2015 Big Block Awards and Sports Hall of Fame Dinner
The Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre was the setting for the recent 94th annual Big Block Awards and Sports Hall of Fame Banquet, which welcomed almost 150 current Thunderbird athletes into the Big Block Club and honoured 125 former Thunderbird swimmers for making Canadian university sport history by winning 10 consecutive CIS men’s and women’s national titles from 1998 to 2007. During this aptly named “Decade of Dominance,” 42 international swimming competitors – including 13 Olympians – emerged from UBC and won a combined total of 109 medals.
As the swimmers swarmed the stage, former team captain Greg Hamm told the 900 in attendance that the group boasted numerous high achievers. “We’ve even got a nuclear physicist up here!” shouted Hamm, a 1998 Commonwealth Games medallist, pointing to former team mate Will Walters.
The architect of the program, former head coach Tom Johnson, was enshrined in the Builder category, while two of his most successful swimmers, Brian Johns and Kelly Stefanyshyn, were inducted in the Athlete category. A three‑time Olympian, Johns won 33 of 34 CIS races during his university career, including his world short‑course record performance in 2003 in 400‑metre individual medley. Stefanyshyn won 31 CIS medals during her time at UBC and was a gold medallist at the 1999 Pan American Games.
Eleven current Thunderbird teams were represented among the winners of the 12 Big Block Club awards. The Bobby Gaul Trophy for Graduating Male Athlete of the Year went to track and cross country star Luc Bruchet, whose highlights include running the first sub‑four‑minute indoor mile in UBC history and setting a UBC record in indoor 3,000 metres. Bruchet was an NAIA All‑American in each of his four seasons and has competed for Canada at the World Cross Country Championships.
Swimmer Savannah King and basketball player Kris Young were named co‑winners of the May Brown Trophy for Graduating Female Athlete of the Year. One of the most dominant distance swimmers in Canadian university history, King wrapped up her career as a four‑time CIS Champion and a two‑time CIS Swimmer of the Year. A multiple record holder and Grand Slam champion in both the 400m and 800m freestyle, King also competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Young finished her basketball career in second place among UBC’s all‑time scoring leaders with 2,384 points. She is the only T‑Bird to ever win the Canada West Player of the Year award twice, while earning CIS All‑Canadian and Canada West All‑Star honours three times. During her five years at UBC, she twice led the Thunderbirds to the CIS Final 8 national tournament. Both times she was named a tournament all‑star. She also set a new school record for points in a game, scoring 40 in a 2015 CIS quarter‑final.
The Bus Phillips Memorial Trophy for Male Athlete of the Year was awarded jointly to swimmer Coleman Allen and baseball pitcher Conor Lillis‑White. Allen led UBC to victory at the 2015 CIS Championships, where he set three individual butterfly records while winning four gold medals. He also is a member of the Canadian national team, representing his country at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and earning his first international medal at a FINA World Cup meet in Singapore last fall. In 2014, Lillis‑White allowed just four earned runs in 78.2 innings, setting a new UBC baseball record with a 0.46 earned run average, the best in the NAIA. The left‑hander also eclipsed the old mark set by long‑time Major League Baseball pitcher Jeff Francis. Lillis‑White finished the season with a perfect 9‑0 record, 75 strikeouts and three shutouts while helping the Thunderbirds to a NAIA West Grouping championship and a berth in the opening round of the NAIA World Series.
Cross country and track runner Maria Bernard captured the Marilyn Pomfret Trophy as UBC’s Female Athlete of the Year. Last spring, she led the women’s track and field team to a third‑place finish at the NAIA national meet, winning the 3,000‑metre steeplechase and helping UBC win gold in the 4 x 800‑metre relay. This past fall, she paced the Thunderbirds to a third straight NAIA cross country team championship, winning the individual title in the process. Bernard was an NAIA All‑American in both track and field and cross country.
Big Block Club Digest
UBC alumnus and philanthropist Ken Woods has donated $1 million to support awards and special projects for Thunderbird Varsity student athletes in Athletics & Recreation. “To assist students who aspire to excel both academically and athletically is indeed an honour and an excellent way of giving back to my alma mater,” said Woods.
It’s been several years in the making but field hockey alumna Lesley Magnus and recently retired head coach Hash Kanjee have completed their magnum opus salute to a century of UBC field hockey. Their book, UBC Women’s Field Hockey – Celebrating 100 Years, was published thanks to a generous gift from UBC Sports Hall of Fame member Charlotte Warren. The book is available for purchase at the UBC Bookstore or Amazon.
Architect and former UBC Soccer All Canadian Alex Percy is back on campus working on a project near to his heart. An associate with Acton Ostry Architects, Percy is a member of the design team for the new National Soccer Development Centre.
Basketball alumna and scoring record holder Kelsey Blair has returned to Vancouver following a pro stint in Sweden and is now working as a children’s and youth book author. Her latest book, Pick and Roll, is part of the Lorimer Children and Teens Series.
Football alumnus and 1997 Vanier Cup champion Art Tolhurst is now an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oregon, where he has worked with the likes of Heismann Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Olympic track star and former UBC athlete and coach Thelma Wright is still in fine condition, good enough to win her age category in this year’s Vancouver Sun Run.
Back in March, former UBC steeplechaser Jeff Symonds won his first career Ironman title, besting a three‑time Ironman champion to claim the Asia‑Pacific Championship in Melbourne and securing a spot in the Ironman World Championship this October in Kona.
UBC women’s field hockey legend Shelley Winter Andrews and multi‑sport star John Haar were inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame on May 28. Selected in the Athlete category, Winter Andrews starred for UBC from 1971 to 1976 and on Canada’s national team from 1975 to 1986. Haar enters as a builder for his tireless work in support of Canadian amateur baseball.
Rugby Canada’s Senior Women’s team has said farewell to Thunderbird alumna Kim Donaldson, who recently announced her retirement after a decade of international play. The arts graduate made the tough decision to put an end to her playing career after finishing last season on a high note by helping Canada to silver medals in the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Entrepreneurial football alumni Aaron Horowitz and Zack Silverman are at it again, this time with their all‑natural craft Caesar mix called Walter Caesar. Neither one started out in the food industry, but became heavily involved in speciality beverages a few years ago with the launch of their Brooklyn, New York‑based award‑winning Kelvin Slush trucks that are increasingly ubiquitous across the USA.
Former T‑Bird catcher Greg Densem is living the dream these days as a bull‑pen catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. The former junior national team member got a call on Easter Monday and two days later he was on his way to join the Jays at Yankee Stadium.
Former UBC rugby player Craig Chamberlin also has a new job as president of Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Football alumnus and former UBC assistant coach Joe Gluska was honoured for more than 50 years of contributions to amateur football with the Bobby Ackles Award for Lifetime Achievement at the recent BC Community Football Association’s Orange Helmet Awards.