Community Leader Awards: Coach Phil Von Unruh

Kelowna Capital News Leader of the Year series on those that give back to the community

Phil Von Unruh was named a Capital News’ Community Leader of the Year winner in the coach category at the 4th Annual Kelowna Capital News Community Leader Awards, held at Okanagan College, Oct. 23, 2017. The Community Leader Awards are given to local members of the community who demonstrate exceptional commitment and leadership.

A decade ago, with no hockey teams in Kelowna designed for special needs kids, Phil Von Unruh decided to take matters into his own hands.

So in 2006, Von Unruh rented ice time at Prospera Place and the Central Okanagan Wildcats special hockey program was born.

His oldest son, Kalen, who has autism, was one of six players to pull on hockey equipment for that first practise and Von Unruh’s vision has been evolving ever since.

Through his initiative, other special needs hockey programs in the B.C. interior are now operating in Vernon, Penticton and Kamloops.

“It’s very satisfying, especially when you see all the teams we now have playing and the fact that we also have a year-end tournament,” Phil said. “When you look at pictures of that first year, we didn’t even have jerseys, the kids were wearing hoodies.

“It was a pretty rudimentary start you could say,” he added, “so it’s nice to see the growth we’ve had here and other parts of the province.”

And last year, Von Unruh created an adult team—the Okanagan Wild—for players 16 years of age and older, most of whom have moved up from the Wildcats’ program.

Susan Noble, a parent of one of the Wildcats’ players, has praise for Von Unruh and his selfless contributions to amateur sport in Kelowna.

“His larger-than-life, kindhearted personality makes it possible for all the players to experience success and have fun at the same time,” Noble said of Von Unruh’s impact. “Without Phil’s dedication, enthusiasm and hard work, the opportunity for many of Kelowna’s special needs children to play hockey and be part of a team would not exist.”

In addition to coaching hockey in winter, Von Unruh remains busy year-round as a volunteer, coaching Special Olympics bowling, track and field and soccer.


Curtis McTavish – Leader of the Year

To report a typo, email:


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


Just Posted

Reel Reviews: Fear or love

We say, “Once again, one worth seeing, one not.”

Two people safe after falling through ice

Kelowna Fire Department urges caution around icy waters during warm weather

Missing Kelowna woman sought

RCMP are asking for assistance in locating Christine Olsen-Meissnitzer

Plane lands safely after takeoff issue

An airplane departing Kelowna International Airport had an issue with a landing gear, landed safely

KSS rocks and rolls for 37th straight year

Kelowna secondary students let loose with annual Air Bank competition

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Anti-pipeline protestors block Kinder Morgan tanker near Seattle

Protest was spurred on by the 28 anti-Kinder Morgan activists arrested in Burnaby

Captain Cal Foote is Rockets’ MVP

The Rockets hand out their annual team awards Sunday at Kelowna Community Theatre

Some surprises in new book about B.C. labour movement

“On the Line” charts history of the union movement back to the 1800s

Cancer fundraiser takes to Okanagan Lake

Penticton and Naramata joining growing fundraising event

Elke’s Garden Tips: Good time to prepare

Lake Country garden columnist talks about what to do at this time of the year

Letter: Crying fowl over goose cull witness

Kelowna letter-writer says Canada geese come with many issues

Letter: I was born in Kelowna in 1930…

Kelowna letter-writer has some ideas on how things should run nowadays

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Most Read