Feeling humble and grateful for the recognition of being named the newest members of the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame, the five-strong Class of 2023 were inducted into the hall during Wednesday night’s 35th annual Kiwanis Sports Celebrity Dinner at the Italian Canadian Club.
This year’s class consisted of hockey’s Mike Kelly and Evan ‘Chesty’ Brill, running’s Elizabeth Waywell, softball’s Dave Vallance and swimming’s Kevin Auger.
Kelly was the first general manager of the Guelph Storm after the Ontario Hockey League team relocated to Guelph from Hamilton.
“A lot of guys who were involved with this deserved it a lot more than I do, but nevertheless, it's a real honour and I’m feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it,” Kelly said. “It wasn't expected, but again, tough to put into words, but it's a little bit overwhelming, but certainly something I pretty much appreciate.”
Kelly had two stints with the Storm that totalled 13 seasons and during his time at the helm, the Storm won three division titles, three OHL regular-season titles and had three appearances in the OHL championship series including the 2013-14 season when they took the title. He was also the OHL executive of the year in 1994-95.
The dinner was a bit like a reunion of some of the Storm teams during Kelly’s time, especially the earlier ones and his first two first-round draft picks were head table guests -- Todd Bertuzzi (fifth overall in 1991) and Jeff O’Neill (first overall in 1992). Both expressed their gratitude.
“I'm a little embarrassed by it because a lot of people have driven for five, six hours in some instances and I would never ask them to do that,” Kelly said. “But yeah, as much as unexpected, very, very much appreciated. You know, you go into junior hockey and it's a tough business to be in. I just went into it with the idea that, first and foremost, we're going to try to take care of the kids the best we can.
“You know, maybe that helps you win games. Maybe it helps you lose games or whatever. But that's what I was about and I think the guys that are here today wasn't because of our win-loss record. It was pretty good overall, but I think they knew that we cared about them. When I say we, not just myself, but the people that I surrounded myself with, whether that's coaches or managers or trainers or business people, et cetera. And ownership obviously had to give us the green light to be able to go about our work in that manner."
It could be that if not for Evan Brill and some of the others of his era, junior hockey wouldn’t exist in Guelph. He was part of the Big 10 group that brought junior A hockey back to Guelph in 1947 and two years later he was team owner and president of the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters that gave Guelph its first national junior A championship title.
Brill played intermediate hockey and was a member of Guelph’s 1922-23 team that finished as runners-up in the provincial finals.
But hockey wasn’t the only sport he was passionate about as he also competed in softball and was on the team that won a city industrial league championship in 1940-41.
“I remember he loved golfing,” granddaughter Carol Spira said. She was representing the family at the head table. “Just hearing stories from my mom and my dad, he was into hockey and baseball and golfing and that kind of stuff.”
Waywell is one of the top runners in the country in her age group and she holds seven national records.
“I truly am honored,” she said of being named to the Hall.
She also admitted to being a little surprised by it.
“Well, I think I haven't run my fastest races yet, so I hope to improve and be more worthy of it,” she said.
Waywell’s Canadian marathon record for her Women’s 60 age group of 3:07:56 set in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2018 chopped nine minutes off the previous mark.
Her other W60 records include the eight-kilometre, five-mile and 10-kilometre records set in Hamilton in 2021, the 10-mile mark set in 2019 in Patchogue, N.Y., and the half-marathon record set in Ottawa in 2018. She also holds the W55 record for 30 kilometres set in Hamilton in 2014.
Waywell ran very little in high school, a foot operation when she was 15 forcing her to stop running.
“I didn't start again until I was about 30 and then it was really part of fitness classes that I was going to,” she said. “But when I grew up in Guelph right by the university, women weren't supposed to run long distances, even in a progressive university. It wasn't until 1984 when women were allowed to run the marathon at the Olympics so it wasn't something I ever thought of doing before.”
She got serious about her running in her 50s and that led to a change in her approach.
“I was running a lot more and I wasn't getting the kind of race results I thought I should be able to do so I got somebody (John Marsden) to coach me and the results started coming,” she said. “There's still a lot of ups and downs with injuries so it's a learning curve.”
And she considers completing the 90-kilometre Comrades Marathon (an ultramarathon) in South Africa her favourite moment in running.
“I ran it in the down year, but you're still going through these incredible hills and the year I ran it was 90.184 kilometers and finishing that to me was an absolute thrill and I think it's just the best way to see the best of South Africa. It was a wonderful, wonderful event.”
How long did it take to run that event?
“Eight hours and 12 minutes,” she answered.
Vallance coached Guelph midget girls’ softball squads to seven medal finishes at national tournaments including two championship-winning performances. In all, his Guelph teams made 15 trips to Nationals.
“It's a little overwhelming and flattering, especially since I've kept coaching after I left Guelph,” Vallance said.
He’s also gone to Nationals with teams in Waterloo and Mississauga and has had more than 80 players attain NCAA scholarships and had three play in the Olympics for Canada including current national team coach Kaleigh Rafter.
If not for Canada joining the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, Auger would have competed in the 200-metre butterfly and 800-metre freestyle relay at the Games.
“It was a surprise to me and, wow, it's an honour,” Auger said of being named to the Hall. “I mean, I love Guelph. I always considered Guelph my home. You know, it's coming up to the point where I've lived more years away from Guelph than I lived there, but it'll always be home for me and so to be honoured at home, that's incredible.”
Auger’s also honoured to be going into a Hall that already includes a teammate from his competition days with the Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club.
“Victor Davis was one of my teammates and to be honoured alongside somebody like that that I obviously had a lot of respect for is incredible,” he said.
And he also found it a little surprising to be named to the hall after being away from the Royal City for so long. He was head coach of the Marlins for 10 years following a successful stint swimming for the University of Illinois, but he’s now been coaching a club and high school team in Evanston, Ill., for 26 years.
“To be just thought of after all these years is pretty incredible.”