Down Memory Lane Articles - by Stan Shillington
He exemplifies the all-purpose Man of All Seasons.
If there is a need for a fixer-upper to administer a league, a team, a committee, a tournament -- whatever -- just call on the ever-accommodating Sohen Gill. For him, lacrosse is a calling -- he does anything and everything.
Already the Commissioner of the senior Western Lacrosse Association, Gill has added the presidency of the B.C. Lacrosse Association to his 2003 curriculum vitae. Not bad for an ex-firefighter who cheated death when he plunged into a blistering inferno on December 29, 1990.
Born in Vancouver on May 13, 1941, Sohen was introduced to the game of lacrosse at age eight while hanging out with friends at an outdoor box in Burnaby's Confederation Park. A buddy provided him with a stick but his parents, believing lacrosse was too violent of a game, refused to buy him running shoes. No matter -- street shoes would have to do; however, a short time later, Gill's team played between periods of a senior, resulting in a picture of him scoring a goal appearing in the Vancouver Sun. His parents quickly purchased a pair of running shoes for him -- and Sohen has been running in the game ever since. Moving through the Burnaby minor system, Sohen joined the Bob Lee Clothiers' junior club in Vancouver in 1959; however, when North Burnaby organized a junior team under Bill Dickinson in 1961, Sohen returned to his home base along with longtime teammates Bill Bradley, Gary Stevens, Ron Bodner and Don Boyd. Norburns were an immediate success, Sohen winning the league scoring title while leading his club to the Minto Cup finals.
The following year, Norburns moved up to the senior level but lasted just one season. Sohen then spent time in Victoria, Vancouver and Coquitlam uniforms over the next seven years, accumulating 65 goals and 76 assists for 141 points in 111 games. After the 1969 season, Sohen mothballed his playing stick, but not his enthusiasm.
He took over the roles of coach and general manager of the Burnaby junior team from 1970 to 1972; coach and general manager of the Burnaby Senior "B" team from 1972 to 1976 and then general manager and sometime coach of the Coquitlam Adanacs' WLA club from 1977 to 1986.
In 1987, he began a four-year term as Commissioner of the WLA. Then came the nightmare every fireman faces. A lieutenant in charge of a ladder truck, Sohen scrambled onto the roof of a Vancouver restaurant to assess the extent of a fire when the roof suddenly disintegrated, plunging Gill into the centre of the inferno.
"My hands and legs were burning so bad, I knew I was dead," Gill later recalled. "Then I felt some water on my face and scrambled towards it. I dove out of a window and someone pulled me through. That's the last I remembered for a long time." Gill spent weeks in intensive care and the hospital burn unit but the burns to his hands, legs and face took months to heal. He spent two and a half years in rehabilitation, retiring from the fire department after 30 years of service before returning to active duty. Today, he still suffers with lungs weakened by the heat and smoke inhalation. In 1992, Gill was honoured as Vancouver's Firefighter of the Year.
Did this near-death encounter and the ensuing struggle to regain his health slow him down? Not a bit! Just three months after the accident, Sohen took on the chores of assistant coach with the Coquitlam junior team on which his son Chris was a star player. Not content with one job, Sohen became the assistant commissioner of the B.C. Masters Lacrosse Association and chaired the inaugural Canadian Masters Lacrosse Tournament in Port Coquitlam. Obviously, he felt a heavy schedule of work was good therapy for over the next 10 years. Sohen spent 1996 to 2000 with the Maple Ridge Burrards' WLA entry in various roles -- coach, general manager and director of sales and marketing; chaired the BCLA Senior Directorate in 1992; scheduled WLA games between 1998 and 2000 and again in 2002; chaired the CLA Box Lacrosse Sector between 1993 and 1998; was a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame Western Player Selection Committee from 1993 to 1997; convened the Mann Cup championships in 1993 and 1999; convened the Minto Cup championships in 1994 and 2000 and convened the Presidents Cup Senior "B" championship in 1995.
In 2002, Sohen was again appointed the WLA Commissioner, an office he will continue to hold down in 2003 while assuming the additional responsibilities of the BCLA president's office.
But, one might ask, does he do in his spare time? Well, some of his extracurricular activities include chairing the Hall of Fame induction banquets since 1993, coordinating the inaugural BCLA golf tournament in 2002, hosting the hospitality room at the BCLA annual general meetings, lending a helping hand at lacrosse clinics, and arranging fundraisers for members of the Canadian Field Lacrosse team prior to the 2002 world championships in Australia.
His tireless enthusiasm has not gone unnoticed by his colleagues, being honoured as: BCLA Manager of the Year in 1980 when his Coquitlam Adanacs, representing Canada West, captured the Nations '80 world championship; WLA Executive of the Year, again for his work with Coquitlam; CLA Recognition Awards in 1983 and again in 1990; WLA Recognition Award in 1991, and BCLA's top award, the Tom Gordon "Mr. Lacrosse" Shield in 1991 and again in 1993.
Lending a helping hand is Sohen's passion -- the game of lacrosse is his love.