By Cecilia Nasmith
A packed audience of more than 200 relived sports history Saturday night, when the Cobourg and District Sports Hall of Fame had its first official induction ceremony for eight outstanding athletes.
The display showcases in the Grand Hall at the Cobourg Community Centre were unveiled early last month, and the inductees' names announced. Saturday's banquet was a chance to honour them in a more personal way. The honourees (and their representatives) were piped in by Mary Ito and greeted with a ceremonial cry by town crier Mandy Robinson.
It has taken about three years of effort on the part of the original board (Ross Quigley, John Ovens, Mike Irwin, Richard Irvine, Peter Harrison, John Hayden, Don Conway and Liz Basinger, with Jennifer Ashley and former mayor Gil Brocanier coming on board as vacancies arose) to reach this point.
In a video presentation screened after dinner, president Ross Quigley said that more than 91 sports, organizations and competitions are represented in the Cobourg and District Sports Hall of Fame, covering the town as well as the townships of Cramahe, Hamilton and Alnwick-Haldimand.
Some of them were big in their day but no longer well remembered, like greyhound racing in Donegan Park and swimming races in the harbour.
Pigeon racing was big, Quigley added in the film, displaying the stuffed favourite racing pigeon of Lyle Cane. People would put their coops on the train to take them some distance to a release point, then record the birds' times when they returned home.
Along with the stuffed pigeon, Quigley estimated they have perhaps 750 items of memorabilia.
The video was followed by tributes to the inductions. These include...
Layton Dodge was born in Cobourg March 4, 1937. After graduating from Cobourg Collegiate Institute, he got a job at as sportswriter at his home-town newspaper, the Cobourg Sentinel Star. He published his first column Sept. 5, 1957, and his last one just over 39 years later on Oct. 8, 1996. In between the two, he was a familiar sight around town on his bicycle, making his way to sporting events of all kinds in Cobourg (and more than a few in the surrounding community). His sports pages delighted many proud parents, grandparents and coaches, reflecting his values of love, diligence, integrity, honesty and a deep conviction that sports were as important to the house-league player as they were to the rep-team player. On top of it all, Dodge also served as statistician for many leagues and organizations.
Though he won the Ontario Amateur Softball Association's Mr. Softball award in 1987, he was better known to the local community by his nickname – Scoop. Never without a camera, a notebook and a smile, he was simply the best small-town sportswriter one could for.
Accepting the plaque, Rosie Bateman said Dodge would be so thrilled - “humbled, but thrilled.”
Bateman gave Dodge a lot of the credit for the new sports hall of fame, because his tireless coverage and promotion of the local sports community heightened the interest and support.
“He literally documented the history of sports for our area from the mid-1950s to 1996. That's 40 years, spanning five decades throughout his career at the Cobourg Star.”
Dodge's house was its own hall of fame, she added, covered with his favourite pictures of his favourite athletes that he had shot – some of whom (like Steve Smith and Marty Kernaghan) were fellow CDSHF inductees.
Dave Sommerville recalled the gift he gave young athletes of seeing their names and accomplishments in print, as well as his dollars-and-cents support of the sporting community in charitable initiatives.
“His contributions to the community are unparalleled anywhere, never to be matched,” Sommerville stated.
“He gave everyone their time in the spotlight and made them feel special.”
Paul Currelly was born in Port Hope Sept. 3, 1926. He moved to Cobourg in 1952, a cross-country runner who was also an all-around athlete who enjoyed basketball, baseball, hockey and football. He became a respected backfielder for the Galloping Ghosts from 1947 to 1952. A note in the program from one of the 1950 Ghost games described him as a “Good steady football player that can always be counted on for an all-out effort – a good team player all the way.” This philosophy and attitude remained foremost when he became a founding member of the Cobourg Girls’ Softball League in 1963. That same year, he began coaching the Coverdale Aces. This team would eventually become the Cobourg Angels Softball Organization, whose teams went on to win five Ontario championships as well as numerous league and tournament titles. He would later spearhead the formation of the Cobourg Junior Angels organization and finish his coaching career by returning to boys' baseball with the Cobourg Bantam Blacksox (taking them to a 1998 Ontario championship). It was a proud moment for him in 2004, when the Town of Cobourg dedicated a cairn in his honour on the former Victoria Park ball diamond and named the nearby roadway Paul Currelly Way.
Currelly's award was accepted by his three daughters, Carol Currelly Burnham, Nancy Williams and Patsy Hand.
The spokesdaughter said that the hall of fame had actually been their parents' dream, as evidenced by the memorabilia they had held on to – everything from jerseys to pennants and scorebooks.
“He poured himself into his sports in the capacity of player and coach at the municipal, varsity, provincial and national level,” she said.
“He always stressed the importance of giving back to their community, and many have answered the call.”
Along with the countless volunteers who now offer umpiring and coaching services, players he worked with are now teacher, nurses, consultants, authors, business owners, town councillors, members of the nation's military and even an Order of Canada recipient for her work as a street nurse.
Fred Dufton was born in Stratford in 1886, growing up in Toronto and managing the Strollers semi-professional baseball team that played at Christie Pitts Park. He moved his family to Cobourg in 1926 to work at Edwards and Edwards Tanneries, and took an interest in football when his three sons started to play at Cobourg Collegiate Institute. He got involved and became manager of the school’s teams. After the boys left high school, he decided to start an intermediate football team in 1935 – the Red Raiders, who changed their name two years later to the Cobourg Galloping Ghosts. Dufton earned the nickname Ferocious Fred because of his drive to win, and he shepherded the Ghosts to a record of eight Ontario titles and three Canadian titles in 13 years. The legendary fellow inductee Layton Dodge once proclaimed the Ghosts “the most famous of all teams in Cobourg's history.”
Accepting on Dufton's behalf were grandsons Gord Burdick and Doug Campbell, who told the audience the family had used this induction as a wonderful opportunity for a big family reunion.
“When you are growing up, your house is full of memorabilia, but it doesn't mean very much to you,” Burdick said.
“Three Canadian and eight Ontario championships is remarkable for the area.”
Burdick added that it must not be forgotten how the Galloping Ghost experience continued to benefit its players.
“It can change the world if you empower these individuals to be their best selves, and this is what he did.”
Don Ito was born in BC Aug. 16, 1937, moving to Cobourg with his family in 1941. He was an outstanding all-around athlete, playing two seasons with the Peterborough Junior B hockey team in the mid-1950s. In the early 1960s, he moved on to drag car racing, winning many trophies with his 1962 Chevy 409 Impala at the Shannonville Racetrack. But about the same time, he found his true calling with the formation of the Rice Lake Waterski Club. In 1966, he would win the Canadian Nationals and place second in the US Nationals. In 1967, he won first place in the US Nationals in Tricks (second place in Slalom). In 1968, he swept the US Nationals with a perfect score of 4,000 points. That same year at the North American Championships, he broke the world record for Tricks and was declared overall champion. In 1969, he won the US Nationals and, in the North American Championship in Montreal, he again led the field in winning the open division. In 1970, he won the Tricks Division Championship once again at the US Nationals. In 1971 at the US National Kite Flying Championship, he took senior men’s honours with a slalom run of 48 buoys, including six on a 40-ft. line – a feat thought to be impossible.
Ito appeared on his own behalf to accept the honour, thanking individuals who had played a special role in his successes. These included his brother Rick who kept his 409 in top shape, his daughter Kim who became a leading jockey at Ajax Downs, and that long-ago mentor who taught him to fly using a kite made in Brighton.
Marty Kernaghan was born Aug. 9, 1958, in Grafton. From a very early age, he showed exceptional promise in both hockey and fastball, but would really go far in the latter. Between 1969 and 1977, he won three Ontario Amateur Softball championships, plus an OBA Ontario Championship in baseball (not to mention a 1978 Ontario Minor Hockey Association championship). His fastball career took him to the local Cold Springs Cats, then on to the Oshawa Tonys and, after that, to Alberta. His next stop was the Penn Corp team in Sioux City, Iowa. Penn Corp had a private plane and pilot it could dispatch to be sure Kernaghan made the games – which inspired Kernaghan to learn to fly and get his own corporate pilot's license. Over his career, he played in 11 International Softball Conference world tournaments. Kernaghan was voted an ISC All World All-Star eight times and batted .361, getting 60 hits in 166 at-bats, while scoring 31 times with 36 RBIs. In 2002, he was elected to the International Softball Conference Fastball Hall of Fame. In 2017, he and his teammates from the 1992 Canadian Men's World Championship team were inducted into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame.
Kernaghan was delighted to be back in town.
“My heart has always been here, Grafton and Cobourg. If I can borrow a line, there's no place like home,” he said.
“Tonight I stand humbled, proud and honoured to be a recipient.”
He knew many of the other inductees personally, declaring Layton Dodge the best sportswriter he ever read.
“I just wish he could have lived to be 100, so a lot of the young athletes around could have witnessed their names in print.
“I met Paul Currelly early on in my life, and my two sisters played on the Angels. I admired the way he coached, so positive and so enlightening to me.
“Bill O'Neil, Mr. Softball – he always amazed me and stayed such a good friend throughout the years. I was fortunate enough to play on one of his all-Ontario juvenile teams.
“Steve Smith – if there's a shoo-in for this hall of fame, you were it. What a fabulous career!”
He recalled a wonderful occasion when he had the chance to meet up with Smith during an Oilers game and got an invitation back to the dressing room, where he met such stars as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Smith invited Gretzky to show Kernaghan his Stanley Cup ring. Gretzky tossed it across the dressing room to Kernaghan – who promptly fumbled it.
Awesome careers come with sacrifices, he said, and they are made by the people one is closest to. He thanked parents Pat and Jack for years of support, and his family for standing by him as he whisked them from city to city and ballpark to ballpark.
Locally, he thanked Dick and Ann Raymond for decades of amazing volunteer service at the Grafton ballpark and the Sommerville family – Bob, Dorothy and Dave – “for being such wonderful people and working with my schedule.”
Bill O’Neil was born in Oldcastle Dec. 28, 1924, where he grew up as a young athlete and coach. He first started working at General Foods in Windsor at the age of 18, and moved with them to Cobourg in 1963. He coached the local General Foods softball team in the Cobourg Town League from 1963 to 1970, and also coached Juvenile and Junior OASA teams that played in the town league from 1971 to 1990. During the ’70s, he was the coach of four championship Juvenile B OASA teams, and was named Cobourg's Sportsman of the Year in 1976. He has been recognized for his dedication as treasurer and a volunteer for the Cobourg Town League for 40 years. On Nov. 7, 2007, he was recognized by the Ontario Amateur Softball Association as Ontario’s Mr. Softball. From the Town of Cobourg, he was recognized in 2004 with the naming of the Legion Fields main building as the Bill O'Neil Pavilion. From all he worked with, he won recognition as a great role model and asset to the local athletic community.
O'Neil's wife Shirley and son Rob accepted on his behalf.
Rob O'Neil noted that his father had mentored hundreds of young people over the years, including fellow inductees Steve Smith and Marty Kernaghan and hall-of-fame board members Peter Harrison and Mike Irwin.
“And as look around, I also see several of dad's former players. He loved coaching softball.
“Over the many years, he coached the team to four provincial championships, coached countless numbers of games, and created some great memories.
“My dad loved to laugh, and was always eager to hear a funny story or joke from anyone,” O'Neil added.
Emcee Joel Scott invited everyone to plan a trip to the Cobourg Community Centre's Grand Hall to view the displays, and reminded the audience that they can already submit nominations for 2020 inductees. With eight inductees in its inaugural ceremony, Scott said, there will be annual banquets from here on with six new inductees each year.
He also reminded everyone that donations of memorabilia, cash and in-kind services are always welcome.