End of an era: Dawson College basketball coach Joel Tyrrell retires after 49 years

After nearly half a century spent mentoring players, basketball coach Joel Tyrrell announced his retirement from the athletic department at Dawson College.

Tyrrell started as a social sciences student in 1973, and stayed at the CEGEP until his last day on Aug. 19.

“I had the opportunity to work with some amazing coaches at this college, who inspired me to pursue the career,” Tyrrell said on the school’s court on Saturday.

“I felt it was time to step aside and give somebody else the opportunity.”

It was in his first year with the school’s team, the Dawson Blues, that he suffered a foot injury. The incident may have cut his career as a player short — but not his passion for the game.

In the same year he went on to found the Downtown Community Blues, a basketball program for boys run through Little Burgundy Sports Association. The program’s goal was to be affordable and push players between the ages of 12 to 19 to excel in school. 

“If you came in with a failing grade, we put you on the sidelines until you showed improvements in the classroom,” Tyrrell said. “That’s something I’m a strong believer in. Academics should come first.”

In 2021, the coach was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame thanks to his commitment to young players.

Though he’s leaving Dawson, he said he won’t be stepping away from mentoring the Downtown Community Blues teams anytime soon.

‘Stronger for the next generation’

Denburk Reid went on to become the all-time leading scorer for the Redmen at McGill University after playing with the Dawson Blues in the 1990s. Then as their assistant coach after graduating with a bachelor of economics and management in 2005.

A man stands and smiles as he holds a basketball.
Denburk Reid played with the Dawson Blues in 1995 and 1996. He says he was surprised to find out Tyrrell had been at it 49 years. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Reid said he was inspired by Tyrrell to mentor younger players later on in his career.

“He’s done a great job on-boarding the youth to help them become future leaders, as well as using basketball as a tool to give back to the community,” Reid said.

Reid also founded the Red Rush Basketball program in 2005, to teach kids 10 to 19 not just about the game, but also the skills they need to become leaders in their community.

“We’re stronger together, and as a community leader you have to be stronger for the next generation. You’ve got to bridge that gap,” Reid said.

He isn’t the only one inspired to follow Tyrrell’s lead.

Chike Odenigbo played with the Dawson Blues until 2016, and says the coach paved the way for him to succeed in school. He graduated with a bachelor of commerce from McGill University two years ago.

Odenigbo said Tyrrell pushed them to play their best, even at the games where they were leading, he said.

“For us as players, we always had that belief that we could go far,” Odenigbo said. “We used sports to get there, and in academics in general it allowed us to be really determined.”

“I’m very grateful, and even looking to give back in any way I can because I believe sports can open many doors for the youth.”

But while basketball will always be in his blood, Tyrrell, who is approaching 70, said he is looking forward to new challenges. 

“I will have more freedom and the opportunity to try new things like getting a bit more opportunity to play golf, and hopefully an opportunity to travel a bit more,” Tyrrell said. 

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