Vaso Vujanovic: A Hall of Fame soccer story

Vaso Vujanovic standing outside of Vaso's Field Photo credit: Keisha Slemensky

Vaso Vujanovic, 77, came to Canada in 1966, knowing little English, and now he has a soccer field in his honour.

Vujanovic grew up in Bosnia, which at the time was still Yugoslavia. In 1965, he emigrated to Austria. While in the country, Vujanovic says they put him to work in a factory. “I’m not a factory worker,” says Vukanovic, “it wasn’t for me.”

During his stay in Austria, he says he lived with a group of friends. The group had poker nights together. He remembers one night his friend suggested they immigrate to Canada.

“That’s life,” says Vujanovic, “you make a decision in a fraction of a second and you go and you take chances.”

In one snap decision over a card game, Vujanovic immigrated to Oshawa and started a new life.

“It can’t be worse than old Yugoslavia!”

Vujanovic recalls it being difficult to find a job in Oshawa. He attended Durham College to get his high school diploma and to better his English.

He recalls the program being a fast track version of high school and in the tenth grade course, they blended their class with a class of Canadian adults who went back to finish their high school degree.

“That’s where I met my wife,” says Vujanovic. “we’ve never separated since.” His wife, Barbara, was born in Canada and helped Vujanovic with his English. He describes their relationship as school buddies.

In 1967, Vujanovic came back to the college, enrolling in the two-year Business-Accounting program. After graduation, he was offered a job in the financial department at DC.

All the while Vujanovic was a soccer nut.

“Soccer is my life,” he says.

Vujanovic says although soccer has always been such an important part of his life, he had to set it aside. “I had to find a life,” he says.

In 1973, he became the head coach for the Durham College Lords’ soccer team. He says working for DC is what gave him the opportunity to put so much time into being a coach.

Ken Babcock is the director for the Athletics and Recreation Department and worked closely with Vujanovic for many years.

“He’s been an incredible contributor to the history and the overall success of the Durham College soccer teams. He’s a remarkable person, a remarkable coach,” says Babcock.

Vujanovic has lead both women and men’s soccer teams and DC as well as the UOIT men’s soccer team. During his time with DC, he helped the team win 12 OCAA medals including two gold, and five silver and bronze.

He guided his team to championships all over Canada, including BC and Alberta.

Babcock remembers traveling to tournaments with Vujanovic. “One thing that’s always enjoyable is that Vaso likes wine,” he says. He says they always enjoyed wine as a celebration during the championships.

“There’s some great stories over some bottles of wine I was able to share with Vaso over the years,” says Babcock. “I cherish those times.”

Vujanovic was inducted into the Durham College Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. He was also inducted into the OCAA Hall of Fame in 2011.

Babcock says Vujanovic’s coaching style and knowledge of the sport is what allowed him to be so successful. He describes Vujanovic as a soft speaker who carried a lot of experience with him. He says Vujanovic was “the most caring coach.”

“Whether it was a school need or personal need, Vaso was always there and very supportive to the athletes.”

Vujanovic says during his time coaching, he made it clear to his athletes that their studies came before sports.

After Vujanovic’s successful and long history with both DC and UOIT, Babcock says it was an easy choice and a unanimous decision to name the soccer field “Vaso’s Field”.

“Someone who contributed such a great amount of time and personal effort in contribution to a program, it was only fitting that we name the field after him. There was no one else we would name the field after. It was just a no brainer,” says Babcock.

Vujanovic says the field makes him feel proud and honoured to be remembered for his hard work and “being a soccer nut.”

He retired in 2015, due to back pain which led to an operation. He describes this as a “kind of message for my body saying ‘hey, you have to stop being in the field and take care of your body’.”

Now, Vujanovic is living a happy and healthy retired life. He is married with three children and has two grandchildren. Even with his back pain, Vujanovic puts two hours a day into fitness. He says his wife worries over him and his back. “Don’t worry! Don’t worry,” he tells her, “when I croak, just make sure you bury me! That’s all.”

Babcock says Vujanovic was a remarkable coach. “I’ll cherish the time spent with Vaso because he’s one of a kind.”