Dean Heliotis, who died in 2023, will be inducted in the builder’s category at Saturday night’s gala; legendary local coach was ‘one of Orillia’s great sportsmen’.

Dean Heliotis is being inducted posthumously into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame as a builder.

The name of Dean Heliotis is synonymous with baseball in Orillia. From 1965 until 2008, he coached at various levels and also helmed the Orillia Majors for several years.

But many in Orillia of a certain vintage won’t forget 1969. He and his partner and long-time co-coach, Gander Ross, had been fired by the Orillia Majors just three games into that season.

They thought they would have the summer off. But they were coaxed into coaching the city’s junior team and promptly turned the ragtag group into a dominant team.

The two stern taskmasters turned the squad upside down, put a structure in place, injected discipline and created in that group of mostly selfish teenagers a firm commitment to a team-first approach.

“We were a bunch of ball players who didn’t know how to win,” recalled Mel St. Onge, a key pitcher for that squad. “Dean and Gander were so organized. I think the key was they gave us structure. We respected them big-time; they were unbelievable mentors who taught us how to win.”

With Jerry Udell, Doug Roe, Brock Richardson, St. Onge and others, the juniors dominated.

As fate would have it, the juniors met the Majors that year for the league championship in a series that captured the imagination of Orillians young and old.

It took seven breathtaking games, but the juniors shocked the mighty Majors, winning the title in front of more than 2,400 fans who jammed into the fabled Lions Oval to watch the seventh and deciding game that Thanksgiving weekend.

“That was my biggest thrill in baseball,” Heliotis told The Packet. “It was sweeter than winning the OBAs as a player because I had a bigger role. Those boys played so hard.”

That magical triumph served as a launching pad to more than four decades of coaching for Heliotis — at various levels. He was revered by many, feared by some and respected by all whom he coached.

“There were times when I wanted to kill him,” laughed St. Onge, reflecting on gruelling workouts and the coach’s merciless approach.

“He was hard on you. And he made you do things until you got them right. He used, I guess you’d say, colourful language and was pretty stern. Some people didn’t like that, but we loved it. He taught us to be pitchers, not throwers. We loved to play for him,” said St. Onge.

Heliotis made no apologies for his approach and he never wavered in it. It was, he would say, why his teams were successful, helping the 1970 juniors, the 1992 bantams and the 1996 Fenelon Falls peewees to Ontario crowns.

When Heliotis died in November of 2023, tributes poured in.

Local historian Marcel Rousseau called Heliotis “one of Orillia’s great sportsmen,” saying “Dean will be remembered by many Orillians as a great coach and player.”

Ted Williams, now chief of Rama First Nation, shared his memories of being coached by Heliotis and of spending time with him at the downtown pool hall he owned.

“He was a great man who influenced many in sports including me,” said Williams.

Heliotis will be officially inducted at this year’s Orillia Sports Hall of Fame Gala, which will be held May 4 at Hawk Ridge Golf and Country Club.

Original Article By: Dave Dawson
Site: Orillia Matters
Date: May 2, 2024
Link to Original: Link to Orillia Matters
Photo: Supplied Photos / Orillia Matters