Semiahmoo Peninsula softball supporter Rick O’Connor and longtime Canada Cup volunteer Zeone Andrijaszyn have been inducted into the Softball BC Hall of Fame, alongside a pair of well-decorated former players from Vancouver Island.
O’Connor, who is the president and CEO of Black Press Media – parent company to the Peace Arch News – was inducted into the sponsor category; while Andrijaszyn, a former Richmond resident who passed away earlier this year, was a former executive with Softball BC and a key cog in the Canada Cup, the long-running international softball tournament held annually in South Surrey. He was inducted into the ‘special recognition’ category.
Nanaimo’s Dennis Eckart and Victoria’s John Green were both inducted as players.
“It’s definitely humbling that people want to bestow an honour like that upon you,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor’s involvement in the sport dates back decades – he once played at “pretty competitive level” before coaching his two eldest children, Josh and Kristy, in the mid-1980s. In the ’90s and into the 2000s, he was heavily involved in the White Rock Renegades ’88 team on which his youngest daughter, Courtney, played. That team, coached by the late Bryan Sask, who passed away earlier this year, was one of best teams in Renegade history, ending its run with four provincial championships and two national titles.
On those teams, O’Connor served as everything from an assistant coach and manager, to someone who was behind the scenes fundraising and organizing travel.
His induction as a sponsor stems from his longtime support of the Canada Cup – of which Black Press Media has long been a key sponsor – as well as the job he did spearheading the UBC women’s softball program, which he helped found just over a dozen years ago.
“I don’t sort of see myself necessarily just as a sponsor, but someone who tried to be involved in all aspects of the game, and tried to encourage young people,” O’Connor said.
The creation of the UBC softball program is among O’Connor’s biggest accomplishments, and not only did he help get it off the ground beginning in 2007, but a few years later was instrumental in saving it from the chopping block during a UBC review that threatened the program’s varsity status.
In the UBC program’s formative years, “he had his hand in everything,” said Courtney, who went on to play at the Vancouver school.
“He raised probably over $500,000 for the program since it’s started, through a variety of initiatives and (fundraisers), and then he’s also donated quite a bit of his own personal money to the program, too,” she said.
“I chose not to go away for university (on a softball scholarship), so it was quite nice that halfway through my (university) career, a softball program came to us.
“He was able to create an opportunity for me – which is something really special and something I got a lot of great memories from – but also for a lot of other players who wanted to stay home (and go to school).”
It was Courtney and her younger brother Kieran who nominated their dad for hall-of-fame induction, she added.
Though she said she wanted to keep most of her best softball memories with her dad to herself – “It was just always a thing that the two of us did together,” she said – Courtney did tell PAN that one memory in particular sticks out.
It was 2005, and the Renegades ’88 team was in Montreal for national championships. Her dad hadn’t made the trip, “because we’d already travelled to Florida, and to California – it was already an expensive year.”
“We were in the playoffs, about to make it into the finals… we had a rest day (between games) and I remember hearing a knock on the door of my room, and I opened it and he was there,” she explained.
“He’d flown in because he said he couldn’t imagine not seeing us win a national championship. We didn’t end up winning that year, we came in second. But he just couldn’t stay away.”
O’Connor noted that his hall-of-fame induction dovetails nicely with some recent news from the UBC program – specifically, the creation of a proper softball facility on campus. Since its inception, UBC has practised on campus baseball diamonds, and played games at South Surrey’s Softball City.
But now, after fundraising efforts raised enough money, an on-campus field is set to be renovated. O’Connor expects the work to begin this month.
“It’s taken 13 years (for softball) to become a (fully-funded) varsity sport… and now it’s going to have its own facility. Having this honour happen right around this time, while it’s humbling, it’s also gratifying because these two things are sort of tied together,” he said.