Tested by tragedy: NFL recognizes Alberta coach

Tested by tragedy: NFL recognizes Alberta coach

The 2011 NFL Youth Coach of the Year kept his team together after losing four players in a tragic accident.

“The NFL Youth Coach of the Year award represents a commitment to coaching that goes beyond the win-loss column,” said Dan Quinn, Managing Director, NFL Canada. “Not only did Rick Gilson lead and inspire his team during an incredibly difficult time, but he also used football to help bring a grieving community together. We’re very proud to recognize his efforts.”

Gilson, the football coach and principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School, was selected from a shortlist of eight coaches from across Canada to receive the honour. A panel of journalists, Football Canada and NFL officials selected the winners.

Gilson guided his team –and the entire Composite High School as its principal — through the tragic loss of four student-athletes in an October 22nd car crash that also injured a fifth teen.

“To have the ability to pick up the pieces and carry on is something that not everyone can handle,” said community member Darren Robertson in a submission. “Not only did Coach Gilson lead his team back onto the field, he led them all the way to a league championship. He is the rock in a tragic event, and continues to be a role model to young men, in a world that is becoming increasingly difficult to navigate.”

More than 600 submissions nominating more than 400 different coaches from across Canada were received. In addition to the equipment donation Gilson will be a guest of the NFL at this year’s Vanier Cup celebrations, and will be honoured at the CIS coaches breakfast – the Vanier Cup Championship Breakfast – on Friday, November 24, 2011.

Eastview Secondary School’s Joe Karwacki (Barrie, ON), a bilateral amputee, was named as one of two runners-up and will receive $2,000 in equipment for the Eastview football program.

“Coach Karwacki is the most inspiring football coach and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met,” wrote Eastview linebacker Jackson Lafrance in his submission. “On May 16, 2004, Coach K., a CN Railway employee, survived being pulled under a rail car while working on the train. He lost both legs in the accident. Having coach at practice every night with his C.O.P.E. guide dog radar by his side has really taught me a lot about work ethic and motivation. A lot of people would give up on everything but Coach K is at practice every night for us.”

Scarborough Minor Football Association volunteer coach Roberto “Bubba” Allen was also named as a runner-up and will receive $2,000 in equipment. Allen was nominated by NFL Denver Bronco Orlando Franklin, an offensive lineman who was introduced to football by Allen.

“Once an inner-city kid himself, Bubba has coached an incredible 34 squads (16 fall seasons and 11 summer seasons),” said Franklin. “He and the association gave me and so many other kids a chance to play when we could not afford it . . . it’s his dedication to his players, present and past, that is astonishing and why we would love to honour him with this great tribute.”

Over the past 13 years the program has contributed more than $150,000 in equipment to deserving programs, and put the spotlight on the grassroots-level coaches who are the engines that drive football in Canada. The award is not based on wins and losses. Football players, volunteers, fans, parents, administrators and fellow coaches submitted short essays recognizing the positive impact a coach in their community has on young players.

“Coach Allen, Coach Karwacki and Coach Gilson have all used football to help overcome obstacles and to provide leadership to young men in their communities,” added Quinn. “We are proud to put the spotlight on these deserving individuals.”

Past winners:

  • 1999: Mike Tanner, Queen Elizabeth High School, Halifax, NS
  • 2000: Mitch Chuvalo, Western Technical Commercial High School, Toronto, ON
  • 2001: Paul Normandeau, Kelvin High School, Winnipeg, MB
  • 2002: Gordon Judges, St. Mary Catholic High School, Pickering, ON
  • 2003: Paul Kerber, Western Canada High School, Calgary, AB
  • 2004: Kevin Campbell, Hammarskjold High School, Thunder Bay, ON.
  • 2005: Jeff Yanchus, John F. Ross CVI, Guelph, ON.
  • 2006: Dan Del Mastro, Michael Power Catholic Secondary, Toronto, ON.
  • 2007: Jeff Green, Chatham-Kent Secondary, Chatham, ON.
  • 2008: Quinn Skelton, Medicine Hat High School, Medicine Hat, AB.
  • 2009: Bruce Waddell, Parkwest Outlaws, Shoal Lake, MB.
  • 2010: John Svenson, Melville Comprehensive School, Melville, SK.