For the past few years I have been involved in organizing of the Gryphon Football Gala Dinner, so I have a pretty good idea how much time and effort go into pulling it all together. There certainly are times when some of us wonder if it’s all worthwhile. What I saw last evening assured me that it is.
Last night’s event was the fourth Gala we’ve ever held. This entire process only got started 40 months ago. We still have a ways to go to catch up to the OUA programs who have been running this type of event for a decade or more but I really felt that we gained some momentum last night. Here are just a few thoughts and anecodates from the evening:
- This year’s recipient of the honoured jersey was Mark Brown‘s #21. It was presented to him by the previous recipients – Sam Benincasa and Mike O’Shea. Brown, whose Gryphon career covered 1975 to 1978, was introduced by another Gryphon great – Dave Lane.
- The fact that Mark Brown was the son of long-time Gryphon coach Dick Brown made it all the better. His dad was a major part of the Guelph football program from the 1960s through the 1990s. Brown earned OUAA All Star honours as both a running back and a defensive back in consecutive years.
- Kyle Walters delivered the keynote address. His speech was casual, conversational, passionate and low-key all at the same time. No one noticed, nor complained, that he spoke twice as long as was planned. Walters did a great job of connecting the program to its history as he talked about his journey from high school star in St. Thomas to CFL GM.
- Speaking of his choice of Guelph, Walters said only one school really recruited him – Western. There was also only one school he knew he didn’t want to go to – Western. It was a high school physics teacher who recommended Guelph as a great place to study science.
- It was Walters’ visit to the campus and watching the OUAA’s best running back of 1991 on TV [Guelph’s #33 Chuck Sims] that really helped him make his decision and had little to do with the fact that his recruiter Pat Tracey sent him a Chris Mumford playing card.
- Tracey shared one of the night’s best stories, the one about QB Randy Dimitroff‘s best-ever throw. Heretofore unknown to many people, that was a snowball thrown behind the Guelph bench back in 1982 that knocked the cowboy hat off the head of Edmonton Eskimo coach Bruce Lemmerman.
- Walters also spoke about the period after his 3rd year when, largely due to injuries, he thought about quitting football. It was an offseason, almost accidental conversation with a Guelph coach he didn’t even know very well [John Lepore– Rec Coach, member of the ’84 Vanier team]. Lepore told him quitting would be something he would always regret, maybe he should talk to Coach McNally about changing positions. Walters took that advice and two years later had a BSc degree and was playing in the CFL.
Among the people Walters thanked was Director of Athletics Tom Kendall who took a chance on him, giving an inexperienced coach his first head coaching job. Kendall spoke early in the evening and shared that the endowment fund for Gryphon football scholarships has grown to a million dollars but that amount only funds 1/3 of the maximum allowable scholarships. Kendall said that some additional scholarships are funded by donors who, if I understood correctly, provide $4000 per year over a 5 year agreement.
- At the conclusion of the evening, Head Coach Stu Lang spoke of the need to raise the $2 million necessary to fully fund future scholarships for student-athletes who play football at Guelph. Lang announced a plan to raise that money, with “the football program” matching dollar for dollar the money raised by Gryphon alumni and supporters. That is a serious opportunity and challenge to be accomplished in the next two years.
- As a relative newcomer to the Gryphon family  I love events like the Gala Dinner because it gives me a chance to meet people I’ve often only heard about before. It’s very nice to “put a name to a face’. Last night I enjoyed meeting Don Bagg, Mark Brown, Dan & Joanne Conroy, Peter Partridge Sr, plus several prospective recruits and Donnovan Bennett among others.
- One Guelph grad I didn’t have time to introduce myself to was Donald Ziraldo, in part because Ziraldo was kept very busy at the Ziraldo Estate Winery tasting table. I did enjoy a glass of his 2012 Reisling with dinner.
- As if I didn’t already receive enough Duck Dynasty comments given the prodigious growth of my goatee since last Labour Day, I am right now wearing a long-sleeved Polaris camouflage shirt that came as part of a Victory Motorcycles clothing package I secured through the silent auction. That donation to the auction came from Nathan Body, owner of Burlington’s Peak Powersports. The best piece in the package is a zip-up Victory sweater that fits very much like a leather motorcycle jacket.
- The silent auction selection was again impressive. I thought I was going to come away with 24 steaks & a Wellington Brewery gift basket, plus a signed Owen Nolan jersey, only to be ambushed in the final minute by Peter Partridge and Brian Cluff.
- As was mentioned last night, Kyle and Rena Walters were celebrating their anniversary (14th?) last night. Someone from the Delta hearing that sent a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to their room. Overall the Delta really stepped up their game. The evening had no glitches that I saw, and the food was superior to what we received last year or at the Wildman Dinner three months ago. Thank you!