The man who relaunched the Hyacks football program in 2002 is being honoured with his own special day in New Westminster.
At Homecoming 2023, Mayor Patrick Johnstone presented a proclamation from the City of New Westminster declaring Hyack Homecoming to be Farhan Lalji Day.
“I once learned the word ‘Coach’ isn’t a job title, it’s an honorific that one earns through leadership and mentorship, and by changing people’s lives,” Johnstone said in a message later posted to social media. “Two decades of #NewWest youth know Farhan as their coach. I am glad we were able to honour him today.”
According to the city’s proclamation, the NWSS Hyacks Homecoming Day will now be known as Farhan Lalji Day.
While the plan had been in the works for months, Lalji said he had no idea about the proclamation until Friday’s event.
“It’s very much an honour for sure,” he later told the Record. “It is very humbling, and I am very appreciative.”
The proclamation outlined some of Lalji’s contributions while coaching Hyack football teams from 2002 to 2021, including leading the junior variety program to its first-ever BC High School Provincial Championship in 2017 and leading the varsity team to NWSS’s first-ever Subway Bowl BC Triple A Championship in 2017 – a game won “in dramatic fashion” with a successful two-point conversion on the last play of the game.
Lalji spent 19 years as head coach of the New Westminster Hyacks football program, building it into one of the most respected and successful programs in British Columbia, said the proclamation.
“Whereas, his efforts and contributions to bring the community together and unite the players, coaches, parents, students and alumni, Farhan was named the 2012 Citizen of the Year in New Westminster,” read the proclamation. “In 2009, he was named the Scholastic Provincial Coach of the Year at the BC Lions Orange Helmet Awards ceremony and was the 2004 and 2021 runner-up for the NFL Canada national Coach of the Year.”
Wayne Wright, who was serving as the city’s mayor when Lalji resurrected NWSS’s football program, said David Sidoo, who had played football for the Hyacks in the mid-1970s before the program ended, contacted him about honouring Lalji. Wright then reached out to the City of New Westminster about recognizing Lalji through a proclamation.
“He deserves every bit of it. He did a wonderful thing with that sports team,” Wright said. “Really, it’s the right thing for the time. For those kids that are going to be at that school, it’s not just about sports – it’s about working together, teaming together. And that’s a necessity.”
Lalji said it was quite overwhelming to be acknowledged for his role in developing the Hyack football program.
“It’s as rewarding a thing as I have ever been a part of,” he said of the program. “Other than having children and raising them and being husband, it has been one of the honours of my life to be involved from the ground floor.”
The proclamation was read out at the 20th anniversary of Hyacks Homecoming at Mercer Stadium on Sept. 15, which included pre-game activities, such as a family fun zone and the introduction of the All Decade Team (Hyack all-stars from 2013 to 2022 – the football program’s second decade). Following the pre-game fun, the New Westminster Hyacks and the Abbotsford Panthers took to the field, with the Hyacks winning the game.
The night after the inaugural Farhan Lalji Day celebrations, Lalji attended the wedding of a former player, as did many of the groom’s former teammates.
“When you see those things, those relationships, that’s what it’s all about,” Lalji said.
While he’s no longer involved in coaching the Hyacks, Lalji, a broadcaster with TSN, watches the program from afar.
“For me it’s kind of cool to kind of be the proud papa. I just kind of sit back and watch it all. I still keep in touch with all of it and stay connected to it but I don’t have to be directly involved in it,” he said. “Just to kind of watch it grow and continue to thrive – the number of kids that are still involved; you always want to build something sustainable, you don’t want to build something that is so dependent on you that you’re held hostage to it – that has been really rewarding.”