Rafael Melendez-Duke has been a fixture on the Victoria and Island track scene for 70 years. So multi-faceted has been his career that he could be enshrined as both an athlete and a builder.
Rafael joined the storied Victoria Flying Y Track and Field Club in 1947 and was one of the greatest Victoria sprinters of the 1950s. Under coach and mentor Archie McKinnon, he competed as a sprinter and relay specialist for 11 years. Along the way, he won B.C. Senior Men’s double sprint title for six years. He won the 100 yard sprint at the Canadian Championships in 1951 and took silver in the 200 yard sprint at the 1952 Championships. His career best times on cinder tracks were 9.8 seconds for the 100 yard sprint, 10.8 seconds for the 100 metre sprint, and 21.9 seconds for 200 metres.
After graduating from University School, Rafael’s post-secondary schooling took him to California’s St. Mary’s College, where he won his letter in track in his freshman year, followed the next year by a season-ending muscle pull. A transfer to Vancouver lasting five years coupled with a career change to teaching led him back to Victoria (and track), where he is known to have bested a future school principal over a 50 metre race in order to merit an offer to teach in School District 61.
In his 27 years at Willows School, Rafael revitalized its running activities and, with superb backing from teacher Mike Antolin and principals Tom Bourne and Tarj Mann over a 25-year span, made the elementary school’s cross-country running program a popular and competitive activity, existing to this day.
A landmark track meet, held at UVic’s Centennial Stadium in September 1968, attracted many U.S. and European athletes just three weeks prior to Mexico City’s Olympics. As a timer and judge at the finish line, Rafael forever avoided these officiating functions and yearned for the starter’s gun!
In 1968, at the invitation of long-time starters Ernie Teagle and Jack Hutchinson, Rafael was invited to be a third starter at local and B.C. meets with the added bonus of competing as a master athlete. What an offer! Starting became a passion and a commitment that now stretches more than five decades.
Rafael has helped build the sport of track and field in Victoria both as a coach and meet technical official. He has literally written the book on starting: On Your Marks – a History of Track and Field Officiating in Victoria. He has started thousands of races in his career, from Commonwealth Games and Canadian Olympic Trials to elementary school meets.
To Rafael, the athlete on the start line is always Number One, whether he or she is eight years old or an Olympic hopeful. A track meet can have up to 200 races, yet he treats every runner under his charge with the same respect, courtesy and genuine interest. As an example of commitment to his sport, Rafael Melendez-Duke is unbeatable.
SPONSORED BY SMUS UNIVERSITY SCHOOL ALUMNI ASSOC.
The 1967 John F. Kennedy Cup soccer champion Victoria O'Keefes celebrated the 50th anniversary of their title in 2017.
The old Pacific Coast Soccer League (PCSL) was the top level of the sport in the province and the local team was known as Victoria United before the O'Keefes beer sponsorship. The Kennedy Cup, inaugurated by the late U.S. president in 1961 as part of his physical fitness initiative, was contested between the champions of the PCSL and the amateur champions of Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico. It was the only sports Cup named after JFK.
To make it to the tournament was no easy path, yet the O'Keefes won it with aplomb in 1967.
“With the likes of Vancouver Columbus and Firefighters, every week in the Pacific Coast League was tough competition,” recalled Coach Frank Grealy of the process just to get to the Kennedy Cup tournament. The O'Keefes proved to be the pick of the bunch in Canada's Centennnial year as they won 19 of 21 games in the 1966-67 PCSL season. “These were intelligent, smart players. I always believed in attacking soccer, and sometimes I enjoyed so much what I was watching with this group that I forgot I was coaching,” said Grealy.
The PCSL hosted the Kennedy Cup tournament that year at Empire Stadium in Vancouver, so needless to say, Lower Mainland soccer officials were dismayed by the lost marketing opportunities due to having an Island team as the host PCSL-Champion club.
“Oh, Oh, Wrong Team,” read a headline in a Vancouver Sun story on May, 8, 1967, by legendary sports columnist Jim Kearney. He was from Victoria, and no doubt reveled in the Lower Mainland organizers’ discomfort about who the host club turned out to be.
“It just clicked for us that year... it was a true team effort,” said O'Keefes goalkeeper Barry Sadler, who recorded 10 shutouts that season. Victoria beat Los Angeles FC 3-1 in the Kennedy Cup semifinals and then shocked the Mexico representative, which was a national select side, 2-1 in the Cup final before more than 6,000 fans.
B.C. soccer legend Dave Stothard, a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, credits Grealy’s punishing training schedule and notes that’s why the O'Keefes didn’t fade late in games. “We went at it hard, even in the last 20 minutes,” said Grealy.
The veteran captain, Stothard, had played in Canada’s first-ever World Cup qualifying campaign for Sweden 1958. The 18-year-old rookie, Ike MacKay, would go on to play pro in the NASL and for Canada in World Cup qualifying for Germany 1974 and Argentina 1978. The goalkeeper, Sadler, commanded the crease for a generation of Island soccer teams. Peter Brett was from England and Jim Menzies, Tom Westwater and Ed Carson had come out from Scotland and commuted from jobs in Port Alberni to play.
All in all, this was a true team effort.
SPONSORED BY VANCOUVER ISLAND SOCCER LEAGUE