Football community mourns Van Loon

A titan of football in Red Deer — as a coach, referee and league founder — Ken Van Loon died late last week. The long time volunteer wore many hats coaching Grade 9 basketball and junior football at Lindsay Thurber as well as the Red Deer Packers, a former Alberta Junior Football League team. A teacher, Van Loon, 71 at the time of his death, started at Eastview Middle School and taught at Lindsay Thurber.

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A titan of football in Red Deer — as a coach, referee and league founder — Ken Van Loon died late last week.

The long time volunteer wore many hats coaching Grade 9 basketball and junior football at Lindsay Thurber as well as the Red Deer Packers, a former Alberta Junior Football League team. A teacher, Van Loon, 71 at the time of his death, started at Eastview Middle School and taught at Lindsay Thurber.

While at Eastview Middle School he also coached track and field and basketball.

He officiated football and basketball games and founded and became president of the Central Alberta Football Officials Association.

He, Jay Hetherington and Gino Castellan helped found three football leagues in Central Alberta at the bantam, pee wee and atom levels. They rearranged the bantam program to get two of the high schools involved and founded the pee wee and atom leagues that still run today.

“Ken, above all, was a good citizen,” said Hetherington. “He was passionate about kids and sports and the good it can do for them.

Hetherington, president of Football Alberta, collaborated with Ken as both a colleague, Hetherington was the guidance counsellor at Lindsay Thurber, and a shared passion for football.

“He loved to organize things and see things happen,” said Hetherington. “He loved to take a concept and make it happen.”

Hetherington described Ken’s referee style as “a little bit different.” Ken was never able to shed his coaching mentality as he would always teach, even as a referee.

“He would throw a flag and then say ‘I’m not throwing the flag this time. But it’s because you did this and I could have thrown the flag. If you do that again I will.’”

His son Roger spent some of his childhood on the sidelines as a ball boy.

“He took me to games and practices all the time,” said Roger. “When he was the assistant coach for Lindsay Thurber, I remember being on the sidelines with him as a ball boy. I got to be there watching, going to practices and even close road games.

“It was like an extended family, the players look after you.”

Roger said Ken has battled to stay alive for the last four months. He died on March 18.

Roger described Ken as “very passionate” when it came to football. Ken taught physical education.

“He cared for his kids too,” said Roger. “He loved us.”

In 2011, Ken was given a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to sport in the community by the Sports Council of Red Deer. He was also awarded a lifetime membership to Football Alberta in recognition of his contribution to the sport and officiating.

While a student at the University of Alberta, he was on the 1967 Vanier Cup winning Golden Bears football team.