A tennis legend, diving dynamo, pitcher whisperer, hoops coach and NFL speedster are headed to the North Shore Sports Hall of Fame class of 2020, along with a North Van soccer team that conquered all of Canada more than 80 years ago.
Canadian tennis star Grant Connell, Olympic diver Blythe Hartley, baseball coach Dave Empey, basketball coach Kathy Shields and football player Jerome Pathon are all headed to the Hall as individual entries, along with the 1938 North Shore United soccer team.
“It’s wonderful,” said Connell about getting the call to the Hall of Fame. “It’s nice to be remembered. It kind of came out of the blue.”
The North Shore Sports Hall of Fame was the first community Hall of Fame in British Columbia when it was established in 1968. A second class was inducted in 1971, but the Hall of Fame then went dormant until 2019 when a group of community volunteers revived it and inducted the first class in nearly 50 years. The 2020 group will be the second class inducted since the reboot of the Hall of Fame.
Here’s a little more info on 2020’s new class:
Grant Connell, athlete, tennis
Born in Regina but raised in North Vancouver, Connell is regarded as one of the best tennis players in Canadian history. The left-hander played professionally for 12 years from 1986-97, facing off against the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe. As a singles player he reached No. 67 in the world, his best Grand Slam results being third-round appearance at the Australian Open in 1991 and Wimbledon in 1994.
Connell’s biggest wins came in doubles where he became one of the best in the world, reaching the world No. 1 overall ranking for doubles players in 1993. He won 22 tour doubles titles in his career and reached at least the semifinals at all four Grand Slam tournaments in doubles. He was a doubles finalist three times at Wimbledon and once at the Australian Open.
Connell was also a killer for Team Canada in Davis Cup play, putting up a record of 8-3 in singles and 15-6 in doubles. His wins helped put Canada into the Davis Cup World Group for the first time ever in 1991 and again in 1992. Connell is a member of the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame and B.C. Sports Hall of Fame. He now works as a Realtor on the North Shore.
Blythe Hartley, athlete, diver
Born in Edmonton and raised in North Vancouver, Hartley was a powerhouse in international diving during a competitive career spanning more than a decade. Competing in one- and three-metre springboard as well as 10-m platform events, Hartley won 15 medals at major international competitions from 1998 to 2008, including two golds, a silver and a bronze at world championship meets. She also earned bronze at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, partnering with Émilie Heymans to finish third in the synchronized 10-m platform event.
Hartley’s tally also includes five medals at the Pan Am Games and five medals at the Commonwealth Games. Since retiring following the 2008 Olympics she has been featured on CBC as a diving analyst.
Dave Empey, coach, baseball
North Vancouver native Dave Empey was a diamond asset for the local sports scene for decades as a player, coach and sportswriter. Working in the B.C. Premier Baseball League with the North Shore Twins, Vancouver Cannons and North Delta Blue Jays, Empey coached 19 future pro players (six Major Leaguers), including elite pitchers Ryan Dempster, James Paxton, Simon Pond and Rowan Wick.
Empey also covered sports for the North Shore Citizen and Vancouver Sun from 1965-80, and organized an annual North Shore Sports Banquet in the 1970s that was a precursor to the current North Shore Sport Awards. In recent years Empey has continued to write about the sport in a blog titled Dave Talks Baseball.
Jerome Pathon, athlete, football
Born in South Africa and raised in North Vancouver, Pathon has the distinction of being the first North Shore athlete to score a touchdown in the NFL. In fact the speedy receiver and kick returner racked up 15 touchdowns in 99 career NFL games from 1998 to 2005 with the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
The Carson Graham grad won the long jump at the high school provincial championships before playing at Acadia University and the University of Washington. His NFL career includes scoring a touchdown on the “River City Relay,” one of the wildest plays in league history that saw the Saints make three lateral passes before Pathon scored with no time left on the clock. The touchdown made the score 20-19, but the Saints missed the ensuing conversion and lost by one.
Kathy (Williams) Shields, coach, basketball
An all-star player at West Vancouver’s former Hillside Secondary, Kathy Shields went on to win three CIS championships as a player with UBC (1970) and Laurentian University (1974-75) and played for the Canadian national team. She left her biggest mark on the sport as a coach, however, winning eight national titles in 22 years as the women’s head coach at the University of Victoria. Shields also served as head coach and assistant of the Canadian women’s national team. She is a member of the Canada Basketball Hall of Fame, B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and has been invested into the Order of Canada.
1938 North Shore United, team, soccer
The powerhouse North Shore United soccer squads of the 1930s and ’40s may be the “greatest North Shore team ever,” according to sport historian (and North Shore Sports Hall of Fame chairman) Len Corben, who wrote up the squad in a 2003 sports column. The team won the national title, the Dominion Football Association trophy, twice in a 12-year span, the first win coming in 1938 at Carruthers Park in Winnipeg. There the Reds, so-called because of the colour of their jerseys, defeated Ontario’s Timmins Dome Mines in a best-of-three series that turned into a five-game series because two games ended in ties.
The final win ended an exhausting stretch for the team that included a best-of-three series win (that took four games to complete) over the Winnipeg Westons in the western final. All told the team won nine crucial playoff games during a 16-day stretch that included an uncomfortable two-day train ride from Vancouver to Winnipeg.
The 2020 Hall of Fame inductees will be officially recognized as part of the annual North Shore Sport Awards ceremony scheduled for Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m. at the West Vancouver Community Centre. Stay tuned to the North Shore News for profiles of the inductees in advance of the ceremony. Thanks also to Len Corben for his tireless work as the keeper of North Shore sports history.