Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Horwood roast a roaring success

Sounds like it was a fun night out in Edmonton recently to roast/toast Coach Horwood as the University of Alberta's campus newspaper, the Gateway, suggests. The City of Edmonton did it's part, proclaiming it "Don Horwood Day". Among the speakers were arguably the greatest coach in CIAU/CIS history: UVic's Ken Shields and Canadian National team coach Leo Rautins.

Horwood roast a roaring success: A cast of roasters helped raise funds for the Bear basketball program with some laughs

HONOURING DON: Horwood was a mainstay on the sideline for 26 years.

“It’s only once in a lifetime where one gets both the opportunity to honour and pay tribute to such a truly outstanding person — an individual who has risen to the very top of his profession; an epitome of class and a constant professional. [...] It’s only disappointing that tonight is not one of those nights.”

It’s perhaps these words written by Golden Bears coaching alumnus Dr. Gerry Glassford that best sum up the Don Horwood Roast and Toast on Friday night at the University of Alberta’s Main Gym. Colleagues, family, and friends alike came together to both honour and lambaste the recently retired 26-year men’s basketball bench boss on a night filled with anecdotes, kind words, and no shortage of light-hearted jabs all in support of raising funds for the Bears basketball program — one that Horwood led to three national titles.

“Don played at Memorial University, played on the basketball team. As a 5-11 power forward, Don had several strikes against him. He was slow, physically and mentally — when his coach told him to haul ass, he had to make two trips.”
— Dr. Garry Smith, Bears basketball coach from 1976–79

With Global TV’s John Sexsmith serving as roastmaster, the festivities kicked off with Edmonton councillor Bryan Anderson declaring September 18, 2009 as “Don Horwood Day” in the city, followed by Edmonton Oilers’ President Patrick LaForge presenting Horwood with his own honorary copper and blue jersey.

Former Bears basketball assistant coach Murray Scambler — who also retired at the end of the 2008/09 season — had one of the more heartfelt speeches of the evening, providing a retrospective of Horwood life and career, and the years that the two spent working side by side.

“I’m going to make a proclamation: tonight, this is Horwood hardwood. This is somewhere where we can celebrate a man whose [purpose] all his adult life has been to coach basketball,” Scambler said. “And he will join [...] coach [Clare] Drake here and [...] Billy [Moores] — Don will now be an icon here at the University of Alberta in terms of coaching.”

Once the roasting portion of the evening commenced, the proverbial gloves came off, with jokes directed at numerous individuals in attendance. The dais was headlined by notable names like LaForge, Canadian basketball head coach Leo Rautins, Order of Canada recipient Ken Shields, and former Bears basketball coach Dr. Garry Smith, with pre-taped messages from Oilers colour commentator Bob Stauffer and NHL on TSN play-by-play man Gord Miller.

“I’m especially delighted to hear that Ken Shields is there to honour you tonight. And I’m a little bit surprised, though, Don, given the fact that you’ve stabbed him in the back so many times to me over the years — but apparently bygones are now bygones!”
— Gord Miller, NHL on TSN commentator

Many of the popular targets for humour included Don Horwood’s fashion sense and alleged narcissism, Canada basketball’s recent lack of success, and Sexsmith, who was described as “Bryan Hall light.”

“At the University of Victoria, three national championships aren’t that big of a deal. I flew in today with the UVic field hockey team — their coach has 11 national championships. And they’re having a damn night for you here!,” Shields joked. “I mean, this is unbelievable — you go 3-for-26, and they have a night for you!”

“They announced they were going to have a night for you, and the President of the University immediately calls a whole-scale retreat [...] Even [Dean of Phys. Ed. Mike] Mahon is gone; he didn’t even stay for the damn roast!”

Not lost in all of the verbal wisecracking, however, was everyone’s appreciation for a man who leaves his legacy as one of the longest serving head coaches in U of A Athletics history. With the prospect of retirement ahead, and his wife and two sons at his side, it was perhaps Rautins who delivered the most fitting send-off.

“We’re judged by a lot of different things in our lives, but when your family sits next to you — and a beautiful family like you have — that are proud to be here and show their respect, you know you’ve accomplished something even greater than the wins you have on the court.”

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