A provincial championship rugby team and four individuals have been announced as the next five inductees for the North Cowichan-Duncan Sports Wall of Fame.
The Cowichan Rugby Football Club’s First Division side, which won the B.C. championship in the 1996/97 season will be joined by field hockey Olympian Melanie Brancato (nee Slade), national basketball team player Neil Dirom, para-equestrian builder Jane James, and slo-pitch coach Gerry Rees in the Wall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
The 1996/97 Cowichan Piggies beat James Bay 27-6 to take the Vancouver Island championship, then won the Rounsfell Cup as B.C. champions with a 29-12 victory over Burnaby Lake, becoming the first team from outside Greater Vancouver or Victoria to claim a provincial title.
Melanie Slade came out of the Cowichan Valley to star with the University of British Columbia field hockey team in the 1980s, winning four Canadian university championships and being named an all-star at the national tournament three times. She was also a three-time Canada West all-star and All-Canadian, was twice picked as UBC’s Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year, and was inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. Following her outstanding university career, she went on to play for Canada in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Neil Dirom was an all-star at the Vancouver Island high school basketball championships in 1956, then went on to play for the Alberni Athletics, where he won a provincial senior men’s championship. He earned a scholarship to Washington State University in 1958, and after four years there, went back to Alberni, winning national senior titles from 1964 to 1967. He played with the national men’s team in the 1962/63 season, including trips to the Pan American and World Games.
Jane James founded the Cowichan Therapeutic Riding Association in 1986 and was among the founders of Para-Equestrian Canada. James also served as Chef d’Equipe for the national para-equestrian team including at the Paralympics in 1996, 2004 and 2012. Her many honours include BC Disability Association Coach of the Year in 1996, Horse Council BC Coach of the Year in 2004, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
Gerry Rees coached slo-pitch teams to provincial championships in 1992, 1993 and 1997, and to a Canadian championship in 1994. In 1990, his team won 106 of 111 games, including various high-profile tournaments. Rees was president of the local slo-pitch league for 16 years, and served more than three decades as an umpire.
The Class of 2015 will be inducted into the Wall of Fame on Saturday, Nov. 14 at the Cowichan Golf and Country Club. A limited number of tickets are available for $15 apiece, and can be purchased at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre or the North Cowichan Municipal Hall.