By Greg Price
Two individuals who have left a huge impact on their respective fields will be making their way to the Taber and District Hall of Fame next month.
Brandi Merritt-Miyanaga will be going into the hall for her dominance in Taekwon-Do and Del Cleland will be going in as a coach/builder for his decades of influence on the southern Alberta athletics scene.
“It’s great to see some nominations come in this year and the inductees definitely well deserving. They far exceeded the base criteria with the wealth of their accomplishments,” said Debbie Sargeant, president of the Taber and District Sports Hall of Fame selection committee.
Factoring both W.R. Myers and community athletics, Cleland devoted over a century’s worth of sports seasons molding young minds in the Taber community, be it volleyball, baseball, basketball, hockey, track and field, gymnastics, skiing, and Southern Alberta Summer Games. Among the honours in those sports, Cleland got a Max Gibb award.
Cleland earned Varsity Coach of the Year four times for the Southern Alberta High School Volleyball League.
During his lengthy high school volleyball tenure, Cleland was at the helm for three gold, four silver and two bronze at 3A provincial championships. Varsity volleyball teams at W.R. Myers were coached to 20 South Zone banners over 29 years.
For both junior and senior varsity volleyball teams, Cleland earned 113 tournament titles over 32 years. All this, despite never having played volleyball as a child. The numerous accolades have not only earned Cleland a spot on W.R. Myers’ Wall of Fame, but also induction into the Alberta Schools Athletic Association Hall of Fame last year, to go along with Cleland’s upcoming induction into the Taber and District Sports Hall of Fame in April.
“I don’t think you will see that again in high school athletics for that level of volunteerism in school athletics. It is a dying breed. You will not find individuals who have committed over three decades coaching in the school and running clubs in the school,” said Sargeant.
Whatever the skill level of a team he coached, Cleland was assured to get maximum effort level from his players which resulted in many victories, but also a feeling among players that nothing was left on the court whatever the result.
“I think one thing any player Del ever had will tell you, is that many of the individual athletes were not always high caliber. But, by working together and building an athletic team, it was one that could withstand the rigors of a lengthy tournament and come out successful,” said Sargeant. “Not because they were the best team on paper, but because they had the endurance and work ethic to push themselves to the limit. That’s something he did with every team her had. He pushed his team’s conditioning so far, that they exceeded even more than what they thought they were capable of at first. Quite often when push came to shove, they simply outlasted their competitors.”
Medal moments have been plentiful for Merritt-Miyanaga as she has pursued her passion for Taekwon-Do, which she still coaches today on national level and teaches at her own school.
She competed at seven world championship-level events for international competition, taking 11 medals in the process from 2003-2011 in various pursuits where her travels have taken her to such exotic locales as Poland, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Spain and Ireland as either an athlete or coach. That is not even including the six medals she received at either national or Western Canadian championships. Miyanaga officially retired from active competition in 2015.
“She is currently an assistant coach to Team Canada and has done that for numerous years and coached her team to medal positions in Span, Italy and Ireland,” said Sargeant. “She is also a Class ‘A’ umpire and became certified in Argentina in 2009. She is umpire director for provincial and western championships and spends a lot of time traveling and training umpires throughout the country. She is still very much involved in Canadian Taekwon-Do around the world.”
The official Taber and District Hall of Fame induction ceremony goes Saturday, April 6 at the Heritage Inn. Tickets are available at the Town of Taber administration office or by texting a request to Sargeant at 403-332-3448 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For future years, Sargeant encourages people to pick up a nomination package for 2020 and beyond.
“We definitely know there are deserving candidates out there, but they have to be nominated. Someone has to take the initiative out there to nominate either an individual or a team,” said Sargeant. “It is a bit of work. The nomination packages are not short and sweet where you just check off boxes. There is detailed information that has to be researched, submitted and verified. They do take time and effort and we do encourage people to possibly partner up on the project, or start it well in advance of the closing date so they give themselves the necessary time.”