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Hail to the bus driver

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

James Ross never played organized hockey, now he’s one of the driving forces behind keeping hockey organized in Castlegar, British Columbia.

Ross, better known as JR, is literally the driving force behind the Castlegar Rebels, a Junior B hockey team. He’s the bus driver for all away games and has been since he relinquished his duties as the team’s assistant coach in 2008.

If there’s bus work to be done – driving, cleaning or maintenance – JR looks after it. Not only that, the 64-year-old sharpens skates during and between games, launders the team’s uniforms and works on keeping the locker room in tiptop shape; he’s the MacGyver every junior hockey team in Canada dreams of having.

The sports scene in Castlegar, the second largest city in the West Kootenay region of BC, has JR’s four sons to thank for that. The Ross boys, Cory, Curt, Jeremy and Drew, are all in their 30s and 40s now, but as ankle biters three played hockey, while Curt, the second in line, gravitated to basketball. That made for a hectic schedule, especially with JR working as a journeyman millwright at Cominco, now Teck Cominco, for 35 years, but JR and his wife Donna never disappointed.

And don’t think for a second JR would simply drop his sons off and wish them luck, he never was and never will be that kind of father. Since as far back as he can remember he’s been coaching hockey, an activity he fell so in love with that even once his boys moved on, he continued instructing and shaping local athletes.

“I love the game,” said JR. “It’s time consuming, but…I don’t know, I just thought I could help and I just kept on doing it.”

During the dog days of summer JR keeps busy coaching the senior’s 60-to-65 slo-pitch team, which he played on for six years before becoming a player/coach. You guessed it, JR drives the team’s van and his impact on group has helped the senior squad capture three bronze, three silver and a goal medal in the last eight BC Senior Games.

For being an exemplar member of the community, JR was nominated to the Vancouver Canucks Local Heroes program by his good friend and cousin John MacPherson.

Few people display the Local Heroes pillar of passion better than JR, who, as a kid, iced up his skates on ponds and beside the firehall in Fruitvale when the firemen would flood a rink. His dad worked shifts and his mom didn’t drive, so getting to Trail, BC, for league play wasn’t an option.

JR made sure his sons would have the opportunity to play organized hockey and he simply never stopped giving back to the sport.

One would assume that after a near lifetime spent volunteering, JR would have walked away from it when his assistant coaching days ended with the Rebels, but the intrigue of a new position called his name.

“It is challenging and it takes a lot of time, there’s a lot of time involved because I take care of a lot of things,” said JR. “Even when our club isn’t playing, Nelson charters the bus a few times, we take Nelson wherever they’re playing. Pick’em up, take’em there and bring’em back.”

If it were that easy, everyone would do it.

“I’ve watched the commitment that kid has,” boasted JR’s best friend John, “I still call him a kid because I’m older than he is, he has an awful lot of commitment to anything that he gets involved in. He’s just so gung-ho and when I saw this program, I thought he was perfect for it.”

If John didn’t nominate JR as a local hero, someone else from Castlegar would have eventually.

“He’s a true friend in the community,” John explained. “We’ll go up to Canadian Tire when we go visit his wife in Trail and he can’t go two minutes without someone talking to him. They stand there and talk and talk. It’s the same story in Castlegar, he’s got lots of friends. His retirement party was loaded with people, it was great.”

Some retirement. JR hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and he said it’ll be a while before he walks away from hockey to spend some quality time with the 1950’s Jeep Pickups he’s rebuilding. And his wife.

“I could see it going on for another couple years at least,” said JR. “Eventually, I’ve got to start taking some time for myself. As of now, it’s time consuming, but it’s great. I’m enjoying it.”

So is the sports scene in Castlegar.

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