Despite her eagerness to recount the athletic achievements of hundreds of women Mustangs, Helen Luckman, MEd’82, remains reticent about trumpeting her own.
“There are so many stories of wonderful athletes, really great people and quite accomplished teams. My focus was to help create the best playing field for the teams, and the joy of my job was to cheer them on,” Luckman recalled this week.
On Nov. 19, Luckman’s story as a multi-sport coach, advocate for women’s athletics and tireless alumni booster will be highlighted during the Western Mustangs Sports Hall of Fame Dinner as she receives a lifetime achievement award.
Joining Luckman on stage with a lifetime achievement award of his own will be Jack Cowin, BA’64, LLD’00, a Western champion on and off the football field and wrestling mat for more than 60 years.
“We are so lucky to have a lineup of Western athletes, builders, legends, who deserve these honours,” said Dennis Hinschberger, BA’86, president of the Western Mustangs Alumni Association. “The quality of this group is top-drawer.”
Luckman and Cowin will be joined as inductees by two Mustangs teams, six individual athletes and two builders. (A full list is below.)
Sports dynamo and advocate
Luckman has been integral to the growth of women athletics since she joined the university as women’s vice-chair of athletics in 1981.
She coached field hockey and tennis; introduced (along with Fiona Goodchild) intercollegiate women’s squash;and successfully lobbied to have soccer included as a national-level university sport.
A dynamo, Luckman resurrected the women’s athletic committee with representatives from all women’s teams; became a founder and two-time president of the Women’s Athletic Alumnae chapter; organized countless homecoming events as a staffer in alumni relations; and served as the Alumni Association’s representative on university Senate.
In 1986, Western women athletes presented Luckman with a White Blanket in honour of her contributions to the women’s program, only the second person in Western history to receive that honour. In the same year, she received the Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics Association Honour Award for exemplifying the best in university sport in ethics, integrity and honesty.
From 1987 until her retirement in 1999, Luckman worked in the Western alumni relations department.
Luckman co-wrote, with Pat Morden, Mustang Tales: The Story of Women’s Sports at the University of Western Ontario.
Stories include 1930s basketball sharpshooter Mary Wong and her athletic sisters Gretta and Clara; swimming teams that practised in St. Thomas for want of a pool locally; the emergence of the first intercollegiate women soccer team, clad in the basketball team’s old uniforms.
The stories include the runners and rowers, wrestlers and rugby players; athletes in fencing and field hockey, tennis and track.
For Luckman, these are the stories that matter most. And as grateful as she is to be honoured for her life’s work in promoting Western athletics, she is quick to say, “It’s not about me.”
“It’s about all these people who deserve recognition, who did great things while they were here and went on to do great things afterwards.”
She is proudest of the generations of connections inspired by the Women’s Athletic Alumni (now the WMAA after joining its men’s athletic counterpart the W Club ) and the leadership and advocacy women alumni continue to share.
In the book, Mustangs 100: A Century of Western Athletics, Western professor Bob Barney called Luckman “a warrior for women’s athletics” at Western.
‘Discipline, all-in effort, preparation’
Jack Cowin was inducted into the Mustangs Hall of Fame in 1992 for his feats in football and wrestling. He was MVP of the Western football team in 1963 and, a year later, was the Ontario Quebec Athletic Association heavyweight wrestling champion.
The lifetime achievement award this year is also a recognition of Cowin’s six decades of support to Western, includingto its athletes, coaches, volunteers and sports facilities.
As an athlete, Cowin was rarely one to seek the spotlight; it more often found him.
The exception, he recounted, was the only time he scored a touchdown (a rarity for a defensive lineman), when he fell on a fumble in the endzone at McGill Stadium.
“Unfortunately, the field was a mud bowl and I was covered in mud from head to foot. The CBC TV announcer could only advise that there had been a Western touchdown scored by an unidentifiable Western player. So my moment of glory passed, unrecognized, into obscurity,” Cowin recalled.
The Windsor-born Cowin was Western’s chancellor from 2015 to 2019. He often cited the lessons he learned as a Mustang with much of his commitment to philanthropy and his success as an entrepreneur. Cowin heads corporate fast-food giant Competitive Foods Australia, which owns hundreds of Hungry Jack’s franchises.
His biggest life lesson from sport: “Never ever give up, discipline, all-in effort and preparation for battle, mentally and physically. Failure is not an end but rather a learning experience to have another go.”
Despite living more than 15,000 kilometres away, Cowin’s unflagging ambassadorship for Western and his commitment to Western athletics continues.
“I think it is important to remember where you came from: what has been important in your life and what has enabled you to achieve what you have. It fits to also be prepared to give back to people and institutions like Western that have helped you get to where you are.”
Women’s rugby, 2004 – 2006:
Western dominated women’s rugby in Ontario and Canada as they went undefeated for almost two years and won two back-to-back Canadian championships. With coach Natascha Wesch at the helm, the team defeated five-time national champion University of Alberta Pandas en route to a national championship in 2004. They then capped the following year with a second championship, after a perfect season in which they outscored their opponents 349-5.
Men’s basketball team, 1990 – 1991
This small-in-stature team was big in heart and cohesion as the first and only Mustangs team to win a men’s national basketball title. Its regular-season record of 33-2 was the first time a team had won more than 30 games, a feat unrivalled for two more decades and the highest winning percentage of any team in the university’s history. Coached by Craig Boydell, the team was ranked third in the country heading into the provincial championships, then knocked off their top rivals before claiming victory at the national finals.
Amanda Anderson, BA’10, basketball
Anderson spent thousands of hours in the gym, working on her layups, three-pointers and free throws. That hard work not only made Anderson one of the best shooters in the country, it made her an inspiration to teammates and other young athletes. Anderson is a two-time all-Canadian, a five-time Ontario University Athletics all-star, and a three-time team MVP. In 2010, she won the F.W.P. Jones award, presented annually to a female Western student who has made the greatest contribution to Western athletics. She remains the team’s top scorer.
Jen Cotten, BSC’10, track and field
One of Western’s all-time best track and field athletes, Jen Cotten was named MVP for each of the five years she competed at university level in hurdles, long jump, relays, pentathlon and heptathlon. Cotten won 15 Ontario University Athletics medals and 13 Canadian Interuniversity Sport medals, and is a seven-time all-Canadian. Cotten twice won Western’s F.W.P. Jones award, which annually recognizes the female Mustang who made the biggest contribution to athletics. Her talent, hard work and humility earned her accolades and the respect of her teammates, competitors, coaches and officials.
David Edwards, BA’74, BEd’75, builder
David Edwards has been influential to hundreds as a coach, teacher and mentor who instilled in athletes the joy of participation and the importance of team play. An outstanding hockey player for Western, Edwards became a coach at minor and junior levels before becoming assistant coach of Western men’s hockey. He helped coach the Western women’s hockey team to a national championship. Edwards served as assistant coach with the Western men’s and women’s volleyball teams, then led championship teams as head coach of the women’s volleyball team.
Michael Forgeron, BA’88, rowing
As a member of the Mustangs rowing team, Michael Forgeron won Ontario University Athletics championships in 1984, 1986 and 1987. He joined the Canadian national team in 1991, won silver at the Pan American Games and was a member of Canada’s men’s eights team that won Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992. Forgeron continued to row for Canada internationally until 1996 and is an inductee into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame.
Kristina Lemon, MD’10, softball
Kristina Lemon smashed softball records during her four years pitching for the Western Mustangs. Lemon won 40 games, saved seven and lost just five. She struck out 295 batters in 296 innings pitched, and pitched a perfect game in the 2007 Ontario championship. Lemon was a three-time Ontario all-star, a three-time Mustang captain, a two-time Mustang MVP, and a two-time Ontario championship MVP. At the same time, she excelled in studying medicine and is now a transplant surgeon.
Dave Mills, BA’82, BEd’83, builder
Dave Mills can be counted among the country’s most influential and committed cross-country and track athletes, coaches and supporters. He was a member of the Mustang track and cross-country teams from 1978-80 and from 1981-83. He won no fewer than 15 Ontario and Canadian intercollegiate medals and is a five-time Canadian champion in track and cross-country running. Mills has been middle- and long-distance coach for the London Western Track and Field Team for 26 years, and has coached many university, Canadian, international and Olympic champions. Athletics Canada named him development coach of the year in 2019.
Bob Robinson, wrestling
Bob Robinson was an outstanding wrestler who won five Canadian intercollegiate medals. He was a member of two Ontario championship teams and in the 1984-85 season received the prestigious Western Purple Blanket award. He competed for Canada at the 1984 Olympics and won gold at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. After retiring from wrestling, Robinson began competing in middle- and long-distance running races. He excels in golf and is captain of the Royal Montreal Golf Club.
David Sapunjis, BA’95, football
David Sapunjis was always an offensive threat in football – as wide receiver, slot-back and kick returner – in the late 1980s. Sapunjis was instrumental in helping the Mustangs capture the Yates Cup in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and the Vanier Cup, also in 1989. Sapunjis played for the Calgary Stampeders for seven years and was twice named the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian player. Sapunjis played in three Grey Cup games. His family established the Sapunjis Family Award, which financially benefits a Western football player and a Western female varsity player.