UBC Sports Hall of Fame – Bill Whyte

Bill Whyte - UBS Sports Hall of FameA unique two-sport star at UBC, Whyte captained some of UBC’s finest rugby teams during the 1950s. At the same time he was the showcase pitcher and respected playing coach with the UBC baseball team, having pitched professionally before enrolling at UBC. Cited for his leadership and integrity, as a student he was acknowledged with both the Bobby Gaul Award and the Honorary Activities Award for his campus contributions.

1951/52 was the first year Bill Whyte, a graduate of Vancouver’s John Oliver High School, made a name for himself on the UBC athletic scene. He was described by campus media as a good punter and a “sparkling” tackler on the Varsity rugby team, coached by Albert Laithwaite. As it happened, Whyte’s athletic accomplishments were already well known on campus. He had by September ’51 played three years of professional baseball, pitching first for Calgary (Alberta), then Victoria (British Columbia), followed by the Vancouver Capilanos of the Class B Western International League. Whyte at this time was acknowledged as a top local baseball player, having led the team in victories with Calgary and having pitched the last win recorded at Vancouver’s historic Athletic Park while with the Capilanos.

With the rugby Thunderbirds in university’s World Cup series against California in 1952, fly-half Bill Whyte was outstanding; “…he played like an International…” stated UBC coach Laithwaite. That year, UBC brought home the McKechnie Cup, emblematic of rugby supremacy in BC, largely due to the play of Whyte and teammates George Puil and John Newton.

Following the 1952 rugby season, the Phys. Ed. student, to the delight of head coach ‘Jelly’ Anderson, turned out for UBC’s baseball team and pitched “a couple of games” for the ‘Birds, both of which he won. He then quickly left for spring training with the Capilanos for whom he pitched the entire ’52 season.

In 1952/53, the third year student returned to be part of one of UBC’s great rugby teams. This team won the World Cup, the McKechnie Cup and the Miller Cup, scoring more than 200 points while allowing only 40 against. Whyte was an integral part of this team along with Puil, Newton, Bob Morford and Danny Oliver. In fact, toward the end of the season The Ubyssey newspaper stated, “Whyte is perhaps the outstanding fly-half in BC”

Now married to UBC athlete Eleanore Cave, Whyte returned for his second season with the ‘Birds baseball team and was the featured performer along with Al Byman, Frank Vaselanek, Bill Kushnir and Gordie Mundle. It was in April of ’53 that one of UBC Baseball’s most memorable games was played – a game in which Whyte pitched a complete game 13-inning shutout of the Washington Huskies. UBC coach Anderson was a former U.W. athlete and wanted badly to beat his Alma Mater and leaving his undefeated collegiate ace to pitch in the 9 plus 4 extra innings on a day that happened to be cold and rainy, was the only way he could hope to achieve victory. Whyte issued only two walks, while the Huskies used up four hurlers but as it happened, after 13, the game ended on account of rain, 0-0.

The 1953/54 session opened with Bill elected the UBC Big Block Club’s vice president as well as the honour of being named captain of the Varsity rugby squad. After a slow start UBC improved, culminating in victories over UCLA and California and possession of rugby’s coveted World Cup. Whyte, along with Newton and Derek Vallis “played with distinction” according to The Ubyssey who at year’s end cited both captain Whyte and Vallis as the year’s outstanding UBC rugby players.

During that summer, Whyte played his 5th professional season pitching for Calgary of the Western International League, in what would become the league’s final season.

Whyte graduated with a BPE in 1954, but returned in 54/55 for his year of teacher training. In addition to being elected president of the Big Block Club, he was back for his fourth year with the ‘Birds rugby team, a team that won the ’55 McKechnie Cup, the championship of BC. “Cool unruffled kicking and steady drive…” were The Ubyssey’s words characterizing Whyte’s play on the field this year. “Dynamite player” is how former teammate and opponent Buzz Moore describes him. It was Whyte along with Newton, Donn Spence, Ted Hunt and captain Doug McMillan who brought the ‘Birds to within one point of the ’55 World Cup.

Whyte quickly moved from the rugby field to the baseball diamond where he concluded his final year at UBC coaching the Thunderbird baseball team. He left an impression, as one of his players, Gary Sinclair, testifies, “My coaching career was greatly influenced by Bill’s practice design and management skills…”

At years end, Whyte was included among the members of Sigma Tau Chi, the prestigious honorary campus fraternity. We was also one of five students receiving the 54/55 Honorary Activities Award – presented to students who have made outstanding contributions to campus affairs. Last but not least, Whyte was presented the ’55 Bobby Gaul Award as the athlete who best combined character with ability.

Bill Whyte continued on his success trail as he rose through the ranks as a teacher and coach in the Vancouver School District, retiring as a well-respected Principal in the secondary school system.

Researched and written by Fred Hume, UBC Athletics Historian