WATCH ABOVE: Members of the 1977 Edmonton Wildcats team re-connected for a reunion Saturday, honouring their coach. Lisa Wolansky was there.
EDMONTON — It was the love of the game that originally brought them together nearly 40 years ago, but this weekend it was the love and respect of one of their own.
In 1977, head coach Jim Lazaruk, ‘Coach Laz’ as everyone on his team called him, led the Edmonton Wildcats to a Canadian Junior Football championship. Now, 38 years later Coach Laz was the inspiration behind a team reunion.
“It’s great to have them all here,” Lazaruk said Saturday.
Thirty-eight members of the 1977 championship team came together at Lazaruk’s home in Sherwood Park Saturday morning. Coach Laz was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2007 and wanted nothing more than to get the guys together for old time’s sake.
“He built the team block by block,” said David Secord, who played offensive tackle. “He took the team and he built it along with the other coaches to a point where there was nothing in our own minds that we couldn’t accomplish.”
“He gave us the confidence to get to where we did and get to the championship that year.”
To teammate Brian Yaschuk, Lazaruk was more than just an unbelievable coach, he was a mentor who brought out the best in each and every player.
“I’ve never met a man with his combination of intellect, decency, respect. Coach Laz is all about respect – respecting yourself, respecting your opponent, respecting everyone around you. He just exudes class.”
The team spent most of the day watching old games, remembering their glory days. But perhaps the best time was spent swapping old stories.
“We did a lot of crazy things, but we’re still here,” said Yaschuk. “It was an unbelievable time and these stories come back to you. You think that you’ve forgotten them, you do, and all of a sudden you’ll remember something that you haven’t thought about in basically 38 years. And it’s like the day before yesterday.”
And while Lazaruk admits he loved the competition the game brought with it, he said the camaraderie is really what made the 1977 team so special.
“You see it immediately when you get together with these guys. It doesn’t matter what story they tell or what question they ask, it’s about the group.”
With files from Lisa Wolansky, Global News.