Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame inductee Odie Lowe said he’s more used to yelling unkind words at kids in a hockey dressing room than addressing a crowd of 150, as he did Friday at the Schubert Centre.
And a lot of those kids were in the audience paying respect to their coach and being honoured themselves.
The Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame inducted Lowe, the 1969-70 and 1971-72 Vernon Essos hockey team, three-time Canadian Olympic swimmer Rick Say of Salmon Arm and late basketball official Mel Briggeman of Vernon in its Class of 2014 Friday afternoon.
More than 20 members of both Essos teams returned for the luncheon for themselves and to pay tribute to Lowe, who won the Allan Cup Canadian senior hockey championship as a player with the Vernon Canadians in 1956, and coached both Essos teams to the league championships.
“Our junior club started with nothing,” said Lowe, 86, who was joined at the luncheon by his wife, Yvonne, and son Terry. “We had a lot of good players, and a lot of good fans even when we had terrible teams.
“I had to deal with team revolts, fans with paper bags on their heads, people wanting me fired. I loved it. I thank you all very much for this honour.”
The Essos were inducted into the team category.
Vernon’s Bob Mayer, captain of the 1969-70 squad, said the team was lucky to be good and good to be lucky.
“We didn’t have the greatest hockey talent in the world, but somehow we always found a way to get the job done,” said the soft-spoken Mayer.
Jim Lawrence, captain of the 1971-72 Essos, came to the luncheon from his home in Whistler. He flew into Vernon in a 14-seat aircraft to join the Essos after playing minor hockey in Vancouver.
“I keep following how the Vernon Vipers are doing, and I’ve come to realize the impact Vernon and all of the Okanagan cities had on us,” said Lawrence. “We were coming out of high school, taking our first steps into adulthood, and the communities were embracing us, accepting us. Everybody embraced the hockey players in Vernon. They still do.”
Say, arguably one of Canada’s all-time greatest freestyle swimmers, competed in three Olympics: 2000 in Sydney, Australia; 2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing.
He paid tribute to other Salmon Arm athletes enshrined in the hall (basketball players Bev Smith and Joanne Sargent, and late cross-country skier Reino Keski-Salmi) before thanking the committee for his induction.
“I heard those guys’ names a lot when I was growing up and it’s neat to be included with them now,” said Say, accompanied by his parents, Tony and Viv, and his grandmother.
“I feel very special and honoured to be here and be part of this group. It means a lot of me.”
Say, who now works as a rink attendant in a Victoria suburb, shared the honour with every person that helped him accomplish his swim goals.
“It wasn’t just me on the blocks. It was every single person I came in contact with and every single person who helped me get there,” he said. “Coaches, sports organizations, teammates, support staff, volunteers and my family and friends.”
Briggeman, who died in September, is remembered as a longtime community coach, official and volunteer. He was inducted into the builders category for his prowess as one of B.C.’s best basketball referees. His grandson, Thomas, accepted the honour on behalf of the family.
“Thank you for the admiration towards a man who meant so much to Vernon, the Okanagan and B.C.,” said Briggeman. “It’s important that you all recognize Mel never did anything for gratitude or reward.
“If he was here today, he’d say with pride ‘thank you,’ and hope that you carry on his work to ensure a proper sports atmosphere here in the Okanagan Valley.”
Funtastic Sports Society president Brett Kirkpatrick officially welcomed the crowd and opened the induction ceremony (Funtastic is the shrine ceremony’s title sponsor).
Regional District of North Okanagan vice-chair Rick Fairbairn won the 50/50 and donated his winnings back to the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame.
Videos of the inductees can be found on the Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame’s Facebook page.