Local Legends Join Orillia Sports Hall of Fame (8 Photos)

“No one becomes a champion alone,” said Mark Shivers, who was inducted along with Nelson Dunlop, Bill Smith, Joanne Stanga, Wayne Dowswell, Bill Watters and Dave Town

Iconic builders, legendary pioneers and extraordinary athletes were inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

Mark Shivers, former Orillia Athlete of the Year, officiated the Class of 2021. He was inducted alongside builders Nelson Dunlop, Bill Smith and Joanne Stanga, who have been instrumental in the growth of baseball, lacrosse and hockey in Orillia for many decades.

Shivers, who started swimming with the Orillia Channel Cats, became an elite swimmer in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2002, Shivers became the national champion in the 50 butterfly.

Crediting his family’s support, Shivers said his older brother Todd was his first swimming instructor at the family home on the banks of the Narrows in Atherley.

“You then became my biggest supporter and biggest fan during the heyday of my sport,” Shivers said to his brother, suppressing emotion. “You lit the competitive fire in me from a young age and to this day you know when that fire needs a little stoking.”

Shivers credited his success to growing up in Orillia, where he had many great coaches and supporters.

“No one ever becomes a champion on their own,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had great coaches throughout my sporting career.”

Nels Dunlop dedicated his life to baseball in Orillia as a coach, umpire and manager. Dunlop pioneered the foundation of Orillia Legion minor baseball and created the House League program in the mid-1950s. Dunlop’s son Mick spoke on behalf of his late father.

“He had simple philosophies,” he said. “He taught people to learn to believe in themselves.”

Dunlop says his father coached many average players over the years but got the best out of everyone.

“The sport might have survived without him, but he did it for decades,” he said. “He just loved the game of baseball.”

Bill Smith bought the Orillia Travelways in 1979 and raised the team to Tier 2 junior hockey. The team won the 1985 Centennial Cup and was a staple during his tenure as owners. Smith was also part of the ownership group of the Toronto Rock, which won five NLL championships from 1999-2005.

Smith said it was a “true honor” to be inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame. He credits volunteers who helped him field successful sports teams throughout his career.

“In all sports, it’s not the owner that makes the difference in a team or your paid help,” he said. “It’s the volunteers who come out and support the team. Without them, no sports organization would be successful.”

Looking back on the Travelways days, Smith says they were among the best times of his life. None of this would have been possible without the support of his family, he says.

“We had some great teams,” he said. “My family supported me through all this shit and I’m surprised they did,” he quipped.

Joanne Stanga, an Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame member, is one of the pioneers behind women’s lacrosse in Ontario. She worked tirelessly to develop the sport for girls in Orillia and other Ontario communities before becoming a provincial and national champion coach.

To see the Orillia Lady Kings grow into an organization that produces world-class talent makes Stanga incredibly proud.

“We hope that one day the little Lady Kings, these cute little five, six and seven year olds, will grow up and play in the Olympics,” she said. “You have to start somewhere.”

Stanga says hard work pays off, but without the support of her family and the Orillia community, she would not have succeeded.

“They are always there to guide, support and inspire us,” she said. “You are responsible for my involvement in sports. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

The “Class of 2020” — Wayne Dowswell, Bill Watters and Dave Town — were also inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night after last year’s ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dowswell, a former Park Street Collegiate Institute physical education teacher, led the school to 19 consecutive city wrestling championships. He also started the “Muscle Barn” which is still going strong to this day.

Dowswell’s wife Alice spoke on his behalf during Saturday night’s ceremony and shared a story about when the trainer would be inventing new wrestling moves at home.

“I was Wayne’s grappling partner every time he needed to teach a new wrestling move,” she said as laughter erupted from the sold-out crowd at Hawk Ridge Golf Club. “Once we were practicing the hip throw on a bed and my foot went through the wall. Our son had a playmate with him who went home and told his parents Mr Dowswell had thrown Mrs Dowswell through the wall.”

Watters was a top athlete at the Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute and the University of Toronto before becoming an NHL player agent, broadcaster, and assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Watters also co-owned the Toronto Rock and helped found the CFL’s Ottawa Renegades.

“I was lucky,” he said. “I always prepared myself when opportunities presented themselves and I was strong enough to embrace them and make the best of them.”

Watters attributed his professional success to his early life in Orillia, where he built relationships and worked hard.

“Orillia was a big part of my life,” he said. “When I think of the good fortune I’ve had, I attribute a large part of it to the city of Orillia. I have never forgotten it and I thank you all for what you have done for me in this regard.”

Town joined Shivers as a fellow swimmer and was the only other inductee to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the athlete category Saturday night.

Town was an elite swimmer who won seven gold medals in Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union championship events for the University of Toronto. Town holds more than 60 Canadian records and four world records in Masters swimming.

“I got to represent Canada four times internationally,” he said. “I was really fortunate that at one meeting I actually got on the podium and saw the Canadian flag being raised.”

Town says it is a great honor to be inducted into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame. As a researcher and local historian, he knows how many great athletes are still waiting to share the honor.

“Eventually I start nominating these guys from 100 years ago who are pretty awesome,” he said.

There are now 27 inductees into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame. For further information, click here.

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