INSTANT REPLAY: The North Shore's main wrestling man
Ian McDonald has been North Shore wrestling’s main man for a long time.
It was exactly 40 years ago on Jan. 16-17, 1973, that an outstanding all-star team of Japanese high school wrestlers visited the North Shore, completely overwhelming the local opposition. The boys from Japan came out on top in all 20 bouts contested at Carson Graham and West Vancouver.
Yet, oddly enough, despite the losses, it was actually wrestling on the North Shore – and B.C. as a whole – that turned out to be the real winners after all.
You see, among the crowd that squeezed into Carson Graham’s old gym on that first of two nights to witness the pick of North Shore wrestlers challenge the very best in all of Japan, was a Grade 10 student from now-long-gone Hamilton Jr. Secondary by the name of Ian McDonald. It would not be long before his impact on wrestling would be felt big time.
McDonald wasn’t a member of coach Terry Shaw’s Hamilton wrestling team, though he had tried the sport in Shaw’s P.E. class. He was a basketball player then which is a bit of a hoot considering the tee-shirt (see next-page photo) he now sometimes wears. However, witnessing the athleticism of the Japanese wrestlers impressed McDonald so much that neither he nor wrestling here would ever be the same.
Ian wrestled at Carson Graham and then four years at SFU as a two-time Western Canada open champion and a fifth-place finisher in the nationals at 62 kilos (that’s 137 pounds for the metrically challenged).
In 1985, he embarked on a teaching and coaching career at Balmoral and now Carson Graham where his presence has featured some impressive achievements in coaching and promoting the mat sport.
Over the past three decades McDonald has turned the sport upside down. (Okay, I enjoy plays on words as much as McDonald loves to poke fun with his shirt). Actually, change that to downside up because it’s been all positive stuff.
He’s coached almost 40 wrestlers who have won medals in national championships at one age level or another. He’s reluctant to single out the best of the bunch but Justin Kapil, son Pat McDonald, Shannon Samler, Emily Richardson and Ashley McKilligan are certainly notable.
McDonald founded and is president of the Capilano Wrestling Club (organized in 1985 and formally registered in 1990) which goes year round. He’s been wrestling league chair for the North Shore Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association for the past 19 years and the commissioner of B.C. high school wrestling since 2008.
He was the main man in the development and promotion of girls wrestling in B.C. schools beginning in 1989.
With Barry Callaghan the head coach at Carson Graham beginning in 1982 – and with McDonald feeding Carson with Balmoral wrestlers – the Eagles won four B.C. high school team championships and also had one second in the six years between 1990 and 1995.
The meet involved boys only then, though an invitational meet for girls spurred by McDonald’s promotion was held those years and became official in 1996.
Since 2004, Carson Graham has won the B.C. girls’ team title six times and Balmoral once. In 2008 they finished one-two.
McDonald has taken wrestling teams to Japan and he’s hosted the Japanese here. And it all started because of that 1973 meet.
“The meet had been advertised in The Citizen,” Ian was reminiscing the other day. “My dad saw it and said ‘It’s just up the street. Let’s go.’ It was a dark January evening. What else are you going to do? He liked combatives. Why not get out and do something with one of his boys. So we went; just me and my dad. I remember being enthralled by watching the Japanese team warm up. It was something to behold.
“Ken Favero [who won the B.C. high school heavyweight title that season] and Harvey Marshall were wrestling for Carson Graham then. It was purely a North Shore team [against Japan] and it wasn’t even close. We got our clocks absolutely cleaned.”
Other wrestlers were Argyle’s Steve Fletcher, Carson Graham’s Bill Sulymka, Delbrook’s Mike Miller, Handsworth’s Rob Alexander, Doug Bocking, Kelly McCloskey and Gord Willits; and Windsor’s Kiyo Okuda. The next night at West Van involved a completely different lineup of North Shore athletes.
Win or lose though, McDonald is passionate about exchanges with other countries. “International exchanges are absolutely wonderful,” he exclaims. “They make war impossible. If anyone asks me to host, I always do it.”
Callaghan, now retired, says, “Ian has been a super driving force for wrestling on the North Shore forever because of his keenness. I didn’t know how I would operate with girls on the wrestling mat but Ian was very good at it and very professional. He was instrumental in getting girls’ wrestling going province wide. Ian is very patient and complimentary to the young women who want to come out and is always working hard to improve their skills.”
Earl Henderson, McDonald’s high school coach, recalls “Ian was a very tough kid at 125 pounds,” noting in particular his “stick-to-itiveness” as a wrestler.
Seems like that’s a word that applies to his wrestling passion ever since.
This is episode 474 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.