Brett Lawrason was known for his winning smile and dynamic personality. The former Campbell River educator connected with many students as a wrestling coach and teacher.

Wrestling coach and educator left a legacy of excellence in his athletes and students

Tributes are pouring in for a man who not only started Campbell River’s tradition of wrestling excellence, taking his teams to the top of the sport in the province, but also, more importantly, had a profoundly positive impact on the lives of the students he coached and taught.

Brett Lawrason passed away on Jan. 13 in Chilliwack at the age of 66. He is survived by his wife Debbie and daughters Danielle and Kaycie and their families.

Lawrason started teaching and coaching at Robron Secondary upon it’s opening in the late 1970s, moving over to that school from Carihi. Almost immediately, he launched the wrestling program and influenced a generation of wrestlers.

According to a statement on the Wrestling BC website, Lawrason built one of the strongest programs of the 1980’s at Robron Secondary. His teams placed in the top 10 for 10 consecutive years, including a provincial championship team at Robron in 1989. Under Lawrason’s tutelage, his wrestlers won 10 golds, nine silvers, eight bronzes, 11 fourth places, nine fifth places and four sixth places at the BC High School Wrestling Championships.

Two of his wrestlers won outstanding wrestler awards at the BC’s. Lawrason himself was named Outstanding BC High School Coach in 1983.

“Brett’s legacy extends beyond his success on the mat,” the Wrestling BC statement says.  “He encouraged students to join his wrestling teams and provided a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Athleticism or skill was not a requirement. Most importantly, Brett’s athletes understood the values of commitment and loyalty, something Brett modelled and instilled in all his teams. It is this legacy he could be most proud of.”

On the Campbell River Wrestling Facebook page, Lawrason was called “the man who started it all for Campbell River wrestling” and left an impressive legacy.

“He inspired, and passed the coaching (and/or teaching) torch to many people including: Victor Dean Misko, Bill Nelson, Todd Fair, Scott McKenzie, Phil Cizmic, Mike Thompson, Derek Berg, and Jason Kerluck. What would wrestling have looked like in Campbell River over the past decades, without Brett being here in the 80’s and 90’s? His lasting influence is still felt not only in Campbell River, but in other communities as well,” a post on the page says. “Brett was not only a coach, teacher, and mentor – but he was also an adult whose athletes could always trust to share their hopes, dreams, and life problems with. He wasn’t just our teacher/coach – but was also our unofficial guidance counsellor. He listened, offered help and advice, got us jobs, and he always had your back. He would advocate relentlessly for his athletes and our sport.”

Phil Cizmic, an athlete for five of the years that Lawrason was at Robron, was a member of Campbell River’s first high school championship team. He is also now principal of Ripple Rock Elementary School in Campbell River.

“He was one of those educators that everyone was drawn to,” Cizmic said. “He had a kind of charismatic personality.

“As a wrestling coach, he was amazing.”

Cizmic said Lawrason built one of the “power programs of the 80s and early 90s” in a community competing against schools two and three times larger.

Lawrason had an ability to connect with students and get them interested and involved.

“He coached rugby and he coached wrestling and he created opportunities for kids that might not belong somewhere; that they found some place to belong,” Cizmic said. “The wrestling team wasn’t made of super athletes but, you know what? He built a team out of whoever came out and developed a sense of loyalty among all the athletes involved.”

He saw the potential in everybody he came across, Cizmic said. The one thing that would frustrate him most was kids that aren’t given an opportunity to achieve that potential or kids that had the opportunity but would waste it.

“He worked hard. Wrestling was the means to the end. It was the same in his P.E. (Physical Education) classes and other classes he taught,” Cizmic said.

Lawrason was actively involved in all aspects of Robron school life.

“He embodied the school,” Cizmic said.

He served as a mentor and a guide for many of the students. One of his legacies is how many of his athletes became educators and coaches in order to give back because they saw what he did and the impact it had, Cizmic said.