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Unexpected Honours

High school Hall of Fame adds nine remarkable people, one dynasty

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The history of high school sports in Manitoba is often saved in boxes, in scraps of yellowed newspaper and team photos hanging in the halls.

In recent years, it is also saved in a more formal way: Today, at a special luncheon at Holiday Inn South, the Manitoba High School Sports Hall of Fame will put the achievements of nine individuals and one dynastic team to posterity. Among them are three one-time basketball phenoms, a track standout and two powerhouse volleyball players. The women of the 1975-79 Lord Selkirk Royals volleyball teams will be added to the hall for capturing five consecutive championships. Then there are the builders, three folks who helped high schools grow the game.

This is the fourth year the hall has taken names. It is, at least for now, a hall without a physical shape, though a fully revamped website is coming later this year, and organizers hope to create a travelling display case. Hey, it's still new -- for years, Manitoba High School Athletics Association director Mo Glimcher tossed the idea around, and when he finally pitched it to the MHSAA board of directors, they were all in favour. After all, how else are Manitobans to look at the history of high school sports in the big picture, see the stories and remember?

"In a lot of cases, you as athletes don't even appreciate what you're doing at the time," said Glimcher, who along with other hall organizers can spend hours calling old coaches, piecing together old memories and searching news archives to draw out candidates for induction.

"You don't realize until 10 years later that those games and those coaches were really special. And that's what we're trying to do, recognize athletes that have gone onto other things and say 'Hey, wow, that was special.' "

Because who, in the middle of pursuing their passion, thinks they're making history?

"I don't think people get involved to work towards a Hall of Fame," said retired Carman Collegiate principal Frank McKinnon, who helped found MHSAA and was inducted in the Hall of Fame's inaugural year. "That's the exciting part about it. Most people who that happens to, they say, 'Holy smokes, I did it because I loved it, I never thought of any honours.' "

This is how it was for Ken Opalko. As a star basketball player for Daniel McIntyre in the mid-1970s, he ruled the court; when Glimcher called to tell him he was being inducted, Opalko was floored.

"I lost it," said Opalko, now the vice-principal and a longtime coach at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute. "I was so overjoyed and overwhelmed by him giving me this great news, that I kind of lost it."

Not just for his own sake, either, but for the memory of all the old players and coaches whose stories are intertwined with his own.

"This happened a long time ago," Opalko said. "To be recognized all these years later is amazing... and it also helped me realize how many people helped me along the way. All the teammates that we had, all the fun together, and how hard we worked. It wasn't a fluke we won."

And winning tends to make memories that time can never wash away.

After all, for high school athletes, these highlights happen at a time before adult life butts in, when everything is fresh and wins can just be wins.

Consider: In 1993, Shaftesbury basketball star Todd MacCulloch led his team to a provincial championship with a big win over Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, and then took his talent to The Show.

In four seasons with the NBA, he played in two league finals: With the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001 and the New Jersey Nets in 2002. Something, though, wasn't the same.

"I was always hoping to recapture that tremendous feeling that I felt when we won our first provincial championship," MacCulloch said. "I was over the moon, and had so much joy, and I was running around. I was in disbelief that we had won. I think I was always trying to repcature that, it was the greatest feeling I ever had. But I wasn't able to feel like that again."

As he said this, MacCulloch is on vacation with his family and his buddy Jeff Krahn, who was a forward on that championship-winning Shaftesbury Titans team. He's still tight with Paul Arsenault, who served as equipment manager. See, the friendships made in high school sports matter; and for every champion who starts in high school and goes on to play under the brightest lights, there are dozens more who led, and won, and carried those transformative experiences into a more usual sort of life.

They all built the history of local sports. They all, in some way, helped shape the athletes who came next.

"For a lot of people, that is their moment," said MacCulloch, who called his own 2009 induction a "passing of the torch" to some of the Shaftesbury players who attended. "And I'm glad they're doing this (Hall of Fame) to immortalize those people's achievements."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca


TODAY, the Manitoba High School Sports Hall of Fame will induct six athletes, three builders and one dynasty team into its ranks.

ATHLETES

GORD PATTERSON

Before he was a Blue Bomber slotback, Patterson was a star athlete at Grant Park High School. Before graduating in 1968, he ran track, served as captain (and all-star) of the basketball team and -- of course -- played football. He went on to play for the University of Manitoba Bisons and had an eight-year CFL career.

JAMIE (HANCHARYK) JONES

As a student at Grant Park High School, Jones loaded up her schedule with sports: Besides being named an all-star in volleyball and basketball, she played field hockey and badminton and won a provincial javelin championship.

"It's the old adage, sports keeps you out of trouble when you're involved," chuckles Jones, who now teaches at her alma mater.

But volleyball was her specialty, and after high school, she was named to the CIAU/CIS All-Canadian team all five years she played for the U of M and U of W. In an interesting coincidence, while Jones was in high school, her team lost the provincial championship to the powerhouse Lord Selkirk Royals team that is also being inducted this year. In the intervening years, she's made friendships with women who played on that rival team. "So it's kind of a funny thing," she says. "It's a memory I'll always remember."

JOE OGOMS

As a lanky 6-4, 15-year-old Ogoms blazed his way onto the Daniel McIntyre basketball team. His junior varsity squad won the '79 provincials, and Ogoms was named MVP. After two runs to the finals, his varsity team won it all in '83 -- and surprise, surprise, Ogoms was named MVP again. He then joined the Bisons and had an all-star university career, and even wore Team Canada's colours in '85 and '86. After that, he moved on to a pro career in Europe.

JANET (MADDIN) NEALE

Representing Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, Maddin ruled the track starting in 1964. She amassed a pile of trophies and awards and won a Governor General's Award in 1966 for her athletic prowess. That was the year she ran for Canada in the British Empire Games, ranking fourth in the world in the 200 metres. In 1967, she earned silver at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, and broke a world indoor 300-metre record three years later.

KEN OPALKO

These days, Ken Opalko is known as a longtime coach and vice-principal at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate. But in the mid-1970s, he was a dynamo on a very successful Daniel McIntyre team, winning city and provincial championships and being named MVP. That set the stage for a strong college career with the Wesmen, where his record of 3,603 points still stands. He was later inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame.

Over his 28 years coaching, he's often reminisced with young proteges about his high school days -- and how the lessons learned in a team sport shaped his life. "What we had in high school was very special," he says. "We had a group of guys, and the girls team as well, that supported each other. So I always say to my teams... care about the team first, and all these other accolades will be remembered later."

RON HINKEWICH

In the early 1970s at Miles Macdonell, Hinkewich did a lot of things -- he won a junior shot-put championship in '70 and helped take the basketball team to a championship the next two years -- but he's best known for his prowess on the volleyball court. He was the captain of the Miles Mac volleyball squad that won provincials in '72 and '73, and later went on to win a championship with the University of Winnipeg.

LORD SELKIRK ROYALS VOLLEYBALL TEAM

The women of this squad were a dynasty, capturing consecutive provincial titles between 1975 and 1979.

BUILDERS

Dick LaPage -- As physical education director for the provincial Department of Education, LaPage played a big role in setting up the Manitoba High School Athletics Association.

Peter Dick -- For over 35 years, Steinbach's Dick coached and officiated sports in the Eastman area and served as two-time president of MHSAA.

Jerry Ilchyna -- While he was coaching volleyball and basketball at Dakota Collegiate, his teams won big -- especially in 1970, when the boys' volleyball and girls' basketball teams both won provincial championships.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 C4

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