John was born and raised here in Burlington and has returned to the city with his family. He has brought honour to and fostered pride in our city through his exceptional athletic achievements. He is now quite committed to working with young athletes in his role as coach, trainer and mentor. While growing up in Burlington he excelled in many sports. He played on the initial Burlington Minor Football Association flag football team at age seven. From age nine through to age 16, John represented the City in the Burlington International Games (B.I.G.) and played on a provincially ranked baseball team for Burlington until age 17.
John is a graduate of Nelson High School where he was recognized as a strong student while participating in numerous sports: basketball, track and field (both high jump and shot put) as well as football. He developed a passion for football and it is in this sport discipline that he earned the most recognition. His accomplishments in athletics are noteworthy but his achievement in football is truly outstanding. In his senior year he captained the Nelson Lords and played with such intensity and energy that he earned recognition as a league all-star, catching the attention of university scouts.
He selected Western and in his first year he earned a starting linebacker position with the Mustangs and capped off the year by helping them win the 1976 Vanier Cup, followed by a second win in 1977. In 1977 and ’78 he was named a Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union (C.I.A.U.) Football All-Canadian. In his senior year he was named captain of the Mustangs. John played in two consecutive CAN-AM Bowl games. The CAN-Am Bowl featured the very best of Canadian and American Football players. John was named the Most Valuable Player in the ‘78 CAN-AM Bowl game.
In 1979 John was drafted in the 11th round (280th overall) in the National Football League Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He was the first Canadian defensive player to be drafted to the NFL from a Canadian University and was the youngest player signed to a contract in the NFL at that time.
Although his career in the NFL lasted only one season, John returned to Canada to join the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1980 where he played for seven successful seasons. He was selected to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 1981 and led the league with 115 tackles in 1983. As well, John played in the three Grey Cups: 1980, 1984 and 1985. From 1981 through 1985 John took a role on the Executive Committee of the Canadian Football League Players’ Association, sat on the CFL Benefits Committee and worked actively with CFL players in preparing for “Life After Football”.
Today John contributes tirelessly to the youth and to sport as a volunteer in Burlington. He has been a coach and trainer in minor hockey for many years and he spends his summers coaching the Halton Cowboys Football team. Most recently John has returned to Nelson where he coaches and mentors many young football players who aspire to play at university or even the C.F.L.
John Priestner represents all the many qualities we ask of an athlete and member of our community. We are extremely pleased to welcome him into the Burlington Sports Hall of Fame.