HISTORY OF THE VALLEY ROYALS TRACK AND FIELD CLUB:
Compiled by Gerry Swan
History of Gerry Swan:
My involvement with running in particular and track and field in general began many years ago (1949) when I was a grade ten student at Trapp Tech Secondary –a school that went out of existence many years ago–in New Westminster. A girl, Pat Jones, was in grade 12 at Tech when I was a tenth grader. Pat was a member of Canada’s 1948 Olympic team that competed in London, England and she placed fifth in the 100 meters and won a bronze medal as a member of the 4×100 meter relay. Pat was hailed as a saint at Trapp Tech and her notoriety whetted my appetite and that encouraged me to take up running.
At the time there was one major high school track meet held each May: the Vancouver and District Championships. This meet was a major fixture of the high school athletic calendar (all sports included) and to be selected to participate in it gained an individual positive feedback from both teachers and fellow students. Every afternoon for a week, trials would be held for the various events and on the day of the finals all schools in the Vancouver and District area were closed so students could attend the championships. In my day the finals were held at Brockton Oval and the stands were packed. The three Vancouver Newspapers printed special editions that highlighted performances. To shorten a long story, as a tenth grader I placed fifth in the final of the 880 yds., in grade eleven I accomplished an upset by placing first in the senior 880 and in my final year I won the mile run missing the event record of that era by two seconds. Indeed these accomplishments won me the notoriety in New Westminster that I craved at the time and probably defined my life from that point on.
University days were spent at Western Washington College of Education in Bellingham (now Western Washington University). During my four years of attendance (1951-1955) Western was a small school with an attendance of less than 2,000 students (today in excess of 15,000 students attend Western). The school was a good choice for myself and through my running endeavors and general involvement in student affairs, I became friends with a number of students and professors and on one occasion was even requested to report to the President’s office for a discussion of the benefits of having foreign students attend Western. My athletic career at Western was reasonably successful and I was selected in each of my four years to compete at the National Collegiate Championships, twice placing second in the two-mile run and in addition, I established school records in both the mile and two-mile runs.
My coaching career began soon after university graduation when two female athletes asked if I would become a coach. Pat Powers, a graduate student at UBC and the reigning Canadian Champion in the 80-meter hurdles, approached me and stated that she needed someone to keep her on task while working out. My first response was to admit to Pat that I knew little about the technique involved in mastering the hurdles, but she replied that I could learn and she would teach me. Pat was an outstanding instructor (later in life Pat rose to be Dean of the Department of Physical Education at Laurentian University) and she had me down on hands and knees measuring out her plant after clearing each hurdle and the length of her stride to the first hurdle. Pat was a great teacher and I supplemented what she taught me with traveling to the library for books on coaching techniques.
Anne Reid was a 22-year old secretary who was one of BC’s top sprinters of the day. Anne belonged to Pacific Athletic, a female only track club. Unfortunately, the Pacific coach had decided that he no longer wished to be involved, and Anne approached myself and asked if I would take charge of the soon to be coach-less organization. It was a challenge that appealed to myself and I consented to become their running mentor. The Vancouver Olympic Club was emerging as the powerhouse track and field club of the era so the former Pacific Athletic members and I enrolled with that club and my coaching career had begun in earnest.
Beginning of the Valley Royals:
The Valley Royals had its beginning in the winter months of 1980. A group of parents who were looking for an alternative to the Abbotsford Track Club approached Jane and I with the prospect of forming a new club. Among those parents was the former President of the aforementioned Abbotsford track Club Paul Anderson. Paul said that if the Swans would head the new club, that he and the other parents would do their utmost to make sure that the new club was adequately financed. With Anderson’s assurance, Jane and I agreed and a discussion then took place to find a name for the club.
At first it was decided that we call ourselves the Abbotsford Royals and for a month or two that title was utilized. But as we added athletes from outside the boundaries of Abbotsford, and to avoid confusion, after time it was decided to drop Abbotsford from the title and have the club called Valley Royals indicating that the organization wished to appeal to a membership that was not restricted to the Abbotsford area.
During that first year the club was composed basically of junior development aged athletes. There were a number of difficulties to overcome the chief amongst them finding meets that the club athletes could compete in. At the time the early season meets were centered on a group of competitions known as the NEWS (short for North, East, West, South) Conference meets. They were held on Saturdays throughout April and May and organized by the participating track clubs.
Initially the Valley Royals were unable to gain full member status and that meant that for the first two years Royals could only compete in two of the five meets. Luckily, at the conclusion of the 1980 season, pressure was exerted from BC Athletics and the NEWS Conference meets were opened to membership by any club affiliated with BC Athletics.
In those years I also served as middle distance coach for Simon Fraser University and two of the athletes that I coached were Brit Lind Petersen (Brit Townsend) and Sarah Howell. In addition, I coached Greg Duhaime a transplant from Ontario who held the Canadian Record for the 3,000-meter steeplechase (8:18). In 1981 those athletes decided they would become Valley Royals and that gave our new club three internationals and we were on our way to being a major club. In addition, Lynn Kanuka (Williams), Paul Williams, Peter Butler and several other international athletes took out membership with the Royals. However, Doug Clement began coaching for the Kajaks and since he coached Williams, Butler and Kanuka they left the Royals and became Kajaks.
On the administrative side, Paul Andersen used his considerable influence and procured access for the Royals to the newly formed community bingo hall. At first the club only had a few nights of access but as time went on we were given additional dates. In addition, a Mrs. Gibson whose daughter Colleen had been a member of the Abbotsford Track Club and went on to attended Oregon State University on a track scholarship placed her support behind the Valley Royals. Mrs. Gibson had been fundraiser for the Abbotsford Track Club and in that capacity she would contact businesses such as barbershops, drug stores and the likes and ask if they would purchase lottery tickets from that club that those business could then resell to the public. It was a wildly prosperous method of raising funds and the Abbotsford club raised thousands of dollars. After a number of discussions between Mrs. Gibson and Jane, the two of them became good friends.
In conclusion, Mrs. Gibson made sure that the bulk of the funds raised would be donated to the Valley Royals providing that a portion of the money would then be donated to the City of Abbotsford as a contribution to the construction of the present day track facility at Rotary Stadium. That was done and Paul in his wisdom decided that the funds garnered from Mrs. Gibson should be put into a trust fund under the direction of the Abbotsford Foundation. The yearly interest garnered from this fund was earmarked for support of track and field and was to be administered by the Valley Royals for as long as the club existed. The capital became the property of the Foundation and would be invested as they saw fit.
Meanwhile, the Abbotsford Track Club was reorganized with a new executive and coaches. Henry Braun, although his children had just joined the Abbotsford Club, was elected President and a former athlete of myself, Bob St. Andrassy, was appointed as head coach of that club. At the time the Abbotsford Track Club practiced on a track at Abbotsford Secondary School, while the Valley Royals utilized the track at Yale Secondary School. As time went on Henry, Jane, Paul and myself got together for discussions of mutual concern such as lottery funding, recruitment of athletes, etc. In due course Henry contacted me and said that he felt that the two clubs had much in common and that we should function as one entity. Paul was very much in favor of doing that, so after a few more weeks of discussion the two clubs combined under the title name of Valley Royals. Paul Anderson’s children had moved on to university so he wished to step aside and so Henry Braun became the second President of the Valley Royals Track Club.
In the year’s following amalgamation the Valley Royals flourished. The lotteries supplied a good base of operating funds and the endowment provided an ample return. The club made good use of the new track hosting numerous meets including an invitational on the first Saturday of May, BC Championships, Canadian Junior and Senior Championships and NAIA Championships. We initiated the Elementary Grand Prix Cross Ccountry series that was well received by the elementary schools of the area. A friend of Jane and I, Ron Sweeney, became a board member of the Fraser Valley Credit Union and when the club secured major championships the Credit Union would become a sponsor. In addition, Mike Inman whose daughter Courtney was an outstanding athlete whom I coached became President of the Valley Royals and through Mike’s contacts we secured Lafarge as a sponsor: for numerous years that corporation donated $10,000 annually to the Valley Royals and in return we gave them title to the Grand Prix meets as well as other fixtures.
For many years Jane took on the nonpaid position of club manager. She had numerous contacts within Abbotsford and was an executive member of BC Athletics and for three years served as that organization’s President. Jane attended numerous meetings of government funding agencies and through her contacts and efforts preserved the financial security of BC Athletics. The organization continues to provide governance and support to BC’s Track & Field and Running Clubs to this day.
During her time with the club, Jane was a fundraiser par excellence and initiated the club’s application for lottery funds, filled in forms to host major meets, reconciled our lottery fund monies, hosted functions for officials, organized volunteers and communicated regularly with city politicians. Mayor Ferguson would joke with myself that when he saw Jane coming down the hall he tried to hide because he knew she was going to force money from the city for one thing or ANOTHER connected with track and field. Shortly after her death, Jane was inducted into the BC SPORTS HALL OF FAME AS A BUILDER. In addition she was inducted into the Abbotsford Sports Hall of Fame and has been recognized by BC Athletics as a Builder of the Sport of Athletics.
Page Posted by Dawn Driver on January 6th, 2019