Alumni Spotlight: Dobrovolny using lessons learned at UBC to succeed
EDMONTON – The University of British Columbia makes up so much of Jerry Dobrovolny that you'd swear his DNA was developed in a lab on the school's Point Grey campus.
Even though the former standout tackle for the T-Birds football team completed his masters elsewhere, there's no question blue and gold runs through his veins.
So it was intrinsic that Dobrovolny, now chief engineer and general manager of Engineering Services for the City of Vancouver, would once again become part of a program that has always been a part of him. Three years ago Dobrovolny joined the 13th Man Foundation, which aims to help the UBC football program produce championship-calibre teams while nurturing players as students, athletes and leaders.
"I really valued my experience at UBC in varsity athletics, being part of a winning tradition at UBC in football, and so I wanted to do whatever I could to help see that winning tradition continue," says Dobrovolny, who serves as a director for the foundation.
"I think it's a tremendous benefit for the student-athletes, I think it has tremendous benefits for the school, and so I thought if there's anything I can do to help contribute to that I want to be part of that."
Founded by Dobrovolny's former T-Birds teammate David Sidoo, the 13th Man Foundation works with the UBC Athletic Department adding value in areas where the football program needs additional expertise and funding, including coaching, athletic awards, academic support, apparel, equipment, and facility upgrades.
In 2015, the same year that UBC won its fourth and latest Vanier Cup, the foundation gave $800,000 towards construction of the $1.1-million UBC Football Academic Centre. Located next to Thunderbird stadium, the 1,800-square-foot facility provides a space for players to receive academic tutoring and advising and is used for team meetings, game preparation and academic supervision.
"'Student-athlete' is one of the key things for me," says Dobrovolny, who graduated from UBC with a civil engineering degree before earning an MBA at Simon Fraser University.
"One of the first things the new coach, Blake Nill (when Nill joined UBC after the 2014 season) really focused on was an academic centre. It's hard enough to find the best athletes across the country and North America, and UBC has very high academic standards, so it's really important to get the students in and have them go through the program in a way that enriches them educationally as well as with sport."
Thirty-five years after he helped the T-Birds win their first Vanier Cup in 1982, everything Dobrovolny experienced while playing for coach Frank Smith at UBC continues to guide him. Dobrovolny's accomplished post-university life that started with five seasons in the Canadian Football League, included a near-decade on council in his native New Westminster, B.C., and now sees him heading up a department with a staff near 2,000 and a $500M-plus budget responsible for a smorgasbord of essential public services, including water, garbage collection, and traffic lights.
"Frank Smith said something I'll always keep with me, that everything in the world is changing, even the mountains are getting higher or eroding down, nothing stays the same" Dobrovolny says.
"As an athlete, you're getting a little bit better each day or a little bit worse, there's no such thing as just staying the same, and I look at that as a life philosophy, particularly now with a big organization with 2,000 employees," continues Dobrovolny, whose department is currently implementing an ambitious policy agenda to make Vancouver the world's greenest city by 2020.
"Either we as an organization are getting a little bit better each day, or we're getting a little bit worse each day, there's no staying the same. So I want that to be a philosophy of the whole department, but it was certainly a philosophy for us as a team, we wanted to get better each day."
Many have called the 1982 T-Birds the greatest team in Canadian university football history. UBC ran roughshod through its league schedule, going 8-0 while outscoring the opposition by an average of over 25 points. But if they made the regular season look like a breeze, the playoffs were an absolute cakewalk for the T-Birds, who crushed Manitoba 57-3 in at home in the West final, steamrolled St. Francis Xavier 54-1 at the Atlantic Bowl in Halifax, and finally defeated Western 39-14 at Toronto's Varsity Stadium to capture the Vanier Cup.
"Each week we came into the game thinking that our work was cut out for us, and that as well as we had played the week before, we were going to have to play that much better this week to win," says Dobrovolny, who was named both an All-Canadian and West All-Star in 1982.
"We were more focused in that final game than we were at the start of the season and each game throughout that year."
Dobrovolny was selected first overall in the 1983 CFL draft by Calgary and was immediately inserted on to the Stamps' offensive lineman. He went on to play for Montreal and Ottawa, totaling 58 career regular season games before retiring in 1987 and completing his degree at UBC.
Upon earning a master's of business administration at SFU, Dobrovolny was hired by the City of Vancouver, where he has now worked for 28 years in a variety of capacities, most recently serving as Director of Transportation before moving into his present position at the helm of the largest department in Western Canada's largest city.
"The lessons that a student-athlete learn in Canada West are life lessons that carry all the way through their personal life and their professional life," he says.
"It's the attention to detail, the commitment, the dedication; being in the weight room on Friday night because you're committed to improving, watching film and breaking it down the week before on a weekend morning because you're committed to improving the next week.
"Those are life lessons that are carried all the way through your personal and professional career."