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Bill Fryer: A very natural move from hockey to ringette

Ringette was not the first sporting love for long-time Sudburian and current Ottawa resident Bill Fryer.

In fact, his hockey skills were refined enough to lead to an NCAA scholarship offer, attending Harvard University in the early 1960s.

But when his career as a landscape architect would bring him back to Sudbury in 1972, and his daughter Erin eventually gravitated towards what was then the winter sport of choice for athletic young women, Fryer was hooked.

In 2007, with nearly a quarter century of ringette coaching experience to his credit, Bill Fryer would be inducted into the Ringette Ontario Hall of Fame (Provincial Builders category), joining a list of locals that includes the likes of Shirley Holden, Marian Leonard, Gerry Haarmeyer, Peter Jowsey, Jackie Lajeunesse, Jean Narozanski, Terry Watters, Gerry Lamoureux and others.

"It seems stronge to say, but it was just the natural thing to do," said Fryer recently, his wife Lorna, as always, by his side on the family patio in the nation's capital. "Every September or October, it was ringette time."

Growing up, however, the start of fall signalled the start of his hockey days, first on the playground circuit and eventually as a member of the Sudbury High School Wolves. "The high school league was one of the best in Ontario, maybe even Canada," said Fryer.

"There were a number of US college scouts, and they also had someone that would look out for talent in Sudbury and recommend players."

Narrowing down his choices to Harvard and McGill - Fryer was both athletically and academically inclined - the ultra-friendly 78 year old recalled things coming to a head in short order. "The timing was so tight that summer of my acceptance in the program at Harvard," said Fryer.

"I basically got my acceptance in mid-August and had to leave the next week to go to school."

Pursuing a liberal arts degree in Architectural Sciences in Boston, Fryer adjusted to life away from home. "It was a different lifestyle, a really different world out there. They were great people, good to be around and fun, but they had their own hockey system, for sure."

Fortunate enough to find work quickly with the NCC (National Capital Commission) in Ottawa, Fryer would squeeze in a one year stint in Winnipeg before finally heading home to northern Ontario in 1972, his daughter welcomed to the family one year later (the Fryer's also have a son).

"By the time Erin was five or six, a friend or two talked her into going out on the ice with them at Westmount Playground," recalled Fryer. "The playground system in Sudbury was pretty notorious."

Wanting to help out where he could, Bill was assimilated quickly into an adaptation of the on ice pursuits of his youth. "I could see the similarities with hockey, and I had a good knowledge of sports, in general," he said.

And so began a lengthy involvement in guiding ringette talent, young and old, more often than not with friend and co-cach Gary Loiselle at his side. It was a volunteer gig that endured long after Erin had hung up her skates.

And through it all, Fryer held firm the core beliefs that garnered him so much respect in the sport, friendships with players that live on to this day.

"If you focus on the kids and the game, and what has to be taught, always thinking about where you can help, things tend to go smoothly," said Fryer. "I enjoyed the travelling to tournaments, the practices, and everything that goes with it."

"This was a passion that Bill had, and he developed it, and I think it helped too the partner that he coached with (Loiselle)," stated Lorna. "The two of them made quite a team."

It was a good thing that Fryer enjoyed the travelling. While his earliest assignments to the coaching ranks were strictly on a local level, rising quickly to the more competitive level of the sport, his final years would see him working with the Richmond Hill Lightning, making the standard weekend tour with recent Ringette Canada Hall of Fame inductee Karen Duguay and the Merla family.

"There is a feeling of family within ringette that really drew me to it," said Fryer. "I remember the first couple of (out of town) tournaments that our competitive teams went to, and the way in which all of the local teams cheered each other on."

"Generally, our teams did not leave the city until the last Sudbury team was out. You had 10 year olds waiting on 18 year olds to finish their game at 8:00 p.m. Sunday evening in Kitchener."

Very comfortable with the gift of gab, Fryer would utilize the skill as a key calling card of his coaching style. "It really is about opening that dialogue in terms of helping them get to the next level of skill in their play," he said.

"Once they put the helmet and the sweater on, you are talking to a ringette player."

These days, Fryer is forced to live with the reality of the competitive forces that create a tug of war for the attention of young female athletes. "I have two grand-daughters in Ottawa who went straight to hockey," he said.

And while he stills loves that classic Canadian winter pasttime, ringette will always hold a special place in his heart.

"To me, ringette was set up perhaps as more of a team sport, in terms of having to pass the ring over each (blue) line. A player could not take it from one end all the way to the other end without having to pass the ring."

And more than a decade later, Fryer is still humbled by the accolades the game has given him, including his confirmation into the provincial Hall of Fame. "It felt a little strange, obviously," he said.

"That's not why I stood on the snowbanks of Westmount Playground, watching game after game."

No - but it was the natural thing to do.

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