While teaching at what was then Fulton Junior Secondary in Vernon in 1972, Denis Murdoch was asked to take over coaching the girl’s volleyball team.
Knowing little about the sport, Murdoch, with his legendary crew cut haircut, attended the B.C. Volleyball Camp and survived three days learning the sport from Canada’s national team coach. Murdoch would lead Fulton’s junior girls team to win three of the next five Okanagan Valley championships.
Murdoch and his wife Barb, with him every step of the volleyball way, were named co-winners Thursday of the Leadership in Sports Award at the 26th annual Tim Hortons North Okanagan Athlete, Team and Leadership Awards presented at Lakers Clubhouse.
“Well it means a great deal to us, and it’s been quite an experience. I’ve never regretted any of it,” said Murdoch, when asked what the award means to him and his wife. Barb was unable to attend due to illness. “It’s very nice to be recognized. Never thought about it when I was coaching.”
The Murdochs, parents to four daughters, began spring club volleyball for girls in 1975, the start of the Vernon Volleyball Club which quickly expanded to includes players from Revelstoke to Princeton.
Murdoch moved up the hill to teach at Vernon Senior Secondary in 1980, where he switched to coaching Boy’s volleyball for three seasons, which included a pair of trips to the provincial finals, finishing third and ninth.
The Murdochs – known as Mr. and Mrs. Volleyball – grew the club program to three levels and 12 teams. They hosted the Canadian national women’s team in 1987 with former player Sharon Shaigec of Vernon playing for Canada in a series of games with West Germany.
Murdoch retired from teaching and from coaching volleyball in 1997, but returned to the game in 2002 when three of his grandchildren returned from living in West Africa, and spent five more years as an assistant coach at the school and club level.
He was awarded a lifetime membership by B.C. Volleyball in 2018.
The Athlete of the Year was Vernon Vipers captain Jagger Williamson, who realized a dream he had as a young child to play for the Vipers.
“We heard from so many people who shared their stories about what a great athlete he is, but also what a great person and leader,” said event emcee Betty Selin, pointing out “Jags” was a leader at a young age, stood out in the crowd, stuck up and supported the underdog. People have been in awe of Williamson’s honour, integrity and sincerity.
Williamson was the captain and team MVP in 2019. A five-year Viper, Williamson was voted fan favourite for the second straight year, and won the Duncan Wray Memorial Award that recognizes inspiration, hard work, sportsmanship and integrity on and off the ice.
“This is a true honour, thank you to everyone who voted for me,” said Williamson, who tied the club record for most regular season games played with the Vipers. “It was childhood dream to play for the Vipers, and I did for five years, and, obviously, the cherry on top is winning this award. Thank you so much for all of the support.”
Other nominees for the honour included freestyle skier Elena Gaskell, high jumper Trinity Hansma, volleyball player Landon Currie and football players Charles Lemay and Thomas Hyett.
Lemay and Hyett were two big reasons the Vernon Panthers senior boys 2A football squad was named Team of the Year.
The pair helped the Cats become the first senior high school team in Vernon to win a provincial title, with Lemay scoring five touchdowns in the first half of the B.C. final and Hyett throwing two touchdown passes as the Panthers walloped the Robert Bateman Timberwolves of Abbotsford 48-12 at B.C. Place.
VSS went undefeated in the AA season, outscoring their opponents 326-26.
“Our strength was that all 11 players on the field executed at a high level in all aspects of the game which made them next to unstoppable,” said Panthers coach Sean Smith, who accepted the award with players Hyett, Lemay and Trey Defoor.
“I’ve coached a lot of teams over the years, but these guys rose above because of the group effort. We had 21 players…and every one of those 21 boys contributed to our win. We called ourselves “The Machine” as the season started to progress and we said we were half-Ferrari, half-Mack Trucks because we could go fast and we could move people.”
Other nominees included the Vernon Christian School Royals senior boys volleyball team, which won the B.C. A championship, going undefeated in the tournament without dropping a set; the VSS Panthers senior boys basketball team, which lost the B.C. 3A senior boys basketball final to the North Delta Huskies by two points; and Erik Colwell’s under 18 curling team, which also included Ben Morin from Vernon, that won the U18 BC gold medal and silver at the nationals.