Grey Cup visits Notre Dame
At the top of the itinerary for Chris Balenovich’s days with the Grey Cup was a Friday afternoon visit to Notre Dame.
“It was the best five years of my life and my high school time was incredible,” said the Toronto Argonauts’ media relations manager. “It was all because of the sports that I played, the coaches, the teachers and my godmother and aunt was actually the guidance counsellor here. My formative years were so fantastic here at Notre Dame and they kind of made me who I am.”
The 34-year-old Welland native taught for four years in the Niagara Catholic board and spent a fair amount of time at Notre Dame. He helped Tim Bisci coach football and Chris Biggar coach baseball at the Welland high school.
“It is part of my home,” he said.
Head coach Bisci remembers him well.
“He was a helluva punt returner and he played DB for us and a little bit of receiver. The first year we went to an OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) Bowl, he had some big returns,” he said. “In the SOSSA (Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association) game against Waterdown, he had a punt return for a touchdown and he had a second punt return inside the 10 which set up the winning touchdown. He was a big time, big play kid and he was a great athlete.”
Balenovich suited up for the Fighting Irish in the mid-2000s and made it to the Golden Horseshoe Bowl in 2005.
“We lost 14-9 to Nelson and I will never forget that.”
His favourite Irish football memory came as a coach.
“We won a regional championship here and it was just such a different feeling as a coach. It was almost a better feeling as a coach compared to being a player.”
It was the second straight year the Grey Cup had found its way to Notre Dame.
“Johnny (Augustine) was there again this year and talked about bringing it back and then Chris was there and he called us and said he would like to bring it back,” Bisci said. “It’s great. The guys who leave our program have had such a good experience with us that they want to give back and this is one way they can do it.”
The cup started its Friday adventures in the hands of Balenovich’s father, Lou.
“My dad has worked for the City of Welland for 35 years and he knows everyone and anyone in Welland,” Chris Balenovich said. “I came in and put my bags down and I looked up and the cup was gone. He was taking it all over Welland to all his buddies at the City of Welland and a bunch of other places.
“After this, I think it is going to go for a couple of drinks somewhere and tomorrow is a big family thing and a bunch of my friends are going to be there,” he said. “I am kind of the keeper of the cup so I set the schedule. I am going to have it for the whole weekend.”
Balenovich, who played one year of university ball with the Ottawa GeeGees before transferring to a non-football school, has been with the Argos since 2017.
After leaving teaching, he went back to school at Durham College for sports business management. He interned with the Toronto Raptors in 2016 before joining the Argos.
“I got hired in September 2017 and we won the Grey Cup two months later. I kind of stole that ring but this one five years later, it feels like I actually earned it.”
His daily activities with the Argos includes: setting up player and coach interviews with the media; working on statistics; going on every road trip; arranging media sessions every day after practice; and, writing press releases.
It is a dream job.
“The biggest thing I missed about playing football was the camaraderie with the guys in the locker room. It is being around the guys, I am at every game and I am part of the team,” he said. “It is such a cool thing to be a part of.”
He has recently bought a house in Whitby and is getting married in July.