Just like the river, sports flow through the heart of Selkirk, and the city of just 10,000 people tends carefully to the legacy of its sporting greats.
Names, they remember the names keeping mental lists of volleyball players who went on to greatness, and great boosters of the game. There is Jim Schreyer, for instance, the longtime volleyball coach who raised up so many of Lord Selkirk's championship teams, and his various successful proteges. One of them was Dale Iwanoczko. Everyone around Selkirk volleyball remembers Dale, and not just because he grew to a striking 6-7 tall. He was special. He was a star.
'One of the things we want to try and do, is keep the legacy of Dale and his accomplishments alive'
He's been gone for 16 years now. He was just 30 years old when cancer claimed him, in the waning days of summer in 1998.
In his wake, he left a tight network of friends and family, a spot in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, and an annual scholarship that bears his name: that's one way to make sure that nobody forgets. "One of the things we want to try and do, is keep the legacy of Dale and his accomplishments alive," said Jon Blacher, a director of operations for Volleyball Canada. He and Iwanoczko grew up together, played volleyball at Lord Selkirk together, lived on the same street.
In just 30 years, Iwanoczko filled up a resumé with lived dreams: he was a Lord Selkirk valedictorian and regular presence on national teams. He competed in the Pan Am Games in Cuba, earned a CIS Rookie of the Year award with the Bisons in 1987, the CIS Player of the Year honour in 1990 and was the only male volleyball player in CIS history to be named first-team all-Canadian for four years running. He earned his medical degree in 1993.
He brought people together, through all those streams, and they still connect. Dale's parents, Don and Erna Iwanoczko, often volunteer to help out Blacher on national team events. And they stood beside him again on Tuesday, at a ceremony to award the scholarships named after their son. "It doesn't get any easier for us, I don't think," Erna said. "We love our volleyball... and all the wonderful people he met through it, and who have continued to be our friends of ours."
Now, every summer, those friends get together for a charity golf tournament in Iwanoczko's name: old volleyball teammates and opponents, Selkirk residents and medical school chums. Though they'd rather Dale be there to play, in a way the tournament and scholarship it supports is his parting gift. "It really is a chance for us to reconnect on an annual basis," Blacher said. "That community, that network might not be as strong, if it wasn't for that."
When Iwanoczko's friends and family launched the scholarship, shortly after his death, they awarded $500 to two young athletes. Today, the support has swelled to give $1,000 to four young stars, two from inside Winnipeg city limits and two more from beyond. Blacher, who sits with other of Iwanoczko's friends on the scholarship committee, said the goal is to find young athletes that share Dale's many qualities; just like him, the winners do so much.
This year, the recipients include Jonathan Daman, the Niverville Panthers captain who is also a leader in his school and at his church. There is Mennonite Brethren Collegiate volleyball captain and Bisons prospect Kalena Schulz; there is Jessica Gundrum, who has athletics in her blood: Not only was she the setter and captain of the Prairie Mountain Predators volleyball squad, but she competes in cross country and basketball, curling, badmonton, fast pitch and track and field.
Then there is Brandon Sutherland, the captain of the reigning provincial champion Lord Selkirk Royals, and now a University of Alberta commit. There is something special about this: Don and Erna Iwanoczko know Sutherland's grandparents well. And though Sutherland was just a toddler when Dale died, he lives just around the corner from Dale's older brother, Dean. And he's heard all the tales around Selkirk, a city which tends so carefully the memory of its names.
"Mr. Schreyer always had stories about him," Sutherland said. "He was kind of a role model I looked up to. This guy was such a great student athlete, that's who I want to be. That's the kind of guy I want to be, and the kind of legend I want to leave in Selkirk."