He may have retired four decades ago, but Gary DeMan will always be known as “coach” to the hundreds of students who played for him over the years at Calgary’s St. Francis High School.
The Alberta Sports Hall of Famer captured 14 city championships as head coach of the St. Francis High School football team and kickstarted the school’s basketball program. He’s even the guy who gave the Browns their name.
“His coaching tree in this city is amazing,” Browns product Tony Spoletini said. “Half of — or more — of the coaches that have gone on to win city championships and provincial championships, or just gone on to be head coaches, played for him.
“Many young men… started businesses, or, you know, just became great fathers and just great community leaders. He’s probably more proud of that than their athletic achievements.”
Federal government approves modified quarantine for CFL players
Spoletini and former Browns player Tom Forzani have always known the impact DeMan had on their lives. Now, all vaccinated and reunited, they got a chance to see it all through his eyes.
Through his 38 years as a coach and teacher, DeMan quietly built an arsenal of memorabilia that now fills a whole room in his home.
The pair of alumni recently got to visit the hidden gem of Calgary sports history.
“Gary has won so many times, and what impressed me today was when he would tell me the names of these kids — and we’re talking about 1960,” Forzani said.
“If you were to say, who was the most impressive coach — not only in sport, but also to guide me for the rest of my 70 years — that would be Gary DeMan.”
Star high school athletes worried about scholarships, exposure with sports season in question
The group could have reminisced for hours, reliving championships, stories of rascally teenagers trying to sneak out of workouts and even the hero’s welcome DeMan received when he visited a former player’s family in Italy.
“The memories, they’re alive to me,” DeMan shrugged. “That’s why I remember most of the names and other people in the pictures and everything. They’re fun memories that bring me a great deal of pleasure.”
But the pictures, the pins, the nets and trophies will soon have a new home.
At 87 years old, DeMan is starting to downsize some of his possessions.
“I’m getting old… and it can’t stay with me forever,” DeMan explained. “I want them to be with people who will appreciate them.”
In a way, it’s going back to where it all started.
St. Francis principal Mark Berger hopes to have memorabilia displayed in a number of trophy cases and in the Browns’ locker-room before school resumes in the fall.
“I just thought this was such a gem that it would be great if our kids could see this, and some of his other players as well,” he said.
“We’re going to try and display things around the football, basketball and stuff like that, so the kids can, you know, stop, take a look and ponder… what their future is going to be.”
One man, two uniforms: remembering Alberta’s football and military connections
Things have certainly changed at the school since DeMan’s day.
While the group toured the beautifully renovated football locker-room, they expressed hope that players today can appreciate where the program started.
“It lets the future generations — the guys that are in this locker-room now — know why this locker-room is here, know why this locker-room is unbelievable and why it means something to be a Brown,” Spoletini said.
As for DeMan, he’s quite content letting the memorabilia go — after all, he got to live it.
“I can see the pictures in my mind’s eye anyway.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.