Klassen: From Sardis Secondary to BC Lions

KlassenIf you didn’t know Rick Klassen’s history before meeting him, you could make a very reasoned guess based on the first five minutes.

First, the handshake, a crushing embrace of hands that you need to be ready for.

Then, the air of intensity that surrounds Klassen wherever he goes and whenever he speaks.

Sitting in a chair across the table, he gives the impression that everything he’s saying is hugely important and you’d better be listening.

If you didn’t know who he was, you’d guess the 55 year old was a former military man, probably special ops.

If not that, then a retired athlete of some sort.

And there you’d have it.

Klassen, if you didn’t know, was a former professional pigskin player in the Canadian Football League.

From 1981 to 1990 he terrorized offensive linemen and opposing quarterbacks with the BC Lions (mostly) and the Saskatchewan Roughriders (one year).

Before that he was a member of the university powerhouse Simon Fraser Clansmen.

Before that, he was a Sardis kid learning the game on local fields.

“I think I was 11 or 12 years old when I first started playing in a community league organized by people who were involved with the Chilliwack (secondary school) Frontiersmen,” Klassen recalled. “The first team I ever suited up for was the Sardis Smugglers, and I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Klassen was the middle linebacker on defence and quarterback on offence his first year, and he had a blast.

“I loved it because it was in the rules of the sport to knock people down,” he grinned. “What I remember most was the purity of the game. It was all about fun.”

Klassen came from an athletic background. Dad George was a very good baseball player and a high school basketball star. Mom Anna played baseball and danced.

They were young parents when Rick was born (19 and 16 respectively), but wise enough to recognize the importance of sports in a young man’s life.

“They gave me an opportunity to play any sport I wanted, and back then you could play four or five different sports,” Klassen said. “Nowadays they want so much commitment from one sport. Back then I remember days in high school where I played four sports in one day.”

Klassen got his work ethic from George, who came to Canada from Germany and built a life through hard work. At 75 year sold, George still puts in hours at his family-owned shake and shingle mill in Maple Ridge.

“He’s up at six every morning and off to the office,” Klassen said.

George and Anna used sports to keep their son on the right academic path.

If he didn’t get grades he didn’t play.

“It was my passion for sports that enabled me to get an honourary degree in business administration from SFU,” he said. “And that’s been super useful in my life.”

Klassen moved away from Chilliwack after graduating from high school, leaving behind a small town that today’s younger Chilliwackians would be hard-pressed to imagine.

“You had the Chilliwack side and the Sardis side, which is all blended together now, but they were quite separate,” he said. “I remember I was 15 when Cottonwood Mall was built and it was a big thing when we got a McDonalds.”

Klassen’s high school head coach was John Tymoschuk.

“He was my coach from Grade 8-12, and he’s very much like a second father to me,” Klassen said. “Him and his wife, they were both teachers and they didn’t have any children of their own. So all of John’s players were like his surrogate sons, and we have a real neat relationship even to this day.”

On of Klassen’s best friends in high school was George Chayka, who’s now the vice-president of business for the CFL’s Lions. Chayka was the best man at Klassen’s wedding.

The Lions were Klassen’s dream as a teenager.

“Back then, the Lions were like Hollywood, and to go to one of their games was a huge deal,” he said. “It was a really long drive, and in high school a bunch of us would make a road trip of it.”

Klassen moved to Vancouver in 1977 when he started going to SFU.

When he joined the Lions to start the 1981 season, the dream came true.

“Not many athletes get the opportunity to play in their hometown,” he said. “

Klassen entered the league as an offensive linemen, but about halfway through his rookie season, Lions head coach Vic Rapp switched him to the defensive line.

Angry and disappointed at first, Klassen got his chance to shine during a game in Ottawa, and from that point on became one of the best defensive linemen in franchise history.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was doing it in such an intense way that I pretty much didn’t leave the field much after that,” he said. “I made some plays, created some havoc and caused a fumble and I was never going back to the offensive line.”

Klassen was named to the Lions 50th Anniversary Dream Team in 2004.

Klassen helped the Lions to the 1983 Grey Cup game.

They lost 18-17 at BC Place to the Toronto Argonauts, with Klassen earning Canadian MVP honours.

He got a brand new car, and the Grey Cup was handed to his good friend, Argonaut Dan Ferrone.

“I asked him to trade the car for the Cup later, and you know what he said, right?” Klassen laughed.

Two years later, Klassen and company won the Grey Cup, topping the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 37-24 at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The 1985 win snapped a 21 year championship drought for the Lions.

“It was a little surreal, a magical day that I’ll never forget,” Klassen said. “I was just a kid from Sardis who grew up watching the Lions. And I had a role in helping put the team back on the map. I’m very proud of that.”

 

Class of 2014 Revealed

One team and one individual will go in this year, with the induction ceremony taking place Oct. 25.

KlassenRick Klassen is being recognized for a 10 year Canadian Football League career that included a Grey Cup win in 1985.
Klassen was an outstanding athlete at Sardis secondary school in the late 1970s, and played collegiately at Simon Fraser University.
Klassen was an offensive lineman with the Clansmen, and for the first eight games of his CFL career.
Credit BC Lions coach Vic Rapp for switching Klassen to the defensive line, where he became a dominant force.
Klassen helped the Lions to the 1983 Grey Cup game, a crushing 18-17 defeat to the Toronto Argonauts at BC Place Stadium.
Two years later, the West division all-star led his team back to the big game.
At Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Klassen’s Lions downed the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 37-24.
After seven years in BC, Klassen was dealt to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1988. After just one season on the prairies, he returned to BC, playing two more years before retiring in 1990. During the team’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2003, Klassen was named a member of the Lions All-Time Dream Team.
The 3-Field hockey team won the first ever Canadian Forces Hockey Championship in 1968.
Drawn from a small unit of 250-300 men, they rose up and shocked opponents who dared to underestimate them.
A mix of military men and civilian skaters, they won three zone games in dominant fashion to qualify for nationals.
But the upstarts traveled to Petawawa, ON as true underdogs.
The teams they faced were drawn from bases of 5000-7000 men. Plus, tournament rules prohibited civilians from playing, forcing 3-Field to make the trip without a couple key players and their usual coach, Orv Litchfield.
The civilians were replaced by military men, and 3-Field rolled on.
Overcoming adversity, they shocked CFB Bagotville (8-4), CFB Trenton (6-2) and finally CFB Rockcliffe (4-2).
Many members of that team have since passed away, but a handful will attend the October induction ceremony, including Carl Marsh.
“I think it’s great to go into a Hall of Fame 46 years later,” Marsh said. “To have our name come up among all of Chilliwack’s athletes and teams that have done such great things, somebody must have remembered us.”
The Chilliwack Sports Hall of Fame would love to hear from family members of men who played on that 3-Field national championship team.
team

Home Finally Found For Hall

Judy Fitzsimmons’s dream of a Chilliwack Sports Hall of Fame is finally taking shape.

More than three years ago, Fitzsimmons was in Delta when she came across that city’s local sports hall.

“I thought, hmm. It was a little light bulb,” she said.

Since that fateful trip, Fitzsimmons has received support from local politicians and built a formidable team of volunteers to work towards her goal of a Chilliwack hall.

The sticking point, however, was where to put it.

“It really was a conundrum for us,” Fitzsimmons told the Times.

But that’s no longer the case. The Chilliwack Chiefs have offered up a portion of the Prospera Centre concourse to the hall, solving the long-running location problem and giving the idea a firm shove towards becoming reality.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have known what our next step would have been,” said Fitzsimmons.

Gord Pederson, the city’s director of parks, recreation and culture, said the idea is for a multimedia display that will honour athletes, coaches and builders for excellence at a high level of sports.

“We’d be looking at a setup that would have TV screens and a static display,” he said. The display would allow the presentation of physical objects, while the TV screens would allow the hall to expand as it recognizes more inductees. “We wanted to find a really appropriate way to honour the legacy of these winners.”

He also said organizers have focused on making sure the hall doesn’t overlap with the successful Sport Heroes program, which honours long-time volunteers with Chilliwack sport.

The goal is for the hall to preserve the legacy of presentday athletes, while reminding residents of the heroes of yesteryear. To dig back into Chilliwack’s history, organizers are working with the Chilliwack Museum and Archives.

“I think what we’re also doing is waking up the community to the level of skill and talent we’ve had in the community-both have and had,” said Pederson.

The hope is to have the hall complete and open to the public by December. But that will mean not just hammering out the details of what the display will look like, but deciding what athletes deserve a spot in the hall.

“We’ll be running hard to get it done, but I think we can do it,” said Fitzsimmons. “There’s a huge diverse [sports community] and I think we can tap into that.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer can call her at 604-847-3765

tolsen@chilliwacktimes.com

First Class Revealed For Chilliwack Sports Hall of Fame

Dave Archibald headlines the inaugural class that will enter the brand-new Chilliwack Sports Hall of Fame in late October.

The induction ceremony will be held at Prospera Centre Oct. 26 during the intermission of a Chilliwack Chiefs game.

Archibald will be inducted in the player category.

Longtime basketball coach Joe Ogmundson goes in as a builder and the Turbo junior baseball team from the mid-1990s becomes the first team inducted.

The Turbo team went to five straight national championship tournaments, starting in 1993. They finally broke through in 1997, winning it all in Oshawa, Ontario.

The team was loaded with Chilliwack talent — including Bob Armstrong, Noel Sharmam, Chris Fitzsimmons, Clayton Beck — with many of those players still living locally. They remain the only Chilliwack team to have ever captured that national title.

Ogmundson has a diverse coaching resume dating back to the 1970s, but he is best known for his work as the girls basketball coach at Chilliwack secondary school. Ogmundson has fashioned the program into a consistent winner, one that has produced countless collegiate players.

Last year’s roster for the national contender University of the Fraser Valley Cascades included four CSS grads — Courtney Bartel, Alexa McCarthy and Nicole and Sarah Wierks. The Wierks sisters and Bartel are back for another run at a CIS title this year, forming the core of the UFV team.

Archibald is the best hockey player Chilliwack has ever produced.

He came up through Chilliwack Minor Hockey, played as a 14-year-old in the Western Hockey League and ended up getting drafted by the National Hockey League’s Minnesota North Stars.

Archibald logged 323 games with the North Stars, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders, finishing his playing career in 1999-00 with a 21 game stint in Sweden.

He also played nationally for Canada, winning silver at the 1991 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and the 1992 Winter Olympics.

“All of these inductees are extremely worthy and we are excited that they will be the first class to enter the Chilliwack Sports Hall of Fame,” said Judy Fitzsimmons, CSHOF president. “We hope Chilliwack will help us to honour them at the Oct. 26 induction ceremony.”

A CSHOF website will be launched soon. Keep checking the Progress sports section over the next two weeks for updates and full features on each inductee.

By Eric Welsh – Chilliwack Progress