An Interview with Wally Buono and Christie Buono Schlecker
Before the whistle blows and the BC Lions storm the field, head coach Wally Buono walks to the 50-yard line where his daughter, Christie Buono Schlecker, waits for him. She passes him a small piece of paper, they hug, and each turn back to go their separate ways. Then the game begins.
“He puts it in his pocket, knowing that we love him and pray for him and that we support him no matter what,” says Christie.
The small piece of paper holds an inspirational note and a Bible verse. This encouragement passed from daughter to father has lasted a long time in the Buono family.
When Christie and her siblings were growing up, Wally made a point of finding the best way to encourage each of his four kids in the way they needed. That meant a phone call to one or a quick text to another. For Christie, it’s always been a little note.
“Christie was one child who really relished encouragement so I would write her notes before her big games,” says Wally. “She would return the favour by picking a Bible verse and a statement to motivate me for the game which always gave me room for thought. To go into battle with your armour is always very important.”
Wally is head coach for the BC Lions and has been involved with football since Christie was a child. His love for the game and leadership on the field has been passed down to his family—especially Christie. “I’ve been around football my whole life and always wanted to work for the industry in some capacity,” says Christie. “I figure if you can’t play it, you might as well sell it. It’s something I’m passionate about; it’s a product I believe in.”
Since she was little, and then into university, Christie has always carried that family gene of “giving-it-your-all”. “I’ve always been a go-getter and one that’s big on networking,” says Christie. “None of my professors made me feel like it would be handed to me. This resonated with me and pushed me in my career while I really prayed about where God wanted me.”
Christie started her career with a BA in Sports Management at Trinity Western. “I was hosting videos online from a voluntary standpoint [for the BC Lions]. Then when I was at Trinity, I did an internship in media relations, which was really cool. In 2009, I started in the ticket sales department and then have worked my way up in the organization since then.”
Today, Christie is the BC Lions’ Senior Sales Manager of Corporate Partnerships and Suites. While she doesn’t work directly with her father, the support for one another is still there.
“I love working with him. He totally gets it. The corporate support, kind of putting in that little extra effort. Even if it’s just to come say hi, or to take a picture with some of my sponsors or suite holders,” says Christie.
In his 25th year as a CFL head coach, Wally is a veteran in the game. He builds his team on clear expectations and above all, respect for one another as players and coaches.
Just last year, he came back into the position of head coach for the Lions after taking time away from the sidelines to work as GM and VP. Much like his tradition with Christie before kickoff, that decision, and every decision, has been grounded in his faith. “We prayed about it, my wife and I, for a long time,” says Wally. “We just felt it was the right thing to do. When I came back, we prayed about that too and we felt God had changed our hearts and maybe he had rested me to be more emotionally, physically, and spiritually ready to continue the journey.”
It is no surprise that Wally lives and breathes his life around Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
“He makes time for everyone in the office and I think that has really shown,” says Christie. “No matter what position you are in, whether you’re an intern or the president, to be consistent and to treat people with respect and care.”
That work ethic and determination is arguably the very thing that pushed Christie to where she is now. “Watching my dad, with his ethics and with his integrity, I also try to live with integrity and practice my faith and my walk in the organization,” says Christie. “He’s an amazing leader so to be able to learn from him is, for me, learning from the best.”
Part of Christie’s work now includes giving back to her alma mater, mentoring students through TWU’s Business Mentorship Program and helping young women navigate their faith in the workplace.
Just last year, Christie’s husband Brady Schlecker stepped in as Executive Director of TWU’s Alumni Association, which has given her opportunity to invest and connect even more. This weekend, as the BC Lions open their season in Vancouver against the Eskimos, she and the Alumni Association will host the TWU Downtown Alumni Chapter in an effort to build up community for the new chapter.
Family values of hard work and a grounded faith run strong for both Christie and Wally, and follows them into the culture of the BC Lions. It roots them and the rest of the organization in something unwavering. When you start there, the result is bound to be something strong.