A becoming match: Wally Buono and the Water Boys head for B.C. Lions Wall of Fame

Wally Buono and Water Boys founders Dennis Skulsky, Moray Keith, Tom Malone and Jamie Pitblado are being inducted into the BC Lions Wall of Fame

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Not lengthy after Wally Buono was employed by Bobby Ackles to take over the B.C. Lions’ soccer operations in 2003, Buono signed a participant to a contract that included a signing bonus.

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The bonus was unfold out over a number of months, as he had all the time carried out in Calgary.

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A day or two after sealing the contract, Buono received a name from Lions proprietor David Braley.

“David calls up and mentioned, ‘Wally, what are you doing? You’ve pro-rated it over three months.’ And I instructed him I come from a corporation the place we needed to preserve money circulation in thoughts,” he recalled Tuesday.

“And David mentioned, ‘No, no, you signal one thing, we pay it.”

“It was an enormous change,” Buono mentioned with amusing. “He not solely talked about it, however put his cash the place his mouth is.”

Buono, who was Lions basic supervisor from 2003 to 2017 and coach for 2 separate stints throughout that interval, will be a part of the Lions’ Wall of Fame on Saturday, when the Leos host the Calgary Stampeders, the opposite group Buono coached within the CFL, from 1990 to 2002.

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Buono is taken into account one of many best leaders in CFL historical past, successful 4 Gray Cups in Calgary and a pair with B.C., in 2006 and 2011.

Buono mentioned that Ackles was large on trusting his folks to do their jobs — and in addition to speak to 1 one other.

“Bob trusted me to the purpose the place he mentioned, ‘David goes to be calling you to speak soccer. You do what you must do,’” he mentioned.

“For somebody in between to belief you to do this, the arrogance in each events, that, in my thoughts, all the time gave me the liberty to make main selections — like signing Dave Dickenson.”

B.C. Lions Head Coach Wally Buono (left) and President and CEO Bob Ackles take in a practice on 2007.
B.C. Lions Head Coach Wally Buono (left) and President and CEO Bob Ackles soak up a apply on 2007. Picture by Peter Battistoni /Vancouver Solar

Additionally being honoured by having their names added to the Wall of Fame are the 4 founders of the Water Boys, the enterprise improvement group that Ackles put collectively early in 2003: Dennis Skulsky, Moray Keith, Tom Malone and Jamie Pitblado.

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It’s becoming that the 5 males are being honoured collectively, former Province sports activities columnist Ed Willes mentioned.

“I keep in mind the one factor (Ackles) talked about, he was simply so shocked how far the group had fallen within the eyes of the market. There was no buzz. No curiosity,” Willes recalled.

A successful group is important to constructing buzz, and Buono was employed to proper the on-field ship. However Ackles knew that group relationships needed to be constructed as effectively. Professional sports activities groups are one thing of a semi-public belief, in any case — when you don’t know your group, your group gained’t know you.

“The group had completely misplaced its connection to the enterprise group, they have been disengaged. The Canucks have been making strikes, spending plenty of effort and time,” Pitblado recalled. “It was the lacking piece. As Moray all the time mentioned, we wished to make soccer cool once more, create a gaggle of enterprise and group leaders to make the Lions matter. Convey folks collectively. Community. Assist drive enterprise to one another.”

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Pitblado mentioned the primary effort to have interaction with native companies had them host breakfasts on the Vancouver Aquarium over three consecutive mornings.

“We didn’t know if anybody can be there, however we received about 100,” he mentioned.

That determine quickly grew to a number of hundred. And the occasions nonetheless keep on at present, with coaches and gamers from the group all the time in attendance, lending perception into how the group capabilities and what they need to obtain.

In 2005, the Water Boys have been honoured by the CFL with the Commissioners’ Award in recognition of their group efforts, in addition to their assist in internet hosting the 2005 Gray Cup.

“Look again at Bobby Ackles in 2003 and what does he do in that yr? He creates the Water Boys, and he brings in Wally Buono. The group was struggling. They’re just about immediately profitable. They change into one of many shining stars (on discipline) in the entire league. And he additionally begins the enterprise aspect,” present Lions chief working officer Duane Vienneau mentioned.

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“And that’s the primary yr coming again to the membership.”

Wally Buono and the B.C. Lions watch a post-game tribute to Bobby Ackles at B.C. Place on July 18, 2008.
Wally Buono and the B.C. Lions watch a post-game tribute to Bobby Ackles at B.C. Place on July 18, 2008. Picture by NICK PROCAYLO /PROVINCE

Vienneau got here to the Lions from the CFL, the place he had been Chief Gray Cup and Occasions Officer. Earlier than that have been stints operating Gray Cup festivals in Edmonton, working for the Edmonton Elks and Edmonton Rush, operating the Tour of Alberta, and dealing in a wide range of capacities for hockey groups as effectively.

He has seen plenty of sports activities operations and promotional schemes in his time, and the Water Boys stands as among the finest. Their legacy stays to this present day, he added, undergirding the work new proprietor Amar Doman and his workers have put in to rebuilding the Lions’ buzz, he mentioned.

“It was meant to create ambassadors for the membership. Open doorways for various alternatives, to create conversations round what they’re attempting to do,” he mentioned. “I don’t assume the Lions might have been as profitable as they have been with out the Water Boys. It amplified the message. All of them felt part of the membership.”

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Buono labored with some nice coaches and gamers. However the help of Braley, Ackles and Skulsky, via issues such because the Water Boys, was important.

“When you will have that form of help, you will have the setting to do nice issues,” he mentioned. “I’d say this to the gamers over and over, our job wasn’t simply to play soccer, it was to win at enjoying soccer. After we gained the Gray Cup in 2006, it wasn’t simply successful, it’s that we had lived as much as great expectation.

“That was a really satisfying time.”

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