It might not have been the biggest fixture in Edmonton sports, but as far as local athletic endeavours go, the city sure lost a visible one.
Videographer and producer Rob Zittlau and his wife, Grace, were killed in a highway collision over Thanksgiving weekend.
Zittlau made it his life’s ambition to ensure all levels of Edmonton’s sports scene could be seen, spending the past three decades building his company, ICU Video Productions, into a top-notch focus on amateur broadcasts – or ‘procasts,’ as he called them – and practice film.
The fatal crash happened east of Legal at the intersection of Hwy. 651 and Hwy. 803, where Morinville RCMP responded around 5 p.m. Sunday.
Police say two adults in a southbound car died on scene, while a six-year-old girl and four-year-old boy also in the vehicle were taken to hospital. The driver and passenger in an eastbound SUV suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
“The sad part about it is, as much as we’ve heard of the accident is that he was trying to take his niece and nephew to the corn maze,” said Football Alberta executive director Tim Enger. “It is really sad. He and Grace did not have any kids of their own, but I know that they had a lot of nieces and nephews and they just doted on them.”
It wasn’t always easy finding time to spend with family outside of football, baseball, hockey and, more recently, E-sports competitions that ran the gamut from amateur to high-school, semi-pro and professional levels across the Edmonton area.
“And he probably wouldn’t have been doing that on a weekend in the fall if we’d have had football,” Enger said of the cancelled high-school schedule. “So, it’s probably an example of him going above and beyond for family again.
“With something horrible happening while he was doing that.”
His love of family was about the only thing that rivaled his passion for covering amateur sports.
“It was like a security blanket,” Enger said. “When you went to any sporting event there was a good chance that Rob was going to be there. He was with the Edmonton Prospects, The Brick Novice Tournament, he did Golden Bears hockey.
“Every once in a while, I would take my family to a Prospects game or Golden Bears game and there’d be Rob, and you’d look at it and go, ‘Yup, now the world make’s sense because he’s here.’ So, he really carved out a nice effect on the Edmonton sports community for decades. It’s really going to be tough to replace Rob.”
Dave Foley worked closely with Zittlau at ICU for the past nine years, or, measure it in games and practices filmed, and they were well over 2,100 together. And that’s before all the editing and processing work that went into it.
“I’m devastated,” Foley told Postmedia in a phone interview Wednesday, following a video call from the crash site with CTV Edmonton, where Zittlau once worked as an editor. “I’m glad I went. I went out there and had a good ugly cry.
“I knew Rob knew lots of people, but getting the responses and hearing all of this is, like, oh man, it’s even a shock for me: Who doesn’t he know?”
Zittlau and his crew approached even the most minor of leagues like it was Stanley Cup-worthy and, in more than a few cases, the work played no small part in helping athletes grow beyond the grassroots of local fields.
“Very sad news to hear, condolences to the Zittlau family and his friends,” tweeted Edmonton Football Club punter and University of Alberta Golden Bears product Hugh O’Neill. “Rob was a staple of the football community and I used his film to help get recruited to university football.
The Ross Sheppard grad wasn’t alone, either.
“You look at guys out there right now, like Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State), Ajou Ajou at Clemson, and Lwal Uguak is at Connecticut, one of the complaints when I first started here years ago was why aren’t the big-time scholarships being offered to Canadian kids?” Enger said. “Part of the problem is Clemson and Oklahoma State weren’t going to send somebody up here to watch this, so they were relying on game film. So, if you don’t have quality game film, it’s like you’re playing in obscurity.
“Once Rob got going, if a kid wanted to piece together a tape, they were getting NFL-caliber stuff, so (schools) could make their judgments better. I think that is why you’re starting to see players from the Edmonton area start to trickle into the Div. 1 schools in the United States.”
Although Zittlau just started working with the Edmonton Prospects, procasting around 30 games in 2019, the team’s managing partner, Patrick Cassidy said it set a new standard for what he would like to see streaming throughout the Western Canadian Baseball League in the future.
“He was just a hard-working, dedicated, straight-forward kind of guy,” Cassidy said. “He wasn’t done. He was still building and had ideas and wanted to do more. He was one of those drivers, an entrepreneur prepared to take the risks and make it happen.
“It was a pretty damn-good production and he did it at a fraction of what anybody else would do. That’s why you just appreciated the guy, because he had the kind of background and talent he probably could have gone and did something else and made more money.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge