March 9th was the 43rd annual Red Deer Community Sport awards, and for the first time there were two winners of the Lifetime Sport Achievement award — Greg Atkinson and Ken Van Loon.
Van Loon, a football player, coach, builder, executive and more, had no idea he was going to win the award as he attended the gala.
“A couple months ago, a friend of mine, Jay Hetherington asked me some questions about myself but I thought it was something to do with football Alberta but, nope,” he joked.
He said the award assures him that all the years of hard work have not gone in vain. “The thing to me is validation that I’ve been on the right track somewhere.”
And although he’s proud of his accomplishments, Van Loon remains humble.
“I get recognized, but there are so many people that contribute to make what I do — my job — a lot easier.”
The football executive attributes some of his success to his ‘get ‘er done attitude’.
“A lot of people don’t want to do things, they’d rather leave the work to someone else. And I believe that if it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
The words are like a mantra for those inspirational wall photo frames.
“You got to be involved to make changes, to elicit changes in things, you have to be on the inside, you have to be participating.”
But Van Loon didn’t just participate; he helped build the bantam and pee wee football leagues in Red Deer, as we’ve come to know it.
The former Central Football League commissioner doesn’t take all the credit for the bantam and pee wee programs.
“Jay Hetherington is the guy that’s helped me the most in football because he had the germ of the ideas, of revamping the Bantam league in 2004.
“Then when we revamped the bantam league, we thought in two to three years we’d get the pee wee football started.”
And for this lover of football it’s okay to start things but he really doesn’t believe in unfinished business.
“To keep something going is to put things in place that allow other people to take over and run it beautifully”
So what’s next for Van Loon, a member of the Central Alberta Football Official Association since 1986?
He’ll be a training director.
“I’m responsible for presenting clinics, I’m responsible for evaluating officials, rules nights, etc.”
Hetherington has been with Van Loon for years.
“The number of people that have aided me in this, I can’t count them all.”
But Hetherington was the first person that Van Loon wanted to thank. Unfortunately, in all the excitement at the banquet, he forgot.
“Jay Hetherington was the guy I missed. I was going to thank him, and then I got up there and of course the lights are on you. I see the crowd standing up; a standing ovation which I’ve never had in my life.”
Finally, the man with all the ideas actually lost a thought.
“I moved here in 1976 because of two guys (the late) Art Polutnik and Gene Watson.”
And in some way, it seems those two men, and many Red Deerians are glad he did.