Inness packing it in

One of the city’s most recognizable names in high school football is retiring.

But like any good coach, Gary Inness — who will put the wraps on a 25-year teaching career at Barrie North Collegiate Institute on Friday — is keeping his play options readily available.

“I haven’t said I’m not coaching anymore,” the 60-year-old Vikings coach said from his office inside the Grove Street secondary school earlier this week. “One step at a time.”

That Inness would leave the door open for a return to the sidelines this fall should come as no surprise.

After all, football “is a tough sport to walk away from.”

Especially when coaching — and teaching — has been a big part of the former Toronto resident’s life for so long.

Initially, it didn’t appear that Inness would be doing either, despite his burning desire to do both.

Inness starred on the football field while studying to become a teacher at McMaster University, but it was another sport that eventually summoned him.

Despite the fact he’d never played a drop of major junior hockey, his talents as a goalie shone bright enough in Jr. ‘B’ and at university that he regularly attracted scouts to the rink.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were the first to come calling, and that’s where the puckstopper began what wound up being a seven-year pro career that included stops with Philadelphia, Washington and American Hockey League affiliates in the 1970s.

After toiling around the big league for almost a decade, and after being bounced around and forced to climb up and down the pro ladder, Inness decided to retire from the game.


Retirement only served to ignite an old dream.

Inness recalled Dick Howe, an inspirational teacher he had growing up in Etobicoke.

“It was his example. There was just something about him, and that’s when I decided I wanted to teach,” he said, adding his NHL career was unplanned.

So teaching, his goal outside of the crease, was the logical next step.

Inness, his wife, Kathy, son, Chad, and daughter, Heather, packed their bags and moved back north of the border, choosing Barrie over Toronto.

“We owned a cottage in Haliburton, and just kind of made the decision, that issue of driving (back and forth to) Toronto, we didn’t want get caught in traffic (every day),” Inness said.

A quarter century later, it seems Barrie has been the perfect fit for both Inness and the many students and athletes who have come to know the low-key teacher and coach.

Inness has taught various subjects, and will close out his career as a guidance counsellor, a position he’s held for the past four-and-a-half years.

But the football field has been Inness’ outdoor classroom through 25 years.

“Just working with students in a different environment, you get some pretty strong relationships going when you’re coaching,” he said, adding it’s never been about winning as much as it’s been about building character among students.

Under Inness’ watch, Barrie North’s storied green and gold-clad football squads have won a pair of Georgian Bay titles, but more importantly, have come away with valuable life lessons.

“I respected the hell out of him,” said Clark Larmon, who spent five seasons playing for Inness at Barrie North in the late ’80s. “At times, I was afraid of him, no question about it. But it was a good fear.”

Larmon remembers missing a football practice in order to attend a hockey tournament once, and wished he hadn’t.

“He benched me the next game,” Larmon said. “He wouldn’t let you get away with anything. For him, it was, ‘You’re accountable to this team.'”

Many of Inness’ former players now coach high school football locally.

It’s Inness’ demanding, yet humble approach that has helped shape so many of his former athletes into what they are today, added Larmon, who is now a teacher himself, and coaches football at Nantyr Shores Secondary School in Innisfil.

“He sets the standard,” Larmon said.

As a long-time football coach at Eastview Secondary School, Martin Carl has known Inness for 20 years. The two Grove Street schools have shared a huge football rivalry in recent years, but the coaches also share a mutual respect.

“North has always had a reputation for hard-nosed football, and I think that comes from Gary Inness,” Carl said. “To coach every year until the day you retire, that’s quite admirable.”

Inness’ office is peppered with signs of his football passion. There are footballs signed by former teams, as well as two framed photos: one of Inness coaching from the sidelines, and another of him out on the field, clearing away snow prior to a championship game.

That shrine will come down on Friday, but the memories will always stick.

“It’s the people here,” Inness said. “There are always bumps along the way. I just find that, when you go into a building like this, with people like this, it’s not quite as bumpy.”

True to form, Inness, who is one of the Simcoe County Athletic Association’s football convenors, will attend a coaches meeting Thursday, to go over planning for next year.

As for his plans on Friday? “It’s kind of business as

usual,” Inness said.

Source: The Barrie Examiner

Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.

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