Sports has always been a major part of the coverage for The Recorder and Times.
And, local sports and local athletes have always been considered a priority for the readership that enjoys learning who is doing what in and out of Brockville and area.
Growing up in Toledo in the 1960s and early 1970s, I would always enjoy reading the sports pages of The R and T.
That’s where I read about the Commercial Stars and Cardinal Pats, the rivalries between the TISS Pirates and BCI Red Rams, the Brockville Bunnies, the Brockville Braves. Those were the sports writing days of Don Swayne, Phil Kall and Al Levere.
When I started at the paper on May 12, 1975, I began as a general reporter but my interest was always to get into the sports department. There were always plenty of sports to cover and I helped out whenever I could on nights and weekends.
When Don Swayne moved over to the city side of the news and Al Levere moved on to a weekly newspaper, I stepped in as Phil Kall’s assistant. When he left sports in 1979, I stepped in as sports editor and I was proudly entrenched in that job until the end of June 2012 when I retired after 37 years at The Recorder and Times.
For the majority of my time there, the paper came out six days a week. Owners Hunter Grant and Perry Beverley believed in local sports content and there was no lack of sports coverage or story ideas in Brockville and area.
The Recorder and Times covered a wide radius from Gananoque in the west to Elgin and Westport to Smiths Falls to Kemptville to Cardinal and Morrisburg in the east. For special stories or events with local athletes and teams, there were road trips to Kingston, Belleville, Perth, Pembroke, Ottawa and Cornwall.
There was no lack of sports that deserved coverage by a community newspaper. The Leeds and Grenville high school system had nine schools, along with keeping an eye on Smiths Falls Collegiate. The rivalry between the Smiths Falls Bears and Brockville Braves highlighted the Central Junior A Hockey League. The Rideau-St. Lawrence Junior B Hockey League provided plenty of local entertainment, especially during some thrilling playoff times.
The Brockville Bunnies put out some of the best baseball teams in this area of the province and New York State. The Dundas Fastball League produced some of the best fastball in the province at a time when fastball in this area in the 1980s and 1990s was strong with the city fastball league, South Rideau, North Leeds, North Augusta and Smiths Falls town league.
The summer stock car races could draw 2,000 fans or more on a Friday or Saturday night.
The dedication and commitment of Chris Marshall and the other coaches at the Brockville Rowing Club produced talent that was always successful at the provincial and national level, becoming a pipeline for rowers to scholarships to the United States. The most recent Olympian is Conlin McCabe.
For a relatively small community and area, the variety of sports in this area was plentiful and the success of the athletes was high. There were always tournaments in the rinks or events in the local high schools on weekends. Sports in this city used to be very busy.
If anyone has a chance once COVID-19 is over, they can stroll into the lobby of the Memorial Centre to read the plaques of the Brockville and Area Sports Hall of Famers. It’s incredible what athletes from this area have accomplished and the number of dedicated coaches or volunteers who made it possible for those athletes to do what they did.
There were a number of special events over the course of my career in sports. Forgive me if I have forgotten or missed some of them.
These are in no particular order.
In 1990, Brockville’s Cyril Leeder and Randy Sexton were two main components of the Ottawa Senators franchise being brought into the NHL. Leeder was with the team for 27 years. Sexton moved on to a number of NHL positions, celebrating two Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins. For a long time, there was quite the Brockville Connection with the Senators. It included Leeder, Sexton, Mark Bonneau, James Cotie, Jeff Kyle, Bob Brayton and Jim Steel. Only Bonneau remains with the Sens.
High school basketball made a championship name for itself. In 1990, 1991 and 1992, the Rideau Lions won three consecutive all-Ontario ‘A’ boys basketball titles with a team that could have won the ‘AA’ crown. Coached by Rob Stephenson, the core consisted of Shawn Plancke, Brad Mainse and Derek Campbell.
In 1994, 1995 and 1996, the TISS Pirates won three senior girls ‘AA’ provincial championships. That was the era of Stacey Dales, Cindy Scott, Krissy MacDonald, among other depth, that Bob Olson and Mary Begg had the pleasure to coach.
In 1994, 1996 and 1998, the St. Mary Crusaders won the provincial ‘A’ senior girls championships, coached by Kim Sauve, with three largely different rosters, an impressive feat of coaching and playing.
The TISS Pirates hosted the all-Ontario track and field championships in 2012, something that had never been done here before and will never be done here again. Ron Hungerford’s arrival at TISS in the late 1970s began a track and field, cross-country surge for the Pirates that led to producing dominating athletes and teams along with hosting the provincials.
The Shorty Jenkins Curling Classic falls into the category of great events and disappointments.
In 1996, Shorty Jenkins and Gord McCrady Jr. brought some of the top men’s curling teams to the Brockville Country Club in September. They added women’s teams to make the bonspiel even stronger. The bonspiel had provincial, national, world and Olympic champions here in Brockville. Champions of the event were Jeff Stoughton, Glenn Howard, Kevin Martin, Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs and Kevin Koe, a regular royalty list of Canadian curling. Colleen Jones, Sherry Middaugh and Rachel Homan won here.
But, the city of Brockville never embraced what a special event it was, having it here. In 2015, ice woes at the BCC forced the bonspiel to move to Cornwall where it has been very successful, meaning it will never return, a sad turn of events.
The Memorial Golf Tournament was a special event, created from tragedy, that made a large impact on the city. In 1987, golfers Brad Brown, Mike Gilder, John Morgan Junior and Brian Peer died in a boating accident on the St. Lawrence River. A tournament was created to remember them with the proceeds being given to Palliative Care. Over the 20-year existence of the tournament, approximately $600,000 was raised. It was a tournament for family and friends but it was a trophy that every golfer wanted to win.
One of my favourites had to be the Where Are They Now? series near the end of my career. I tracked down 28 former star athletes from this area and did feature stories about their memories of growing up in Brockville and where their lives had taken them.
The most noteworthy event would have to be the Brockville and Area Sports Hall of Fame. Bruce Wylie began it in 1976 and then it disappeared until 1993. It honours the careers of sports people in the city and area, who have achieved greatness or contributed to sports and athletics in the community. There are 150 plaques on the wall and rotating through on the television in the lobby of the Memorial Centre. It is an amazing wall to be able to read the achievements in the careers of athletes, volunteers and coaches in a wide variety of sports.
Brockville and area has produced a large number of star athletes over the last 50 years.
Here are some, again, in no particular order, and I know there is not enough time and space to list the hundreds of top athletes who have passed through Brockville and community.
Betty Craig, three-time Olympic rowing team member for Canada; member of the Canadian Rowing Hall of Fame;
Dolores Young, two-time Olympic rowing team member for Canada; longtime coach in Manitoba and New Brunswick;
Dave Campbell, sports medicine in Montreal, involved at one time with the Montreal Manic, Montreal Alouettes, Montreal Canadiens, figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, on Canada’s athletics care team for six Olympic Games;
Pat Sheahan, more than 30 years coaching in Canadian university football, two Vanier Cups and third on the all-time list in coaching victories;
Stacey Dales, a five-time gold medallist at OFSAA, an NCAA all-star for the Oklahoma Sooners in basketball where she still holds school records; a Canadian Olympian, the third overall pick in the Women’s National Basketball Association in 2002; now working for the NFL Network, no doubt the best female athlete to come out of Brockville;
Cindy Scott, probably the second-best female athlete here, with five OFSAA gold medals, a university basketball all-star for Western and coaching athletes for the last 20 years;
Christopher Perkins, of Athens, who won the world archery championships in 2011, has represented Canada in world championships, while continuing to win Ontario and Canadian titles;
Larry Robinson, the best-known graduate from the Brockville Braves. He was turned away from a Cornwall Royals tryout in 1969. A Braves official brought him to Brockville. Robinson was a forward and was turned into a defenceman. The rest is hockey history. He has been a part of 10 Stanley Cup champions and is No. 24 in the NHL’s top-100 list of players.
Larry Mitchell, the scoring leader of the Brockville Braves, with 333 points in a three-year career in the mid-1980s before going on to the Cornwall Royals for two strong seasons of 39 and 49 goals and a career in the European hockey league;
Hank Lammens, probably the best overall male athlete, a two-sport athlete at a high level, with two Finn World Cup sailing championships in 1990 and 1991 and a 27-game NHL career with the Ottawa Senators in 1993. He often stepped off the sailboat and onto the ice. He’s a Sailing Canada athlete of the year on three occasions, a Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame member and a 15-time national sailing champion in a variety of classes;
Todd Gill, played with the Brockville Braves, had a 1,007-game career in the NHL as an undersized, gutsy defenceman in an era of big power forwards; became the owner and coach of the Braves, having successful teams;
Randy Ladouceur, played 931 games as a steady, stay-at-home defenceman in the NHL and then had coaching stops that included Toronto and Montreal in the NHL;
Jacquie Rasenberg, starred at BCI in basketball, volleyball, track and field in the early 1980s; earned a track scholarship to University of Alabama, came home to play basketball at University of Ottawa; has won one championship in World Firefighter Combat Challenge and two individual Canadian titles, along with 10 world and eight Canadian team championships;
Ramona Braganza, gymnastics at BCI led her to 10 years as cheerleader in NFL with Los Angeles Raiders, before becoming a fitness consultant and then fitness trainer to high profile Hollywood actors and actresses, including Jessica Alba and Michael Weatherly of Bull;
Peter Hoy, star athlete in football and basketball in high school at South Grenville, with the Brockville Bunnies and made six appearances with the Boston Red Sox in 1992;
Andy Stewart, a talented hitter and catcher with the Bunnies, played in six games with the Kansas City Royals in 1997, played for the Canadian Olympic team, was a bullpen catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays;
Mike Toshack, good in basketball and football at South Grenville, ended up coaching in pro soccer, has won two MLS championships and is now coaching at St. Lawrence University;
Currie Graham, involved in all athletics at South Grenville in early 1980s and has fashioned a successful, 28-year acting career in Hollywood;
Burke Dales, a wannabe linebacker at the punter’s position, who spent nine years in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders, earning all-star selections and winning one Grey Cup;
John Armitage, formerly of Brockville, now in Kingston, who rowed with Bill Cody, Steve Earle and Jim Earle when the lightweight four finished seventh in the world championships in 1975. He started the rowing program at Queen’s University and started the Kingston Rowing Club, coaching at both clubs for more than 40 years.
Trent Corney, the TISS graduate who was the most impressive physical specimen in memory in high school with speed, size and strength. He played football for four years at the University of Virginia, was drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL, played two years and had to retire in his third year due to concussion issues in 2018.
Henry Mulder, a two-time Ontario community college basketball scoring champion with the Brockville St. Lawrence College Brahma Bulls in 1979-80 and 1980-81. He was inducted into the OCAA Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
And there are many, many others that I don’t have the space to list.
Brockville and area has been a sporting hotbed. I enjoyed my time at The Recorder and Times in highlighting those achievements.