42 years of Dinnies sports

By Sean Nyilassy

The Dinos’ history is richer than the University of Calgary’s crappy 40 years. Hell, even the rad Gauntlet Sports banner you see above with the sweet Dinosaur cartoons was from 1964. In that year, the U of C created their Athletics Department, with men’s teams dubbed the Dinosaurs and women’s the Dinnies. The teams slowly developed before hitting their prime after about 15 years.

“We set the bar for athletic performance in the ’80s and early ’90s,” said Jack Neumann, the Dinos sports information director, with confidence.

And he’s right. The Dinos won 24 national titles during that time; a feat for any school. The teams competed under their original names until 1998 when they were both renamed “the Dinos.”

There are now 22 varsity-sanctioned teams competing in 12 different sports with a grand-total of 32 national and 110 Canada West Championships under their belts. As you read onwards, you will dive deep into the Dinosaurs’ and Dinnies’ histories as few human beings have done before.

Nationally, the Dinosaurs began and are still with the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union, which changed its name to Canadian Interuniversity Sport in June, 2001. Locally, they began in the Western Canada Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which was divided in 1971, putting the Dinos in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association sub-division–later simplified to Canada West.

The Dinnies, on the other hand, competed solely in the WCIAA until March, 1970 when the Canadian Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Union was created and the Dinnies won the first “unofficial” national championship; a women’s volleyball tournament in Winnipeg. (Some of you may remember some members of this team being honoured at the 2006 CIS Women’s Volleyball Championship held at the U of C Mar. 2-4.)

The sexes competed in separate leagues until 1978 when CIAU and CWIAU amalgamated.

First win: Sat., Sept. 19, 1964.

The football Dinosaurs won their inaugural match in McMahon Stadium against the Royal Military College Redmen of Kingston, Ontario. Despite being down 0-7 at the half, the Dinosaurs fought back to a 16-7 win.

First conference win: Sat., Oct. 31, 1964.

In a home match against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, the Dinosaurs football squad finally got it right. After narrowly leading 14-13 at halftime, the Dinosaurs pulled up their socks for a 23-13 win.

First WCIAA Championship: Sat., Feb. 5, 1966.

The Dinnies basketball team brought home the U of C’s first major WCIAA title when the ladies emerged victorious from WCIAA basketball weekend. They won their games against the Huskies, University of Alberta Pandas and University of Manitoba Bisonettes, but lost to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. Their record, however, was good enough to win the tournament.

The Dinosaurs basketball team accomplished the same feat that year, attaining the highest point total in their history to clinch the conference win against the Huskies 114-67 Sat., Feb. 12. These men went on to host the CIAU Basketball Championship Mar. 4-5. The Dinosaurs defeated the Carleton University Ravens 83-68 in the semi-final and moved on to the University of Windsor Lancers in the championship round. Despite being down by as many as 17 points, the Dinosaurs clawed back to a nine-point halftime deficit. They couldn’t complete the comeback, eventually losing 95-83.

First CWIAU Championship: Sun., Mar. 8, 1970.

The Dinettes volleyball squad won their first WCIAU championship Feb. 12-14 in Edmonton. Our ladies won 18 of 19 sets in the round robin, dropping one to the Bisonettes who they would meet in the final. The Dinos won the best-of-three contest with an edge-of-your-seat 15-9 third-game thriller.

They went on to win the U of C’s first national title at Waterloo University Mar. 7-8.

First CIAU Coach of the Year: 1974.

A team is nothing without brains behind the reins. Good coaching can make a team while bad coaching can destroy it. The Dinosaurs first proved their coaches had the talent it takes when the men’s hockey head coach, George Kingston was named CIAU Hockey Coach of the Year.

He guided the Dinosaurs to a 14-4 season and kept them hungry for the post-season. They met the U of A Golden Bears–a team that had robbed the Dinosaurs of multiple championships in the past–to fight for the CWUAA Championship.

The Dinos saw success and went on to work the University of Waterloo Warriors. The winner would advance to the CIAU Championship. The Dinosaurs lost the game 6-3, but Kingston took them farther than ever before.

Following the 1973-74 season, Kingston took a year off to travel in Europe chasing his passion. He took the trip to study European hockey techniques.

First CIAU Championship: Sat., Mar. 13, 1982.

This day in Dinosaurs athletics was as great as an ice cream cone to a child on a sunny summer day. The Dinosaurs didn’t just win their first CIAU Championship, but first two. The volleyball and swimming men both came home national champions from their travels to opposite sides of this vast country.

After convincingly winning five-straight games to take the CWUAA Championship, the volleyball squad laced their hightops for the CIAU Volleyball Championship in Halifax Mar. 11-13.

There, they won their first two games–against the York University Yeomen and U of M Bisons–in straight sets. They struggled to knock the host Dalhousie University Tigers into submission in five games–despite losing the first two–before plowing through the Universite Laval Rouge et Or in three sets. They put the Memorial University of Newfoundland Sea-Hawks out of their misery quickly to advance to the final undefeated.

There, they had a rematch with the Bisons and, although they didn’t win as cleanly as before, took the national title in four sets.

First Vanier Cup: Sat., Nov. 19, 1983.

The Dinos began their season with two losses. Not promising. However, head coach Peter Connellan was unphased. He was even confident enough to mess with the press.

“Our goal is to finish the year at six and two,” he told the ’80s reporters. “We’ve got the two, now all we need is the six.”

At the time, it sounded like a joke, but in 23-year retrospect, he was for real. The team won their remaining six regular season games to meet the T-Birds in the CWUAA Championship Fri., Nov. 11. Neumann was at the game and remembers it as vividly as a deer remembers its last seconds in the headlights.

“It’s the hardest hitting game I’ve ever seen,” he recalled, going into more gory details that made me cringe.

As the story goes, there was blood, there were injuries, and the game is etched into the memories of its players to this day. The Dinosaurs’ quarterback Greg Vavra completed 26 passes for 338 yards for a 21-12 Dinosaurs win.

The win sent the Dinosaurs packing for Toronto, where they would take on the Queens University Golden Gaels. In a game compared to a chess match, karate fight and marathon all at once in the Gauntlet, the Dinos found themselves on easy street up 17-3 at halftime. This lead did not last forever. The Gaels managed to seize a 20-21 lead with 3:22 to play.

Vavra didn’t want to look like an ass on national television, and put together a drive that made the Queens men look like golden gals. He moved the ball 73 yards in six plays–the last; a gorgeous 32-yard touchdown pass. The Dinosaurs made the two-point conversion then secured the game with a field goal, making the final score 31-21.

Jim Petros set a school record, rushing 260 yards during the game. He received the game’s MVP honours while Vavra was named CIAU Football Player of the Year.

This not only marked the Dinosaurs’ first Vanier Cup, but their first nationally televised CIAU championship win.

Quick Bites

The Dinosaurs and Dinnies had their most dominant season 1988-89, when they won five major CIAU championships: the Vanier Cup, men’s and women’s volleyball, women’s basketball and men’s swimming championships. The footballers were 7-1 during the regular season and won their four playoff matches. The men’s volleyball team went undefeated all season and throughout playoffs while the ladies won the title from the University of Victoria Vikettes who beat them in the CWUAA championship. The women’s basketball team went an unheard of 36-0 throughout the season and playoffs, winning the championship final 92-55. Ouch. Some other Dinosaurs teams fared well that season too. The hockey men took the Bears to three games in the best-of-three CWUAA championship and the basketball men lost to the T-Birds in the CWUAA semi-final.

The men’s swimming team is the most successful Dinos team. They won nine of 10 CIAU championships from 1982-91, and have added an additional two since. The coach in the 1980s, Deryk Snelling, won seven of eight CIAU Swimming Coach of the Year awards from 1982-89. The team has also produced two Olympic medalists; Curtis Myden and Mark Tewksbury.

Dinos athletes have won five BLG awards, which are presented to the top male and female athletes in the country–Andy Cameron in 1993, Don Blair in 1996, Myden in 1997, Leighann Doan in 2001 and Joanna Niemczewska in 2004–more than any other school.

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