HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
If it were possible to sit down today with football administrative legend Sandy Ruckstuhl to chat about his lengthy journey through Ottawa minor football, the conversation would go well into overtime.
And deservedly so.
But it would have been time well invested, hearing stories from a humble man about building a winning football program in a non-combative manner, meeting people and developing friendships, and experiencing the joy he felt during practices and weekend game days at the Nepean Sportsplex’s Minto Field.
For all but two of his 37 years with the Myers Riders Football Club, he served as president, finding the right coaches, trainers and volunteers, welcoming young boys and girls into the program and watching them learn the elements of the game and how to win and lose.
In his first year as a volunteer with the Riders, the mosquito, peewee and bantam teams didn’t win a National Capital Amateur Football Association regular-season game.
“But I did raise more money than they’d ever seen in their lives, $5,000 in 1980,” Ruckstuhl said in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen in 2008.
The Riders’ executive took notice and Ruckstuhl became vice-president in 1981 before taking over as the long-reigning president.
During his 37 years as a football volunteer, which matched his 37 years as a federal government employee (retiring as deputy director for foreign affairs), the Riders won an amazing 61 championships – NCAFA A-Cup (33), Ontario Minor Football League (10), Ontario Varsity Football League (10), Quebec Junior Football League (seven) and inter-provincial (one).
Ruckstuhl, who was dedicated to and calmly passionate about football, passed away in January, 2017, at age 72. But he hasn’t been forgotten.
In a quiet spot, which is a long, pass-and-run play north of Minto Field, Ottawa city council and the community and protective services committee recently erected a plaque to commemorate Ruckstuhl’s significant achievements in minor football.
Minto Field and the two neighbouring football fields behind the Confederation Education Centre High School on Woodroffe Avenue will now be known as Sandy Ruckstuhl Gridirons.
“He lived his life on that (Minto) field, every night that we were practising there, he was here, every single weekend of football, he was here,” his wife Linda Ruckstuhl told CTV Ottawa at the official ceremony to dedicate the plaque.
At the 2007 Ottawa Sports Awards Dinner, the Ruckstuhls were awarded the Mayor’s Cup for their dedication to and accomplishments in football. Linda also played a key volunteer role in the Riders’ organization.
“He loved the kids, he joked with them all the time. Once they got to know him, he’d be like a magnet to them,” she added.
“He spent (his life) getting great coaches, great trainers, great volunteers, and just went at it whole-heartedly to build the Myers Riders up as a very viable team.”
In 1992, Sandy Ruckstuhl watched the Riders win three NCAFA A-Cup championships (mosquito, peewee and bantam) as well as two Ontario Minor Football League titles (mosquito and bantam).
But 16 years later, the Riders had a second five-championship season as the tyke, mosquito, peewee and bantam teams charged to four NCAFA A-Cup titles and Myers also won the Quebec Junior Football League final. The Riders club finished the regular season and playoffs with a combined record of 50 wins and four losses. What a way to celebrate the club’s 35th anniversary in 2008.
“We’re excited about it,” Ruckstuhl said at the time about having five Riders teams in five championship games in one season. “It’s the first time it has ever happened to us. I don’t recollect this happening to anyone else, but it may have.
“I’m sure we’ll come out with targets on our back. But that’s sport. I want to be confident, but I don’t want to appear to be arrogant. I try to caution people. Let’s remember we’re playing another team and they want to win, too. Let’s enjoy this, but let’s not be too silly.”
Ruckstuhl had the right attitude to be a high-ranking volunteer in minor sports and he was able to be a part of many celebrations.
“It boils down to great coaching. We were very, very lucky to have an excellent coaching staff at every level,” he reasoned at the time.
“They bring out the best in the kids.”
And the kids brought out the best in Ruckstuhl.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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