The Orillia Minor Lacrosse Association (OMLA) lost a legend last week when coach, volunteer, and builder Garry Balkwill passed away. He was 73.
Balkwill was a defensive coach for the Orillia Junior B Kings in 1994 and 1995 when the team won back-to-back Founders Cup national titles. Winning a Canadian crown at home, in 1994, with the old Community Centre packed, was a seminal moment for the sport and the city.
Lacrosse was in his genes. He is from one of the most storied lacrosse families in Orillia’s history; his father, Boyd Balkwill, helped build the foundation for an OMLA program in the 1970s.
Garry passed his love of the game on to his son, Scott, who was a key player and captain of those Founder Cup-winning teams. Today, his three grandsons play minor lacrosse and carry on the family tradition.
Scott Balkwill says being coached by his dad during his novice years and again in junior mean more now more than ever.
“I have such fond memories of those times, and to know I got to share that with my dad, who was as passionate about lacrosse as I was, it’s a pretty nice feeling,” Scott said.
“I’ve had the opportunity to coach with my dad as well, so even after he finished coaching me in Junior, we were able to keep that bond going.”
Scott says his father loved spending his days at the rink and would watch any team play with a smile on his face - no matter the score of the game.
“He really loved seeing kids pick up a stick and be involved, whether they were a star player or not,” Scott said.
Scott says he has no doubts that his father would have coached and been a part of the game this past summer if the season hadn’t been cancelled and if he was able.
Scott added that his father would want to see lacrosse continue to grow and thrive in Orillia.
Dave Marwick, vice president of the Orillia Junior B Kings, was coached by Balkwill when he was ten years old, and then again when he was a part of the Founders Cup championship teams.
“The happiest I ever saw him was when he was watching his grandkids play in the Boyd Balkwill tournament that his son Scott was running in memory of Garry’s father," said Marwick. "To see him at the rink doing that stuff was pretty cool.”
Marwick remembers Garry Balkwill as one of the driving forces in making lacrosse a popular sport in Orillia.
“When I started to play, minor lacrosse wasn’t very big, In fact, I think I started playing because they were always looking for guys to fill out teams," said Marwick. "I think Garry’s passion for finding kids to play the game was incredible."
Marwick says Balkwill was instrumental in the Kings winning the back-to-back Founders Cup championships.
“He coached a lot of those kids through minor lacrosse and without him and his dedication, we wouldn’t have had that kind of success,” Marwick explained. “His passion for lacrosse was contagious. There are a lot of guys who probably played better because they played for Garry.”
Marwick believes Balkwill’s legacy will live on through minor lacrosse for generations to come.
“His grandchildren watched the way he was passionate about lacrosse and if those kids and that generation of kids that he has influenced are doing what he did 40 years from now - what an influence,” he said.
Nicole Gardy, president of OMLA, says Balkwill, who was awarded a life-time membership for his dedication, was an invaluable member of the organization.
“He was passionate about sharing his knowledge of the game with everyone, he was dedicated to helping grow lacrosse in Orillia and gave his time to the sport for nearly half a century,” Gardy said. “Garry was a familiar and friendly face and voice around the arena. He will be missed.”
While he had a passion for lacrosse, Balkwill, a long-time employee of the Sisters of St. Joseph, loved all sports and was an avid hunter and fisherman. He was also a Canadian Duck Calling champion.
In his later years, he could often be found having coffee with his buddies at the many coffee shops around town.
Garry is survived by his loving wife Sharon, his children Scott (Kim), Shelley (Ben) Russell, his mother Lois (father Boyd predeceased), his cherished grandchildren Carter, Cole, Max, Devin and Aiden.
Garry was the brother of Doug (predeceased), Bonnie (Allan) Groves, Bo (Kelly), sister-in-law Wendy Collis (Edward predeceased) and leaves behind many nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Orillia Minor Lacrosse Association would be appreciated and can be made through the Mundell Funeral Home (705-325-2231). A celebration of Garry’s life will be held at a later date.