A conversation with…

Val Schneider, LB/FB/P, University of Alberta Golden Bears

In Vanier Cup III, the Alberta Golden Bears edged McMaster 10-9 on a late field goal to capture the first non-invitational CIAU football championship, at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. Co-captain Val Schneider, a versatile player who lined up on defence (linebacker), offence (fullback) and special teams (punter), was one of many Bears who had competed in Vanier Cup I in 1965, a heartbreaking 14-7 loss to Toronto. Schneider was named MVP of the 1967 final, an honour his son, Brent, would later receive on two occasions in the 1990s.

What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup week and the overall experience?

A tremendous and rewarding experience, winning the first official national championship, since the first two games, 1965 and 1966, were invitational games. The organizing committee treated us in a first-class manner throughout our stay in Toronto, which included a dinner and reception for both teams at City Hall.

What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?

The end of the game when we realized we had won a national championship.

What do you remember as the key play of the game?

Linebacker John Wilson intercepting a McMaster pass late in the game to seal the victory.

(editor’s note: Wilson’s interception occurred in the final minute of the game, with McMaster driving inside the Alberta 20-yard line)

What was your personal greatest play or greatest moment?

Punting the ball 55 yards out of our end zone during a critical part of the game. Our regular long-snapper had been injured on the previous play.

Did anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen during the game or during Vanier week?

A McMaster player, Vern Lucyk, left the game after the first quarter to be married in Hamilton.

Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?

They kept us focused on doing our jobs and not be concerned that we were playing an older and more experienced team.

How did you or the team react to the stadium and the crowd?

It was the biggest stadium we had played in, and the large crowd, along with bands and cheerleaders, made it a real college atmosphere. I believe it was the first college football game to be televised live nationally, on CBC.

What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?

Our team carrying our coach, Clare Drake, on their shoulders with the Vanier Cup.

What are your memories of the trip back home?

There was a post-game celebration at the Royal York Hotel, but I can’t remember the trip home.

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

In 1967, the team drew 4,000 to 6,000 fans to games at Varsity Stadium in Edmonton – a lot were students – so the reaction on campus was very enthusiastic.

At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?

Perhaps not immediately, but having had the privilege to play for two outstanding coaches, Gino Fracas and Clare Drake, while at the University of Alberta, influenced my desire to coach and work at the university level. I went on to spend 32 years working as a coach, faculty member and administrator in post-secondary education.

How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup win?

I have watched almost all Vanier Cup games on television since 1967, so it brings back a lot of fond memories. I was on the coaching staff in four Vanier Cups while at the University of Saskatchewan, so it is a really special event for me.

What did it mean to you to be named MVP of a national championship game?

It was a thrill and honour to win the MVP in such a close game. I suspect my selection was based on playing a good part of the game both-ways, linebacker and fullback, when our starting fullback, Les Sorenson, suffered a sprained ankle. I also had a very good game punting the football.

(editor’s note: 513 yards on 13 punts, 39.5-yard average)

You also played in the 1965 game. How do the two games compare?

The 1965 game was close, but was played in rain and on a muddy field which tended to favour the larger University of Toronto Blues team.

Your son went on to win the Vanier Cup MVP award a while later, with the University of Saskatchewan. How special is that to you?

Brent won the MVP award in 1994 and 1996, making it a special and an historic occasion for our family. I was on the coaching staff in the 1994 game, so it was even more special becoming the first father-son combination to be awarded the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy.

More about Val Schneider (courtesy of University of Alberta Athletics):

An excellent athlete, successful coach and outstanding builder of sport, Val Schneider (1966 BPE, 1969 MA – University of Alberta) is widely recognized for his contributions to sport throughout Canada. Originally born in Germany, but raised in Edmonton, Val attended the University of Alberta and played on the Golden Bears football team from 1963-1968 as a fullback, linebacker and punter.

As a player, Val won the Western Intercollegiate Football League (WIFL) championship in four consecutive seasons, was a Vanier Cup finalist in 1965 (the first year of Vanier Cup competition) and won the Vanier Cup in 1967. From 1964 to 1968 – except for 1966 when he was teaching – Val was named to the WIFL All-Star team, and he was also the co-captain of the Bears from 1965 to 1968. In the 1967 Vanier Cup championship match, he was awarded the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy as the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Schneider’s link with the Vanier Cup continued throughout his career. In 1987, he was inducted into the Vanier Cup Honour Roll for his contributions to college football as a player, coach and administrator. Val served as head coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies from 1974 to 1981, then as an assistant coach with the Huskies, including in 1990 and 1996 when the team won the Vanier Cup. All told, Schneider won three Vanier Cups and appeared in five. His son Brent won the Ted Morris Trophy in 1994 and 1996.

Schneider has taught high school, college and university, has coached at each of these levels, and was the athletic director at the University of Saskatchewan from 1980 to 1991. He served as a senior administrator for the Canada West University Athletic Association (CWUAA) and the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union (CIAU), and was the assistant dean (services) for the College of Physical Education at the University of Saskatchewan for more than a decade.

Val was active as a football builder in many capacities, including co-author of the Canadian Amateur Football coaching certification manual. He was inducted into the University of Alberta Hall of Fame in 1999 and, in 2003, he received the CIS Austin-Matthews Award for outstanding contributions to university sport.

Scott Harrigan
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