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    Categories: Football

Larry Olexiuk Field honours a football fixture in St. Albert

HONOUREE - St. Albert city council has approved the renaming of the Riel Recreation Park artificial turf facility in honour of Larry Olexiuk, a longtime coach and supporter of football in St. Albert. The official unveiling of Larry Olexiuk Field will take place next month.

The namesake of Larry Olexiuk Field is in a state of shock.

“Can you believe it? I still don’t believe it,” said an astonished Olexiuk after St. Albert City Council approved the naming of the Riel Recreation Park artificial turf facility in his honour last week .

“It’s the most humbling episode I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse broke the news to the man called Coach O.

“He said, ‘Would you accept the naming?’ And of course I’m just all babbly. I’m like, ‘Wow! This is the most wonderful thing in the world,’” Olexiuk said of the phone call that left him in a state of shock. “I was floored.”

Afterwards, Olexiuk and his wife, Colleen, shed tears of joy and Saturday, during the couple’s 50th anniversary function hosted by family friends, Crouse spoke in person of the kudos bestowed upon one of the most beloved football figures in St. Albert.

“It was a bunch of tears there again,” Olexiuk said. “Again, it truly is humbling.”

The St. Albert Minor Football Association submitted the naming request in recognition of the strong supporter of St. Albert football for nearly 50 years and who, as a coach has made a significant impact on the lives of countless individuals involved in the sport.

City council is responsible for naming municipally owned buildings and significant infrastructure.

“If it wasn’t for Nolan pushing for those things it would’ve never happened,” Olexiuk said of Crouse, a longtime proponent of naming places, schools, streets, avenues and buildings after citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the community.

“That’s what I find numbing about the whole thing. It’s a legacy. Nobody could’ve imagined when I (started in football) 50 years ago it would result in the naming of a field.

“I’m humbled beyond belief. It’s like you’ve reached the pinnacle of your profession so to speak.”

A few of a very long list of Olexiuk’s achievements include coaching the bantam St. Albert Palmer 49ers, spearheading a financial drive to fund a high school football team in St. Albert, the legendary Storm, was a driving force in the creation of the St. Albert High School Football Association in 1986 so players could stay in St. Albert instead of leaving the city to play high school football, and after the breakup of the Storm, served in a variety of capacities with the Bellerose Bulldogs’ football program. The Bellerose senior team’s Outstanding Offensive Player Award is named in named his honour.

Olexiuk was also instrumental in organizing the popular 20th and 25th reunions of the Storm’s 1990 team that won the metro Edmonton league’s Carr conference and was the Tier I provincial finalist while going 10-1 overall. Plans are already in the works for the 30th anniversary shindig.

Olexiuk, 70, has been inundated with a barrage of congratulatory messages since the announcement was posted on the Bellerose football website.

“It has been a phenomenal response and all very heartwarming. Each and every one brings tears to your eyes. It brings that whole feeling of, ‘Wow, this really happened?’” said the 2017 recipient of the Football Alberta Life Membership/Hall of Fame Award.

Trevor Lovig, a Storm quarterback under Olexiuk’s guidance as the team’s offensive coordinator, was thrilled to see his former coach recognized.

“What a great honour for someone who has been a major builder of the community of St. Albert. He has coached, mentored and befriended literally thousands of young people through sport. Long after his many on-field accomplishments are forgotten, what will remain forever is the positive impact he made in so many, many lives. Naming this field after Larry is the perfect honour for he and Colleen,” said arguably the best high school quarterback to ever play in St. Albert.

Marc Kennedy, another noteworthy quarterback who was coached by Olexiuk on the Storm, applauded the announcement.

“I’m proud of the city for honouring and recognizing a great man who has had such an impact on the young men of St. Albert. Coach O has put his heart and soul into football over so many years and he deserves this honour more than anyone,” said the Olympic gold-medal winning curler.

“I am forever grateful to Larry. His coaching has had a lasting impact on my life and is a huge reason for my success.

“This is a wonderful honour and tribute. I’m so thankful St. Albert has recognized him this way.”

Chad Hill, head coach of the senior Bulldogs, was delighted to see his former coach and member of the Bellerose coaching staff receive the accolades bestowed upon him.

“I’m very happy to hear that the football field in St. Albert will be named after Coach O. My brother (Ryan) brought forth his name so for months we have been patiently and not so patiently waiting to hear the city’s decision,” Hill said. “I cannot think of anyone in our city more deserving of this honour than Larry Olexiuk. He was instrumental in building high school football in our community and has five decades of coaching experience in St. Albert. He has won championships and coached all-star teams but athletes who played for Coach O remember him for his passion and commitment to making sure that each boy he coached learned life lessons and values to become a better man. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of men across our city, province and even country who credit Larry Olexiuk for helping them become the men they are today.

“I’ve had the great privilege to have played for Larry and to have coached with him. Every season he imparts wisdom on coaches and players. We will be truly honoured to play our home games at a venue in our coach’s name.”

The official unveiling of Larry Olexiuk Field is expected to take place before the Oct. 16 civic election.

“That will be the one that will blow me away,” Olexiuk said.

Jeff Hansen: Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.