Roy Vollinger, who has died at 77, was Mr. Football on the Island.
Vollinger’s nearly 50-year involvement with the sport was recognized when he was presented with the B.C. Lions Orange Helmet Award for 2012 by guest speaker and former NFL player and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.
The Orange Helmet Award, presented annually for career service to football in B.C., was well earned over five decades.
Among the players Vollinger coached with the Saanich Hornets was Ed Murray, the Super Bowl-winning kicker who is among the top-25 in all-time NFL career scoring.
“Roy Vollinger … was my introduction to football,” Murray said in a 2016 interview.
Vollinger founded the Victoria Dolphins junior football team in 1975 with another legendary Island football builder and coach, Frank Hindle. That team is now the Westshore Rebels of the B.C. Junior Football Conference. Vollinger then re-established the Saanich Hornets junior program in 1979, in which he coached for 15 seasons, winning 13 Island championships.
“He was like a father figure to us,” said Chris Spargo, a retired sergeant with the Victoria Police Department, who was a Hornets running back for Vollinger, and who later coached with him.
“He was hard on us and had high expectations, but he was fair, so all the players wanted to give him their best. Our practices were harder than the games. Roy was about work ethic and commitment. His enthusiasm was completely infectious and as players we thrived on that. As young teens he made us realize what we were really capable of, pushing us outside our comfort zones.”
Vollinger also started the Victoria Spartans program in the late 1980s; the team’s nickname was a riff on the Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas, which was a particular favourite of his.
Vollinger also established the now-dynastic Mount Douglas Rams high school program in 1992, co-founded the Spectrum Thunder high school team in 2013 and became its first head coach.
Those were not easy things to do in a “soccer, rugby, baseball town,” Vollinger noted.
Current Mount Douglas head coach Mark Townsend was the Saanich Hornets quarterback for five years under Vollinger before playing for the Simon Fraser University Clan.
“What an amazing person and coach Roy was,” said Townsend. “I feel blessed and privileged to have known Roy Vollinger, who became a father figure to me. Roy impacted my life as well as many, many others. He was hugely integral to the success of football in Victoria and beyond.”
A raconteur of the highest order, Vollinger was a veritable repository of Island football lore, and he had an engaging way of imparting his many tales of past glories, games and players.
“He had a remarkable life and nobody could tell a funny story like coach Roy,” said Townsend. “We all know Roy as an iconic football person, especially as a coach, organizer and builder. He was a true character and so very generous [and] will be deeply missed.”
Vollinger was from the land of the other football. Born in Ealing, England, he came to Canada in Grade 5 and graduated from Vic High. He quickly took to North American gridiron. When Vollinger broke a leg during his final year of Hornets junior football in 1966, head coach Ken Stocks asked if he wanted to help coach since he would be on the sidelines anyway. Little did he know it would lead to a career as a coach and builder.
Six of Vollinger’s teams captured B.C. championships and 16 of his players went on to play university football in the U.S. and Canada. He estimated more than 1,000 adults volunteered with his football teams and programs over the years.
“In community football, you are always fundraising because this is a very expensive sport,” Vollinger once said. “Those volunteers put in a lot of time and I’m still chums with many of them.”
Those volunteers, along with his former players, are fondly remembering a football career well lived.