by Don Wells
February 12, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – The 2014 class of inductees into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame will be comprised of five of the most extraordinary athletes in the history of the varsity program, two of its most successful teams and the student-founder of the Thunderbirds women’s ice hockey team.
The April 1 induction promises to be a big night for UBC football with the induction of former linebacker and punter Kevin Konar in the Athlete category and the 1986 Vanier Cup Champion Thunderbirds in the Team category.
The night will also serve as a reminder of UBC’s contributions to Canadian Olympic teams, with 2000 Olympic Swim Team member and 1998 World Championships and Commonwealth Games double medalist Mark Versfeld entering the Hall of Fame along with rower Laryssa Biesenthal, who won eight international medals after graduating from UBC in 1995, including bronze medals at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.
Tammy Crawford, the 1993 CIS women’s soccer Most Valuable Player and former national team member, will also enter the Sports Hall of Fame in 2014 along with rugby legend Robert “Ro” Hindson. Hindson played at UBC from 1972 to 1976 and went on to a lengthy international career that saw him make 31 appearances for Canada, including the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.
The accumulated members of the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 women’s field hockey teams, which won back-to-back CIS national championships in 1998 and 1999, will enter the Hall of Fame in the Team category, while Laura Bennion, the founder and former player and coach of UBC’s women’s ice hockey team will enter in the Builder category.
The inaugural UBC Sports Hall of Fame induction was held in 1993. Since that time a total of 86 former athletes, 24 teams and 33 builders of sport have been inducted for accomplishments dating as far back as the early 1920s.
The 2014 induction will take place at the annual 2014 Big Block Awards and Sports Hall of Fame Dinner April 1 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
2014 Athlete Inductees
Laryssa Biesenthal (Rowing 1990-95)
A former track athlete, Laryssa Biesenthal took up rowing when she entered UBC in 1990. She attended her first World Championship in 1995 where alongside Kathleen Heddle, Marnie McBean and Diane O’Grady, she won a silver medal in the quadruple sculls event. The same foursome won bronze medals at the 1996 Olympics. In total, Laryssa won five World Championship medals, two Olympic medals (including a bronze in the Eights in 2000) and a gold medal in the 1999 Pan American Games in double sculls.
Tammy Crawford (Soccer 1993-96)
After a season on Canada’s national team, Tammy Crawford entered UBC in 1993 and promptly led the Thunderbirds to a CIS National Championship. Along the way she led the entire Canada West conference in scoring (seven goals in 10 games) and was named a first-team All Canadian. After the 2-1 victory over Dalhousie in the championship final, she was awarded the Gunn Baldursson Memorial Award as CIS Championship MVP. She played for Canada again in the summer of 1994 and rejoined the Thunderbirds that fall as team captain, leading UBC to an undefeated season, a return trip to the CIS championships, and a silver medal finish following an overtime loss to Dalhousie in the championship final.
Robert ‘Ro’ Hindson (Rugby 1972-76)
The highlight of Robert Hindson’s UBC playing career was in the 1974-75 season, in which he helped lead the Thunderbirds to a record of 20-2, including a Western Canadian Championship and a victory over the University of California Berkeley in the annual World Cup two-game total-point series. For their efforts, the Thunderbirds were honoured as the 1975 Sport B.C. Team of the Year. Hindson’s international career began in 1972 after his freshman year. When he retired in 1990, he had accumulated a Canadian record 31 international caps. Two of those caps were earned against Ireland and Wales at the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987. His remarkable career was officially recognized by his inductions into the BC Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011 and the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.
Kevin Konar (Football 1976-79)
Kevin Konar played middle linebacker and punter at UBC and was a member of two Canada West championship teams (1976 and 1978) and a member of the first UBC team to appear in the Vanier Cup in 1978. He was named a Canada West All-star in 1977, 78 and 79 and an All Canadian in 1978 and 79. A co-winner of the 1980 Bobby Gaul Award (UBC’s most outstanding graduating male athlete), he was a first-round CFL draft pick by the BC Lions, with whom he played 10 seasons as a middle linebacker and was twice named a CFL All-star. As a BC Lion, he played in three Grey Cup Games, and won a Grey Cup championship in 1985. A durable member of the Lions’ defence, he missed only one game in 10 seasons of professional football. He was named to BC Lions Wall of Fame in 2008.
Mark Versfeld (Swimming 1997-2001)
Mark Versfeld was a backstroke specialist on four consecutive CIS Championship teams (1998, 99, 2000, 2001). Among the many highlights of his brilliant CIS career, he was a member of UBC’s 1999 400-metre medley relay team (with Jeremy Jaud, Garret Pulle and Jake Steele) that defeated the University of Calgary’s famed foursome of Chris Renaud, Russell Patrick, Curtis Myden and Etienne Caron, setting a CIS record in the process. The 1998 Sport BC University Athlete of the Year was a national team member from 1996 to 2001 and an Olympian in 2000. At the 1998 World Championships, he won a silver medal in 100-metre backstroke and bronze in 200-metre backstroke. He won gold in the same two events at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. An honours student in the Faculty of Arts, Mark was named the top male Academic All-Canadian in the Canada West conference in 2000-2001.
2014 Team Inductees
Coached by Frank Smith, the Thunderbirds went undefeated in regular-season play and outscored Canada West opponents 237-82. After a crushing 49-3 victory over the Calgary Dinos in the Canada West Championship, the Thunderbirds travelled to Lennoxville, Que. where they narrowly beat the Bishop’s Gaiters 32-30 in the Churchill Bowl to win a berth in the Vanier Cup. One week later Smith’s Thunderbirds claimed UBC’s second-ever Vanier Cup championship with a thrilling 25-23 win over the Western Ontario Mustangs. A total of nine UBC players were named Canada West All-stars, while three were named First Team All Canadians (Jack Beetstra, Mark Norman, Leo Groenewegen). Defensive back Mark Norman was a finalist for the Hec Crighton Trophy (CIS Most Outstanding Player) and the winner of the President’s trophy (CIS Most Outstanding Defensive Player). Seven members of the team went on to play professional football in the Canadian Football League.
1998-2000 women’s field hockey
The Thunderbirds field hockey team during this two-year period posted identical records of 14-1-1 in each season on route to CIS Championship victories in 1998 and 1999. Goaltender Ann Harada was named a First-Team All Canadian and a CIS Championship all-star in 1999. Jennifer Dowdeswell was named to both the 1998 and 1999 CIS Championship all-star teams, and coach Hash Kanjee was honoured as 1998 CIS Coach of the Year. Dowdeswell was subsequently honoured as the winner of the Marilyn Pomfret Award (UBC Female Athlete of the Year) in 2001 while team mate Stephanie Hume was the award’s co-winner in 2002. Remarkably, a total of seven team members from these two seasons represented Canada in international competition (Laura Balakshin, Kim Buker, Ann Harada, Stephanie Hume, Lesley Magnus, Mo O’Connor, Emily Menzies).
2014 Builder Inductee
After earning a degree in Journalism at Boston’s Northeastern University and playing three seasons of NCAA Division I hockey, Laura Bennion enrolled in UBC’s Faculty of Science. In the spring of 1994 she made an appointment to see UBC Athletic Director Bob Philip to ask for $10,000 so she could start a women’s hockey team. Six months later, with Bennion as coach, a determined group of students hit the ice for the inaugural season. As she had ensured Philip, the team soon moved up to increasingly more competitive levels of play, prompting her to surrender the coaching role so that she could join the team as its first-line centre. The year after she graduated, the modern coast-to-coast CIS league became a reality, with seven Canada West teams competing in a 16-game schedule leading up to playoffs and the national championship. Twenty years following the meeting with Bob Philip, UBC’s women’s hockey team is well-entrenched and one of the most competitive teams in the country. Laura Bennion’s induction in the Builder category represents just the second time that an inductee has been honoured in that category for accomplishments as a student.