Celebration of Life on May 29 at MacEwan for former Griffins men's soccer coach Murray Orvis

Murray Orvis coached Griffins men's soccer for two decades. He died on May 19 at age 70 (Photo courtesy of Orvis family).
Murray Orvis coached Griffins men's soccer for two decades. He died on May 19 at age 70 (Photo courtesy of Orvis family).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Murray Orvis' passion for Griffins soccer continued long after his 20-year tenure as coach of the men's team came to an end.

In sharing stories about him following his death at age 70 from cancer on May 19, family members recalled how he followed the Griffins from his winter home in Arizona as they toured the area in February 2016 on a training camp and exhibition trip.

"Up until Saturday, when he passed, we were still talking about the MacEwan days," said his son Dale Orvis. "It never left his breath."

Fittingly, a special Celebration of Life for Murray Orvis will be held at MacEwan University on Tuesday, May 29 (7 p.m., David Atkinson Gymnasium). Parking is free for the event in the MacEwan West Parkade (guests will need to take a ticket, but the exit bars will be lifted upon exit).

Orvis' name has long been a fixture at the university. Not only was he inducted to the MacEwan Athletics Wall of Distinction in 2004, his name headlines the trophy awarded annually to the Griffins' team of the year. The MacEwan men's hockey team most recently won the award, which is based on performance excellence, academics and community service – qualities that speak volumes about the man it's named after.

"I remember the day dad told me it was going to happen," recalled Dale. "He broke down. He never thought in his entire life that someone would reward him for all of his hard work by putting his name on a trophy.

"When he found out what the trophy was in regard to, he was even further blown away because MacEwan encapsulated his whole reason for existing. The family, we were blown away by it. It says something for a school to put someone's name – it says the impact that not only he had with the team, not only what he had with the people, but also what he meant to MacEwan."

Orvis grew up in Ontario where he attended Brampton high school, just outside of Toronto, competing in football, basketball and high levels of baseball. He attended George Brown College, where he specialized in architecture.

In 1976, tired of the big city, he and his wife Debby and family traveled to Edmonton without job prospects, but he was eventually hired by ATCO and was there for many years.

Orvis got involved coaching soccer in 1978 when there was a need for volunteers with his daughter's team, but quickly he took to the sport, coaching men's and women's soccer at various levels, including the Alberta Summer Games, Edmonton Major League and at Harry Ainlay high school, where his team went undefeated for nine-straight seasons.

In 1988, he was invited to join MacEwan Athletics to assist with the men's soccer team and Orvis had to play the role of recruiter at first.

"His first season at MacEwan, they didn't have enough bodies to play, so he had to walk the halls and talk to individual students to try to get the program started," recalled Cam Leverman, who joined Orvis on the Griffins' coaching staff in 2001.

Murray Orvis, right, passed the torch of the MacEwan men's soccer program to Cam Leverman, middle. Also pictured is assistant coach Ashley Jordan in this 2007-08 photo (Courtesy Orvis family).

With Orvis at the helm, the Griffins won numerous medals, including winning ACAC championships in 1998 and 2006 – the latter together with Leverman, who fondly recalls a picture in the MacEwan student newspaper of Orvis' toque and jacket flying off in wild celebration.

Orvis was named ACAC men's soccer coach of the year three times – 1994-95, 1999-00 and in 2007-08. He also served at the ACAC Soccer Convenor for several seasons.

But winning never came at the expense of sportsmanship. One of the greatest examples of this was in 1996 when he was honoured with the Ron Lavery Fairplay Award for informing the NAIT coaching staff they were at risk of forfeiture by potentially playing an ineligible player. He also won the Alberta Soccer Association Award of Merit in 2000.

"Everybody liked him," said Leverman. "He was in soccer for the right reasons. He was in it for the kids and to turn them into young adults."

Orvis began to pass the torch of the men's soccer program to Leverman in 2001. For his last few years behind the Griffins' bench, Leverman and Paul Kelly ran the training, while Orvis took on more of a motivator, father figure, manager and administrator role.

"His contributions when I was there were massive," said Leverman, who last coached the Griffins men's soccer team in 2015. "He was the father figure to everyone who walked through the door.

"He knew everybody's name, he knew everybody's story. He had a hug when it was necessary, he had a kick in the ass when it was necessary. He was an absolute master in knowing what young men needed to hear at the right time."

In April 2004, Orvis was inducted to the Griffins' Wall of Distinction, joining the greatest athletes and builders in MacEwan Athletics history.

"The program and university really meant a lot to him," said current Griffins assistant men's soccer coach Daniel Drummond, who played for Leverman and Orvis from 2006-08. "This past outdoor season he came out to one of our U SPORTS games and I had a chance to give him a hug and catch up with him, reminisce about our playing days and talk to him about the boys in the group now. It was great.

"He embodied everything about the university," Drummond added. "Be committed, be disciplined, but wear your heart on your sleeve and play with pride. Everybody respected him very well. You could see the coaching staff gave him his time to speak and the players did as well. You just didn't want to let him down."

Dale Orvis relishes the chance he had to play for his father on the Griffins from 1993-96.

"Honestly, it meant the world," he said. "Dad treated me as if I was just any other guy. I still had to put the work in and I still had to do my best.

"It basically brought us very close together. I saw a different side of my dad, too, because dad always wanted to be that father figure. Just to see how he dealt with people and seeing the respect all these other coaches had for him … was amazing to see."

Murray Orvis, left, coached his son Dale on the 1993-94 MacEwan Griffins (Courtesy Orvis family).

Dale's father became his hero in 2010 when he suffered PTSD after a car accident and had the courage to seek help from a psychologist.

"If people know my dad, prior to that, he wouldn't have been the guy who would have gone to talk to someone like that," he explained. "The day that my dad decided to pick up a phone and see a psychologist, that's when my dad became my hero. It pretty much saved his life."

In 2017, he became his son's rock as Dale's wife Justine battled colon cancer and tragically passed away at age 34 last October.

"He was willing to do whatever it took for the family, whether that was driving Justine to her chemo, sitting with her at the house after her treatment and always being there," he said. "He was that type of guy.

"I took a page from my dad's book once Justine was diagnosed with cancer that I needed to talk to someone. He enabled me to truly become the man that I am and that's why he's my hero."

Murray Orvis is survived by his wife of 46 years, Debby Orvis, son Dale Orvis, daughter Deanne Dove, son-in-law Jamie Dove, and sisters Debbie Wilson and Gloria Williams.