr. didn’t just put his money down as a shareholder, but pitched in to help with yard work and building the patio at Red Arrow Brewing Company and doing various projects at Jake’s on the Lake.

Asked how he would describe his late friend, Steward says, speaking in the present tense: “He’s a good teammate. He loves to be on a team. He doesn’t need to be the leader of the team. He likes to be the supporting cast and he likes to do all the work and prop other people up.”

Tributes in the works for Keserich Jr.

An image of a black t-shirt with yellow text reading "Long live our steelhead." Below it is yellow text that says "Billy K Jr" and below that is yellow text that says "#10." There is a photo-shopped soccer ball below the shirt to the right and below that is black text that says "Long Live Our Steelhead Billy K Jr." All of this is on a light green background.
Proceeds for the Long Live Our Steelhead t-shirt, available for order for $27, will go to the Keserich family. Photo courtesy of Hillary Fisher.

The Craig Street Brew Pub will host a tribute to Keserich Jr. some time in the new year, and will likely feature his photo and jersey in a memorial plaque, Steward says.

The Keserich family plans to have a big celebration of life next spring or summer, likely at the Sherman Road soccer fields. The family suggests in lieu of flowers, that people consider making a donation in Keserich Jr.’s name to a children’s charity of their choice. 

Also, a “Long Live Our Steelhead” t-shirt has been designed as a fundraiser to help the family with any expenses. Those interested in ordering one can contact Hillary at 250-510-5251. 

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