Today was a proud moment. The VC Nation placed the AAA BC Football Championship banner in the rafters of the school. This past week has seen hundreds of alumni reach back to the school and share how the program has shaped them and their teammates. As a coach for the past 11 years and an alumni (94), the last week has affirmed what I long believed, the young men who play football at Vancouver College leave better men. To affirm this and to learn about our trans-formative community read Jon Conlin’s (03) speech from the banner raising ceremony. To the young men from this years team, you made us all very proud!
My name is Jonathan Conlin, and I graduated from Vancouver College in 2003. I was a five year man on the football team and captained the 2002 Varsity squad to a championship game, only to fall short on the scoreboard. I have a passion for this program that has never wavered, even in the face of many heartbreaking losses in the years that followed. It is with great pride and honour that I am able to address the team, the coaching staff, and our faith and learning community after such a meaningful win.
First, to Coach Bernett and his staff. As I was walking out of Empire Field on Saturday night, basking in the glow of celebration, I felt compelled to impress upon you how proud your past players are of the team this year and all they have accomplished.
While the result was finally what we all hoped it would be, the one common observation from past years was how well the men carried themselves – on and off the field. The maturity, poise, and dominance which characterized their performance will never be forgotten, and the integrity found in our victory was a direct result of your influence on the players and the virtues that you instil through coaching.
The context of today’s story would be lost if I did not pause to recognize how painful it was for many of us to come so close to the glory that today’s team enjoys. Until Saturday, time had not assuaged the disappointment of so many finals losses. However, now that I have the hindsight of some years as an active member of our Alumni, I would like to share with you something else that time has revealed.
You will be celebrated for this win, and this season, and rightly so. You turned a group of young players into a team of champions, and showed this school and this community the very best of itself, a testament to the heights that can be reached with commitment and sacrifice.
But the true mark of your impact has never been measured exclusively, or even primarily, in wins and losses. The unparalleled passion and dedication which you have infused into this program teaches life lessons far outside the boundaries of O’Hagan Field. Your impact is seen in the accomplishments of our graduates, no matter how diverse – in the university and college students, in those involved in charitable and faith-based initiatives, in those entering the workforce, and in the Grey Cup rings and Olympic dreams.
VC challenges us to “leave here as better men”. You have been one of the most important parts of that development for me, and for so many whose voices I channel in this address. In that way, every year you have attained the highest success in your coaching and teaching careers.
On behalf of the alumni of both this football program and this school, we thank you. Not only for the gift you have given us of shared championship glory, but also for the gifts you have given us through your guidance, friendship and teaching. We will hold both very dearly for a lifetime.
To the men of the 2010 BC High School Football Champion Fighting Irish, on behalf of the many generations of VC players and alumni, we thank you as well. I hope you could feel our support as you took the field last Saturday, as we were with you every step of the way, whether that was from the stands, or watching on tv or the internet thousands of miles away. For so many of us whose football experience at VC was missing this crowning achievement, we share in your victory as a community united. Since our last championship football banner was lifted, we have all experienced challenges from opponents far outside the realm of athletics. But as you did on Saturday, we overcame great obstacles to emerge victorious. Your win is fitting testament to the resiliency of this entire community.
By now you have experienced no shortage of people telling you how important this win is to them. Why? Each alumnus who could’ve filled my place on this podium might give you a slightly different answer, but there are common themes. To understand why is to realize….
THAT when you attend this school and walk these halls, you are not simply transacting with an institution for a high school diploma, but are part of a movement much bigger than any one person or any one year – united by the memories of our common progression in academic, artistic, spiritual and athletic endeavours, arriving here as boys, but leaving here as men, in the mould of Blessed Edmund Rice.
THAT when you wear the Purple and Gold and represent this school, you are ambassadors for a fraternity of past players who enrich this program with their collective support and emotion. We believe this is due to the many special things about Fighting Irish Football. It is special that brothers and cousins, fathers and sons and uncles and nephews share in the experience of playing football for VC. It is special that so many former players return from colleges and universities to help coach the next generation. It is special, too, that mothers and sisters and grandmothers and aunts care and work tirelessly, year after year, to make the program something to be proud of. And, it is special that the Bernett family, Rick Gazzola, Bruce Jagger, Dr. Koss, the assistant coaches, and countless others choose to devote days, nights, weekends and summers to helping make the players and the program better.
THAT our past losses were difficult to bear, and we carried the pain of not having a banner each and every year to do justice to our commitment and pride. BUT those losses do not define us. Rather, they form only one part of our collective experience, intensifying our unity and affirming our commitment to the support of future years. Because we know that for every past loss we endured, there are memories of Archbishops’ Cups, team meetings, road trips, days in the bunker, film sessions and final reps on squats – each of which enriching our lives and ensuring a lifelong connection to the men that we bled beside on the fields of battle.
AND THAT, when the clock finally reached zero and you hoisted that trophy that has for so long eluded us – you were also lifting the spirits of an entire VC Nation that has been waiting so patiently for the time when we could stand in unison as champions and rejoice out of the undeniable sensation that at that moment, one of the highest in this school’s history, we were all one in victory – past, present and future.
It is in the echo of these words that I turn to the future of VC football. You all inherit a program at an apex of accomplishment. Grab hold of this momentum. Feel this pride. Use it to write your own story in our shared book. And know that no matter how your seasons end, we as Alumni will be there, and will, as always, be forever faithful.