What a great evening we had Saturday night at the Delta Hotel. I heard several people say the 6th Annual Gala was the best one yet. That thought hadn’t occurred to me as I’ve enjoyed every one of them, but if the common adage – the more the merrier – holds true for Gala Dinners, then that would explain the sentiment.
The attendance was at an all-time high with 320 people in the Delta Ballroom. And, while I’m still waiting to hear how the attendance numbers translated into profits, many of the signs on that front are positive. The selection of silent auction items was outstanding and the bidding was active.
With the reception starting at 5 p.m. and the evening not wrapping up until well past 10 p.m., it is a long night. And there is a lot to incorporate into the program. Mayor Cam Guthrie, UofG President Franco Vaccarino, Coach Emeritus Stu Lang, Director of Athletics Scott McRoberts, and Head Coach Kevin MacNeill all took a turn at the microphone bringing greetings, making introductions, presenting gifts, et cetera.
On top of that, the 1990s Team of the Decade was introduced, an Honour jersey was presented and a Distinguished Alumni Ring was awarded. Nine current CFL players were introduced and interviewed. And a update on the Triple Victory Project was presented.
The combination of Justin Dunk as Master of Ceremonies and comedian Nigel Downer worked well to keep the evening fun and running smoothly. The Gala appearance was the first for the former wide receiver Downer who played for the Gryphons in the late 1990s. The Friends of Gryphon Football Gala Organizing Committee really hit it out of the park.
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As has become a Gala Dinner tradition, an Honour Jersey was presented. The 5th honouree was Mike Hudson, an all-Canadian and OUA all-star tight end and slotback from the early 1980s. Hudson was inducted into the Gryphon Hall of Fame in 1990. The jersey was presented by previous recipients Sam Benincasa and Perri Ceci.
“This is a fantastic honour,” said Hudson, who was thrilled to see former teammates at the banquet. “The nicest thing is I haven’t been back very often and just to see my old teammates — quite a few of them were here tonight.” He was an all-Canadian and OUA first-team all-star three consecutive years starting in 1980. A member of the Gryphons’ 1980’s Team of the Decade and winner of the Don Cameron Award as most improved player in 1980, Hudson played six seasons with the Ottawa Rough Riders following his time with the Gryphons.
“The biggest thing was how when we just started, the program was a rebuild and we built it up to the point where we won the OUAA in our senior season,” Hudson said of his playing days. “Every year we got a little better and finally after I left, in 1984 they won the Vanier Cup. A friend of mine, Parri Ceci, who also lives in Ottawa, was on that team and that was a memorable moment because I knew quite a few guys on that team.”
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A Distinguished Alumni Ring was presented for the first time. This is an award that will be handed out annually to recognize an alumnus who has distinguished himself after graduation in a career, public service and support for the football program. The first recipient was 1964 Ontario Agricultural College graduate Don Taylor. Taylor played for the Gryphons’ forerunners, the OA/VC Redmen, from 1959 to 1963. Taylor has been a strong supporter of the team and its academic endeavours.
“This is a huge honour,” Taylor said. “It’s a huge honour to be associated with Stuart (Lang, former Gryphon head coach) and all that he’s done for the university since he’s been here.”
A team captain who graduated with a BSA from OAC in 1964 and an MBA from York University in 1967, Taylor went on to work for Ford Motor Company, Swedish shipbuilder Kockums Naval Solutions and Canadian grain and liquid storage manufacturer Westeel of Winnipeg. While at Westeel, he was its president and general manager and also a member of the board of directors of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
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I think my favourite moment was when Stu Lang was thanked for his amazing contribution to the program. Thank yous for Lang came spontaneously from numerous people at various times but when Athletic Director McRoberts thanked Lang it was made even more special by a fantastic gift.
McRoberts, who had previously worked at Stanford, used his PAC 10 connections to obtain for Coach Lang a game-worn Oregon Ducks helmet and a pair of tickets for a Ducks home game. (Now here’s the unbelievable part) The tickets are in the private box of Oregon benefactor and NIKE Chairman Phil Knight. What a perfect gift for a coach who doesn’t need anything you could buy him and who has taken so much inspiration from what Knight did for the program at Oregon.
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Speaking of Lang, it was two years ago at the 4th Annual Gala Dinner that we first heard about the Triple Victory Project. The two-year fundraising project was to wrap up at this year’s event. The University’s Manager of Development for Athletics, Cory Hector, reported to the crowd that $809,000 had been raised. Stu Lang had generously offered to match all donations up to $1 million.
Thus, when all the funds are collected a total of $1,618,000 will have been added to the Football Program’s scholarship endowment. Hopefully that number grows. There are still two more scholarships currently in the process of being funded and the deadline has been extended in order for the 1992 & 2015 Yates Cup winning teams can complete their fundraising.
It takes $30,000 in donations, matched by the Triple Victory Project, to endow a named scholarship. Named scholarships have already been added by the 1996 team, the 1969 team, the 1984 team, Peter Partridge and the Tricar Group. The largest gift to the Triple Victory Project came from Donald Taylor.
If you wanted to make a donation but hadn’t got around to doing it, the Triple Victory Project website is still active. I know that because I finally made a second donation. You know, the one I intended to make a dozen times in the past two or three months.
Also, there is a story with more details on the Gala Dinner at Gryphons.ca.