A teacher to the end

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

He never stopped teaching, right to the final breath that came much too soon.

At least that's what Kris Wirtz saw in his big brother, with whom he shared so much at ice rinks around the world -- and beyond.

Shocking. It's perhaps the only appropriate way to describe the sad piece of news the Canadian figure skating world is still digesting today: The death last week of veteran coach Paul Wirtz. He was only 47.

A mere two months ago, Wirtz was spotted by the boards at the Civic Centre. Guiding aspiring young pairs skaters at the Canadian figure skating championships, an event that had become home to him over the past two decades.

Sadly, it was his last.

Though he'd been ailing for awhile, Wirtz didn't hear the fateful words -- non-Hodgkin's lymphoma -- until just two weeks ago. The cruel disease did its work quickly.

Kris Wirtz was amazed by the dignified way his brother handled his final days.

"What a strong man, what a heart," he told the Sun after delivering the sad news.

"He's such a battler. I don't think I understood how strong he was. He gave me another lesson, right to the end."

From humble beginnings in tiny Marathon in northern Ontario, Paul Wirtz embarked on a coaching career that lasted 26 years. It took him to Montreal, Toronto and Thornhill, where he was based in the past year.

Along the way, he produced a number of Canadian champions, instilling each one with the competitive spirit that was his hallmark.

That and a straight shooting style that, Kris Wirtz admitted, sometimes rubbed folks the wrong way.

"He was always so competitive," he said. "But he was a great mentor ... he touched a lot of people."

Nobody more than Kris Wirtz himself, who took his brother to three Winter Olympics -- the last two (1994 and 1998) with Kristy Sargeant, the woman Kris would later marry.

Twice, the Wirtzes, who spent some time training at the Minto Skating Club here in Ottawa, finished sixth at the world championships. They also won a pair of Canadian titles -- the second one at the Civic Centre.

The place, it turned out, that Paul Wirtz made his last stop on the Canadian championship trail.

Too soon, it must be said.

Much too soon.

RAVENS BRONZED: For the first time in recent memory, the capital region wasn't represented in the gold-medal games at the Canadian ringette championships. The only hardware winners at the 2006 nationals in Longueuil, Que.: The Nepean Ravens, who snared the bronze in the junior (age 14-15) category. The Ravens posted a 7-3 record in round-robin play before falling to Alberta 6-3 in the semi-final. Sheri Adams, with 11 goals and 19 points, was Nepean's top scorer in the tournament. Kaitlyn Youldon added 17 points and Jayme Simzer had 15. Defenceman Elsa Fougere made the tourney's first all-star team, while Youldon and Simzer were voted to th second team ... Two Gloucester-Cumberland Devils teams finished fourth, in the belle (ages 16-18) and open (19 and over) divisions. Both posted 6-3 records.

ROB.BRODIE@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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