Joe Iannarelli was in Victoria in January 1961 as he entertained a pair of job offers. One was in Newfoundland and the other in Esquimalt. He remembers calling his wife long distance from Victoria saying, "I'm at the Empress Hotel. The grass is green, the sun is shining. Which job should I take?" It was a no-brainer and Joe started his amazing run as the Manager of the Esquimalt Municipal Sports Centre in a career that had an impact on thousands of youngsters in Greater Victoria.
Joe came to the local sporting world after many years as a nomadic hockey player. He started the game as a youngster, taking turns sharing a pair of second-hand skates with his two brothers. Joe soon developed into a fine skater, known for his passing ability and his playmaking skill. At 18, he was invited to a tryout and he wound up with a junior team in Kitchener, where one of his teammates was a local boy by the name of Howie Meeker. For the next 20 seasons, he played for teams in Canada and the US and in 1946 he got close to the National Hockey League through an invitation to the Detroit Red Wings' training camp. One of the other prospects was a kid from Saskatchewan named Gordie Howe.
The next few years saw Joe combining his hockey career with management and coaching positions with a number of organizations back east before getting the plum job in Esquimalt. He would spend the following two decades as manager of the Municipal Sports Centre. Joe was so much more than a "sit at the desk" administrator, and his dynamic, hands-on approach created a rich environment for the parents and kids of his community.
During his tenure, Joe organized and directed the first Hockey Summer School on Vancouver Island and he grew the School from 20 to over 600 players. Notably, two of his young skaters, Rick LaPointe and Ron Grahame went on to successful NHL careers. Joe was also instrumental in creating a hockey league with teams from the army, navy and university, as well as a team sponsored by an auto dealer called the Pontiac Chiefs.
A newspaper article published just a few years after the opening of the Sports Centre extolled the accomplishments that Joe had initiated. The families of Esquimalt now had a place of common interest where mom and dad could curl, junior could play hockey, and his sister could go to a skating party. Tiny tots skating drew more than 700 parents and kids, and figure skating and curlinggrew in popularity.
There was so much more happening in the building. Joe oversaw fall fairs by the Victoria Kinsmen Club, Jaycees teenage driving rodeos, dog and cat shows, roller skating, a world championship badminton tournament, and teen dances in the summer, among thousands of other events.
Joe's tremendous efforts over the decades have left his mark in the development of so many sports including hockey, curling, figure skating, broomball and golf, and his positive impact on so many thousands of youngsters is impossible to calculate.
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