Olynyk leaves proud sports legacy behind as he enters retirement

Ken Olynyk. (TRU Athletics)

Thompson Rivers University’s longtime athletic director Ken Olynyk has announced his retirement from the position after 16 years at the helm of the WolfPack program.

Olynyk arrived at TRU in a very roundabout way. Originally from Revelstoke, B.C., Olynyk studied at Simon Fraser University before teaching in Vancouver. From there, he moved on to teaching at the University of Lethbridge, then transferring to the University of Toronto as head coach of the men’s basketball team before becoming TRU’s athletic director in 2003. Olynyk was the head coach of the Canadian junior men’s national basketball team from 1983 to 1996.

“Coaching was always an important part of my life,” Olynyk said. “I was able to pass on a lot of knowledge to some incredible student athletes, and teach my kids valuable skills.”

Athletics runs in the family. Olynyk’s son Kelly now plays for the NBA’s Miami Heat, and his daughter Maya played CIS basketball for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.

During Olynyk’s time as director of athletics, TRU’s sport programs underwent radical changes and lots of growth.

“I was here during the time we transitioned from CCAA (Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association) to U Sports, called CIS (Canadian Intercollegiate Sports) at the time. I think that was an important transition, and one that went well.”

But it wasn’t an easy transition in the beginning. Olynyk recognized that some teams were better able to adapt to the larger scale league than others.

“We were a very strong program in [CCAA] and in PacWest, and now we’re at a level where we’re relatively equivalent to that in terms of our sports and student athletes. There was an adjustment period, and some teams adjusted faster than others, but it takes time,” Olynyk said, referring to the success of the men’s soccer program this season.

One of Olynyk’s highest priorities has been supporting student athletes on and off the court.

“Student athletes here have really been outstanding,” Olynyk noted. “We’ve had some incredible representation in terms of both sports and academics, and we want to continue drawing the best student athletes to TRU.”

In order to draw the best and brightest, Olynyk noted a few areas he believes there is still work to be done in.

“As you move forward, you always have to be looking at a few things. Scholarships is a big one, and being able to support student athletes as they represent the university. Every program wants to be stable in scholarships.”

Within the governance of U Sport, member programs have limitations on how much money they are allowed to grant as scholarships to student athletes. Programs can only give so much scholarship funding to each program, equivalent to 70 per cent of the combined team’s tuition and fees.

Olynyk believes a guaranteed endowment would benefit the program and student athletes.

“We raise enough money annually to support our student athletes, but if we had a sustainable funding source it’d be a much better situation.”

Olynyk mentioned the importance of continuing the growth of sport facilities.

“We always have a strain on our grounds, so developing new facilities and upgrading existing ones is important.”

Regarding his own career, Olynyk is very proud of the balance between school and sport he struck with the WolfPack’s student athletes.

“We’re now a strong contributing member to Canada West and U Sports and I’m very pleased about that. We have been represented by outstanding student athletes who have really excelled, not only in their chosen sport, but also in the classroom. To me that’s what we’re about. I don’t ever want us to lose our academic emphasis.”

So what’s next for one of the pillars of Kamloops’ athletic community?

“I’m still at TRU until the end of December, and then if there’s transitioning that needs to occur I will do my best to help with that. I’ll definitely spend more time with my wife and kids afterwards. I’ll continue to be active in the community and will help support Kamloops’ high school teams through clinics and coaching,” Olynyk said, mentioning the Olynyk Klynyk, a basketball camp held by Kelly and other professional and semi-professional basketball players.

“I’m going to make it down to Miami to see Kelly play, but also to test out the Florida golf scene.”