History of the CYO
By David M. Venneri, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, May 2, 1994
I would like to acknowledge those whose assistance contributed to the completion of this study. I am deeply grateful for their time and concern as, without their help, this study would not have been possible.
To the people who were kind enough to subject themselves to interviews which were extremely valuable in the writing of the league’s history, I wish to express my deep gratitude and appreciation. To George Darte III, Norm Habel, Paul Harper, Bill Hay, Nora Howard, Bill Keogh, Joe McCaffery, Chris Rogers, Marjorie Rogers, Joe Sheehan, Albert Venneri and Kathy Zutell go my sincere thanks.
I would also like to thank my faculty advisor, Dr. Danny Rosenberg for allowing me to share in his knowledge, experience, advice and good wishes, all of which have benefitted me substantially.
Finally, I would like to thank my father, Lidio Venneri, for introducing me to the CYO hockey league as a boy. That introduction fostered my love of the game of hockey and a great appreciation for the league itself. Without that love and appreciation, I could not have completed this study.
This thesis is dedicated to the volunteers who have, over the past sixty years, given their time, patience and concern to the St. Catharines CYO hockey league. This thesis is also dedicated to the many children who have endlessly supplied the league with enthusiasm, energy, vibrancy and character.
Since 1934, the St. Catharines Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) hockey league has offered recreational hockey to the youth of St. Catharines. The CYO has enabled its players to play in a league which regards fun, involvement and participation as its main objectives rather than maximal sill development and winning at all cost.
As the area’s oldest and largest house-league hockey organization, the league enjoys a rich history and tradition. Over the years the league has enjoyed substantial growth; growth that did not occur without its share of growing pains.
The CYO hockey league has allowed its participants to learn so much more than the game of hockey. Instead, it has allowed them to grow wholly as individuals and has contributed to their personalities as it has to the city of St. Catharines.
“The desire of the young people of St. Catharines to learn and play the game of hockey is the basis for the existence of the St. Catharines Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) minor hockey league. For fifty-eight years, many groups of volunteers have given their time and effort to give our youth winters of fun and enjoyment playing hockey.”
The St. Catharines CYO minor hockey league possesses a rich history. From its inaugural days on Fifteen-Mile Creek, Sixteen-Mile Creek and Martindale Pond, to the present matches at Rex Stimers and Garden City Arenas, the organization has offered years of house league hockey for boys and girls living in and around the city of St. Catharines.
Minor hockey has always been successful in St. Catharines, but it was not until the late 1930’s that the city’s reputation as a minor-hockey hotbed became apparent. Eventually, during the decade leading into the 1950’s St. Catharines would go on to win a total of twenty-seven Ontario titles. No other Canadian city could claim that many provincial minor hockey championships in that decade.
What the St. Catharines hockey scene lacked at the time, however, was a house league; one designed in the name of fun, enjoyment and participation for all its main objectives rather than the defeat of another town by the best players the city could find. The CYO filled this void in the city’s hockeyscape, becoming the first house league hockey organization in the Niagara Region. Today, the league remains as the area’s oldest and largest.
This study will present a descriptive, chronological history of the CYO hockey league. Such a history is long overdue as no documented history presently exists. A league which is almost as old as the National Hockey League (NHL) and one that possesses a rich and successful history cannot simply allow its story to remain unrecorded. This pressing need for a chronicle of the CYO hockey league is what the author aspires to address.
The study will investigate such issues as when the league actually began; whether or not discrepancies exist regarding the actual date of the league’s origin. At this point, it is believed that the league commenced in 1934 with five teams. A second theory, however, claims that the league did not start as an inter-church organization, but rather as a city team based at one church, the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. This team is believed to have been a travelling city-representative squad that ventured as far as Niagara Falls, Port Colborne, Fort Erie and Markham to compete against teams from other cities.
The author intends to investigate the reasons for the founding of the CYO. There will be an attempt to understand what the motivations were, essentially, why the league formed? Was it due to the seeming lack of a house league? Were existing travelling teams simply inefficient in terms of fulfilling the city’s minor hockey needs? Or was the CYO hockey league formed simply to give a few children something fun to do? The answers to these questions will be investigated using various information sources, such as books, league records, reports, scrap books, newspaper clippings and personal interviews.
The above mentioned sources also establish the limitations of this study. Miniscule coverage in the local newspaper The St. Catharines Standard, may limit the scope of this study. League records, scrapbooks and personal interviews will, however, compensate for this lack of coverage. The author will investigate the paucity of media coverage, asking the question: why would a league involving up to six-hundred players and their families, at different times in its history, enjoy such a minimal amount of public attention? The study will further be limited by the impossibility of interviewing any of the league’s founders. All of these pioneers have passed on.
In addition to this factual account of the CYO hockey league’s history, the study will include the more human side of the information collected. A simple examination of the facts will fail to provide a thorough, complete history of this organization. It is important that historical records be supplemented by the impressions and reflections of those involved in the CYO hockey league. The author intends to interview past participants to capture the more human side of any uncovered records and statistics.
Having stated some of the limitations of the study, the second chapter will provide a glance of St. Catharines in the 1930’s. This chapter will detail what it was like to be a boy growing up in a small town which was rapidly expanding despite the dire economic straights of the nation. What types of sports leagues were available for these boys? Were these leagues popular? How did the local boys themselves feel about what was available to them in terms of athletic activities? This chapter will also examine how the municipal and national economic conditions affected the league, the founders, the players, and the families of both. In order to view these circumstances from this perspective, a review of those economic conditions will be necessary. How those conditions affected the people involved will be attained through personal interviews.
This examination of St. Catharines will naturally include a perusal of demographic information such as populations, main industries and socio-economic factors. This examination will assist the reader in understanding the role of hockey in the community during that era.
The facilities which were available at the time will also be chronicled. Since the league began approximately four years prior to the construction of the city’s first arena, the games were initially played outdoors. What was it like to play outdoors? How did the organizers make that situation more tolerable for all involved?
This gaze into the past will provide the setting for the story of the CYO hockey league to unfold and hopefully outline the need which existed for an organization such as the CYO hockey league.
The third chapter will examine the men who founded the league. The four founding fathers, Jeff Alexander, George “Ozzie” Darte, Father Stanley Cassin and George Howard have all passed on. The deaths of these key figures will be an obvious limitation in that their stories will not be directly told. Instead, the story that will be conveyed involves the legacy they left behind. Interviews with the families of these men, or with anyone who knew them will provide information which comes as close to their stories as possible. The study will explore what type of people these men truly were.
This chapter will then investigate why these men started the league. What was their motivation? What reasons did they have? A great deal of time and effort was required in the undertaking of such a venture; therefore, one can only assume that these men had a valid reason to justify the attention given to this labour. Was it done for religious reasons or, did they want possibly to keep the children involved in the church? Was the design of the league strictly for the purpose of health promotion through active lifestyles? Did the founders of the league perceive a morale problem for the boys of St. Catharines in the light of the depressed condition of the nation? Did they hope that the league could serve as a vehicle for the improvement of that morale? Was the intention simply to provide a hockey league where children could play without a heavy financial burden or the fear that they might not be skilled enough to play?
This third chapter will then review the contribution of each of the four founding members. This examination will focus on the role that each man played, what did each man do? How did they go about doing so? What difficulties did they encounter in attempting to carry out these tasks? What type of support and assistance did they obtain along the way? In short, the third chapter will examine how the league was founded as well as by whom it was founded.
The next chapter will provide a chronological time-line of the league’s sixty year existence. Beginning with the founding of the league in the mid-1930’s, this chapter will detail significant occurrences that have taken place through almost six decades. This listing of significant events in the CYO’s history will detail for the reader the changes which have materialized over the years. These changes will, in turn, provide a sequential view of the league’s growth.
As this chapter progresses through various periods it will identify the different eras which will comprise a framework for the categorization of events. These events will be ones which are highly significant in their uniqueness to the CYO. This uniqueness is the quality which will define the character of the league.
Aside from uniqueness, the significant events chronicled in this fourth chapter will be ones which had a tremendous impact of the league, whether that impact was in a developmental way, for emotional reasons or simply because it was interestingly meaningful.
Some of the changes to be examined will include any alterations in league format. If there was originally one travelling team, how did the transition to a house-league format occur? Did this transition happen quickly? Did it go smoothly? Why was this change made?
The switch from the pond to the arena was a major metamorphosis which reshaped the CYO. This change will be examined from many perspectives. Primarily, the author will endeavour to discern how this affected the league financially. Arena rental fees created a new financial responsibility. How was this responsibility assumed? Were the players responsible for registration fees? Was there a fundraising campaign? Did the men running the league accept this responsibility on behalf of the children? Did the church(es) pay these fees?
The study will then explore the tragedies the league has endured since its inception. This portion of the study will describe how tragedies such as a severe injury or a player’s death can shake the foundations of any organization. How the league dealt with these types of situations and how the people involved reacted will be examined.
Any other pertinent facts of colourful characters who assisted in the development of the league as it stands today will be incorporated into this chapter. These facts will include the introduction of girls into what was strictly a boys’ league for decades. Who was the first girl? How did her involvement alter the game? Did this result in more girls signing up? Or was that first girl also the last to play CYO hockey?
The final substantive chapter will detail the human side of the information gathered in this study. The personal significance of what has transpired over the past sixty years will be the focus. This chapter will bring the study beyond the occurrences listed in the fourth chapter by displaying the results of these occurrences. This will be accomplished through interviews with those who played in, coached in or were in any way involved with the CYO hockey league. In doing so, the author will collect as many interviews from as many different eras as possible. These interviews will provide a more intimate look at the league as the author will provide accounts of what it was like to play in the league as a child. This human side is essential to the study in that it will demonstrate how far-reaching the effects of such a league can actually be.
Interviews will be conducted to learn from a wide variety of subjects the things they remember most about the CYO, whether it is a fond or painful recollection. The reasons why those memories were so indelible are important as they will surely demonstrate what stands out most about a league such as the CYO.
Interview subjects will be asked how membership in the CYO affected them not only as a group of children playing the game of hockey but as individuals. Was it a positive experience? Do they regret having played CYO hockey? How has the CYO fit into their lives? Were there things they learned in the CYO that have helped them in other areas of their lives? The answers to these and other questions will provide the significance, on a personal level, of playing in a religious house league. Did the CYO bring them closer to the church? Do they retain any of the friendships that they made in the YCO have they maintained any contacts with the league? How did the CYO affect the way they look generally at the sport of hockey? Had they encouraged their own children to play in the CYO, or would they want their children to experience the CYO hockey league?
Following this chapter, a summary and concluding chapter will tie all four content chapters together. Since the four chapters are related to one another, a clearer pattern for the league’s significance will emerge. The final chapter will try to explicitly state the main reasons for the founding of the CYO as well as its longevity. The examination of the city at the time of the league’s creation will assist the reader in understanding the need for such a league at that time. An examination of the people responsible for the founding of the league will serve to inform the reader of the character from which the league descends. The personal perspective provided in the fifth chapter will clearly reveal the value of the CYO hockey league. It will demonstrate the benefits people have gained, and continue to gain, from participating in this organization. Finally, this account of the CYO minor hockey league’s rich and successful history will declare that its development enhanced the lives of many youngsters in countless ways and is a significant contribution to the hockey history of St. Catharines.
Chapter 2: St. Catharines in the 1930’s
Before examining the development of the CYO hockey league, a general overview of what St. Catharines was like in the 1930’s will be presented. This will be done in an attempt to set the stage for the founding of the CYO hockey league.
The effects of the Depression on the city of St. Catharines were extremely adverse. This era was a source of great disparity for the city in the 1930’s. While some in the community enjoyed prosperity of were simply not affected too harshly, others experienced difficulties maintaining or finding employment.
The reasons for the prosperity of some was the fact that the city enjoyed a cushion against the economic and social devastation of the Depression. This cushion came in the form of the city’s broadly based and still expanding industrial structure, seasonal employment on area farms, the public works project of the Queen Elizabeth Way highway, the construction of the fourth Welland Canal and the Queenston Power Project. Despite these fortunate conditions, however, sections of the community did experience bad times.
The trying nature of the 1930’s was apparent in public criticisms of chain stores by the citizens of the era. These stores would only accept cash for goods unlike corner stores whose owners were more likely to extend credit to their known customers. It was even proposed that these corner store owners be reimbursed by the city for any outstanding debts incurred, and that a business tax be levied on chain stores.
This adverse aspect of the Depression is evident in the value of building permits which were issued. These permits rose invariably from 1926 to a climax in 1929 before dropping annually to severe lows in 1933. From 1932 to 1935 they were below $250,000. They rose slightly in 1936 then dropped during 1937 and into 1938. They would not return to the levels enjoyed in 1928 until 1940, as a result of World War II.
The era was one which required families to make many adjustments in their lifestyles. These drastic adjustments reflected the severe economic change which had occurred from the roaring 1920’s.
From 1922 to 1931 St. Catharines enjoyed significant growth and lifestyle changes. Expansion occurred in all fields of life. The population of St. Catharines reached 24,753 in 1931. The founding of four major industries during this era provided favourable economic repercussions. Conroy Manufacturers opened in 1922 and produced heating equipment; Lightening Fasteners followed in 1925 and manufactured all types of fasteners and zippers. In 1929, W.S. Tyler began making wire cloth screens and in 1930, Thompson Products opened the doors to its factory which manufactured auto parts and engineer tools.
The 1920’s also saw the arrival of more leisurely lifestyles. Such lifestyles produced new types of enterprises. Sixty-seven bakers and confectioners were scattered about the city. Beauty parlours and barber shops increased in popularity as did dressmakers, clothiers and furnishers, and department stores. In fact, four department stores were in operation in St. Catharines during that era.
Improved recreation facilities coupled with the increases in leisure time encouraged businesses to cater to recreational pastimes. Eight bicycle shops, twelve billiard rooms and two dancing academies operated in this era. The number of operating restaurants increased to twenty-five, and four theatres offered entertainment to the public.
In addition, the 1920’s fostered more health conscious attitudes evident in the increasing numbers of dentists, druggists, nurses and insurance companies. Reading and the desire for knowledge was also on the upswing based on the two operating newspapers (The St. Catharines Standard and The Thorold Post) and three lending libraries which enjoyed a substantial number of patrons.
The most convincing evidence of the prosperity of the 1920’s though is perhaps the fact that housing construction was on the increase in all areas of the city. This was visible in the fact that there were forty-four contractors, eight realtors and twenty-four real estate agents working at the time.
Because the people of St. Catharines enjoyed prosperity in the 1920’s, the adjustment to the stagnate 1930’s was difficult for many. Generally, little economic progress was made during this era because of the Depression. Few new industries emerged, and several flourishing ones of an earlier period were abandoned. Only four new industries were established during this era. The year 1932 saw the construction of St. Catharines Auto Body; Moggridge GA (tags, tickets and labels) was established in 1934, Tri-Sure Products opened in 1935 and Lincoln Hosiery commenced operations in 1940, manufacturing ladies’ hosiery.
By 1936, the chief industries were ten small-metal industries, six large-metal manufacturers and five textile manufacturers. By 1936, however, one paper mill, two planning mills, the mineral water plants, a silk mill, a cannery and several other small industries had disappeared. In spite of this, St. Catharines was beginning to prosper again. As it began to prosper, the city slowly began to develop and include more recreative endeavours.
The Depression era was characterized by a tendency toward professionalism in sports in the city. As a result, participation was mainly confined to those who possessed requisite skills and the “promise of becoming proficient members of competitive teams”. This was unfortunate for the children of the era in that “timid lads” were frequently forced to remain on the sidelines. The need for house-leagues in the city was apparent.
According to Irvine, schools offered very satisfactory sports programs. The schools provided inter-school leagues for softball, football, and rugby. Inter-form games were also in place and accounted for more participants than the inter-school teams. These programs demonstrate the demand that existed for recreative sports. The separate schools were especially noted for their school hockey teams. These teams would ultimately become the backbone of the CYO hockey league.
The city offered a variety of leagues such as minor baseball, city lacrosse, city softball, church athletics (Protestant), and playground softball. In addition to these leagues, Irvine reported that a very small number of boys played in an industrial hockey league.
Numbers in the above-mentioned leagues indicated that approximately 600 boys in the city played in some type of organized sport leagues outside of school in 1937. Aside from these organized leagues, which had no religious affiliation, Protestant churches reported an additional 225 boys in midweek activities, most of which had some sort of sports program. Roman Catholic churches had reported the inauguration of a plan to take part in some type of recreational activity. The plan projected participation of approximately 400 boys aged 10-19.
Irvine found the places where boys played outside of school to be unacceptable. His research indicated that 668 boys reported playing in vacant lots, 478 in back yards, 426 on school grounds, 195 in gymnasiums and an alarming 1,034 on roadways, sidewalks and street corners. Irvine concluded that this presented an unfortunate and unnecessary safety hazard.
Irvine also found that the state of organized recreation programs for boys in the city of St. Catharines in 1937 was inadequate. He listed six inadequacies of the programs which were in place then. The first inadequacy he listed was the fact that records showed that no more than fifty percent of the boys in the city were participating in sports outside of school. The second inadequacy was that twenty-eight percent of high school boys reported that “there are not enough leagues” and that thirty percent of public and separate schoolboys reported the same. Irvine noted too much aimless activities on street corners and vacant lots as the third inadequacy. The fourth inadequacy was the large number of boys playing in unsafe places (i.e. vacant lots, roadways, sidewalks, street corners). The fifth inadequacy was what Irvine called a lack of evidence of serious efforts to develop quality leaders for boys’ sports. The final inadequacy that Irvine noted was that of the boys who appeared in juvenile court, very few took part in organized sports.
One component of the problem of limited recreational leagues was the lack of facilities during the era of the 1930’s. Prior to the construction of Garden City Arena in 1938, hockey was played in a number of locations in the St. Catharines area. Before this, in approximately 1895, games were played inside what was referred to as the “Drill Shed”, behind W.J. Robertson School on Church Street. This Drill Shed was flooded to provide a small indoor ice surface. Later, the Cameron brothers erected a small covered rink on Phelps Street, opposite the present Garden City Arena. The Phelps St. Stadium was home for some of these early games as well as for boxing and wrestling matches and a roller-hockey team.
Aside from these two makeshift facilities, outdoor rinks were the home of many hockey games. The problem that outdoor rinks created was that only the most stalwart and dedicated fans and players were able to be involved. There was obviously no heat provided for spectators and frost-bitten toes were a common occurrence for both players and fans.
According to McNabb, there is “little doubt that the erection of the Thorold Arena in 1936, prompted St. Catharines’ sportsmen to plan an artificial ice plant” in St. Catharines. Because of the new, artificial ice surface games could be scheduled more regularly than with the previous hit-and-miss dependence on the weather outdoors.
Through interviews, Irvine examined how boys growing up in the city during the 1930’s, felt about the lack of recreational sports leagues. A thirteen year-old respondent stated that “the boys go out at night and fool around. They need some leagues.” Another respondent cited the need for facilities by answering that a “swimming pool and arena (were) needed” An older boy stressed the need for an arena claiming that “frequent trips away from home for skating and hockey are much less favourable for moral and social seasons than having the same advantages here at home.” It is plain to see then that while enthusiasm for sport and recreation was rapidly growing, the facilities in place at the time were less than adequate.
However, while experiencing economic times which were prosperous for some and trying for others, the City of St. Catharines was making strides toward the provision of more adequate recreational facilities for its citizens during the 1930’s. Several needs, however, remained unaddressed.
Specifically, athletics for youth in St. Catharines during the 1930’s were inadequate in that they failed to offer recreative leagues for these youngsters. Instead, the focus was on making youth sport professionally oriented, or as competitive in nature as adult recreational activities.
Irvine’s interviews with local boys of the era demonstrated the desire for both recreational leagues as well as improved facilities. Because of this consensus and the unsafe places where youth were in fact playing, Irvine concluded that the recreation program for children was inadequate. The time was right for a new recreational house-league for youth in St. Catharines.
Chapter 3: The Founders
Four men apparently took it upon themselves to address the need for a recreational house-league hockey organization in St. Catharines in the 1930’s. Jeff Alexander, Father Stanley Cassin, George Osgoode “Ozzie” Darte II and George Howard were the key figures in this endeavour. They are credited with establishing the St. Catharines CYO hockey league.
This chapter will examine the character traits of each man in an attempt to understand the outstanding individuals they genuinely were. Witness to each man’s personality will be provided by those who knew them. In addition, this chapter will detail what responsibilities each man oversaw in creating what has become the St. Catharines CYO hockey league.
This chapter will additionally attempt to answer the question of why these men started this league. The fact that they devoted so much time and effort indicates that they had some valid reason for undertaking such a venture. Finally, this chapter will give some indication of the assistance they received in developing the league.
Jeff Alexander worked for the separate school board and is generally remembered as a quiet man who made things happen. Bill Hay, former player, coach and present league photographer remembers Alexander well: “Jeff was my first hockey coach. He was a quiet, very likeable man. He was very concerned; even though he was quiet, and conservative, he was extremely knowledgeable and helpful.”
Joe Sheehan, who served as league secretary during the 1960’s credits Jeff Alexander for much of his own successes in running the league and regards him as a man who was highly influential. He remarked, “Jeff Alexander, he was my mentor. I often called Jeff in my early years to find out how he would handle certain problems. Jeff was a great help.”
Another founder was Father Stanley Cassin, who had moved to the Niagara area from Toronto. Joe Sheehan remembers Cassin’s apparent unassuming personality and his love of sport: “Father Cassin was a very small, very humble man, he was born in 1900 and he died in 1970. There were some church groups in those days that used to this sport was a bit of a sin. Father Cassin, on the other hand, thought that sport was good, for young men to be involved in something. If they didn’t have sport, they didn’t have anything else.”
He was an intense sports enthusiast who often made great sacrifices for children. These two qualities made him an ideal man to initiate the CYO hockey league. “This was his life, looking after sport,” Sheehan remembers.
Nora Howard, wife of founder George Howard explains Father Cassin’s significance: “Father Cassin was the assistant priest at St. James’ Parish in Toronto. Kids always followed him around, he had a big following of boys. Then he was moved from Toronto to St. Catharines. There was a CYO in Toronto, and Father Cassin came to St. Catharines from Toronto”. Joe McCaffery, present Mayor of St. Catharines and former CYO player, coach, manager, parish leader and league president remembers Father Cassin as the type of person “who had holes in his shoes because he would rather buy a baseball for a school (than spend the money on new shoes). He was the type of person to walk from St. Mary’s Church in west St. Catharines to St. Joseph’s School (in north St. Catharines) to save the money to buy a puck.”
Ozzie Darte was also very generous; an optimistic man who was well liked and highly respected by both adults and children. George Darte III remembers how his father would drive a car-load of kids to Toronto or Jordan, and often times, “get them all a bite to eat or hot chocolate or whatever.” George also remembers his father’s optimism saying, “He never talked about any problems they had (with the league), he just talked about the fun; the enjoyment watching the smiles on the kids’ faces.”
The children had a special fondness for Ozzie. Nora Howard remembers during World War II when Darte, a Major in the armed forces, would return temporarily from service overseas: “Whenever Major Darte came home for a while, he would always go down (to the arena), because he was the main referee for CYO hockey before the war started. He would go down there and referee a game. The kids would come home, and they’d be so excited, (shouting) “Major Darte! Major Darte refereed our game today!” “People often comment about the volunteer work that (Oz) did,” George Darte says. “He always donated, not always his money, but often his time.” They also comment on the type of personality that he had. “He was a bit of a character,” son George remembers. “He could really give a quick, (teasing) shot into somebody. He was really sharp, that’s for sure.”
Born in Welland in 1913, Oz Darte came to St. Catharines with the rest of his family in 1927. Also, a sports enthusiast, Darte had been quite a successful athlete, playing Junior “A” hockey and lacrosse for St. Michaels’s College in Toronto.
The most widely remembered founder, however, is probably George Howard as his involvement in the CYO was the most extensive. Beginning in the 1930’s, he was involved in the league until 1986 when ill health forced him to retire.
Howard will forever be remembered as a dedicated man. The name George Howard is, in fact, synonymous with CYO hockey in St. Catharines. “He’s Mr. Hockey. He’d been around that arena, I would say, for 51 years. I remember being a little kid, seeing him help coach on the bench, and then I come back with my children, say fifteen to twenty years later, and this guy is still there timekeeping, running around the (arena). He was a phenomenal character. Right up to the time when his health (would no longer allow), he was right there, he was always around.” Bill Hay remembers.
Widely known for his dedication, Howard would be at the arena all-day, every Sunday, beginning in the late 1950’s when the league began its inter-parish format. Nora Howard remembers: “Once they added all the other parishes, George used to leave home a little after six in the morning on Sunday and he wouldn’t be home until after nine at night. He’d have his breakfast (before he left), he’d take his lunch with him, and I’d send his supper up (to the arena).” Howard would usually be at the arena before it opened.
Sheehan recalls being concerned about the amount of time Howard was spending at the arena. “I was concerned, and I’d tell George we’d get someone else to help, but George wouldn’t have it. He was always there. He was a guy who would never say no, he was just a doer.” At the same time, Sheehan realized Howard’s value to the league. “George was a saintly man; he was my salvation.” When Sheehan needed a timekeeper, Howard was always there. George Howard passed away in January of 1994.
Together, the four men formed a team who were capable of putting themselves to work in order to get results. Their dedication and devotion combined with their ardent characters, amicable personalities and unfaltering faith enabled them to prosper in their efforts. At the same time, no matter how much time they devoted to their individual duties, each one always had time to make the children involved feel worthwhile and significant.
McCaffery remembers that they “all were tremendously great people who spent a great deal of time and made you feel like you were special. They were a different class of people. They did what they did simply for the sake of doing something for the city and doing something for the youth of the city.” This commitment to youth was widely noticed. “These guys had this tremendous talent for inspiring young boys to play hockey, no doubt about it. They were all involved on the bench, all giving ideas of what to do in the game (regardless of their specific roles). There was lots of input,” Hay recalls.
In light of the tremendous amount of time it took to organize the St. Catharines CYO hockey league, one can only assume that these men had a valid reason to justify the attention they gave to this labour of love. Widespread belief is that, while the men were forming a league for Catholic boys, their motives were not primarily religious in nature. “It wasn’t so much the religious reasons as it was to give children an outlet. If they don’t have an outlet, they get into trouble, they do things they should not be doing,” Sheehan believes. Nora Howard remembers that that was, in fact the case. “Religious reasons were part of it, but the main reason was to give the kids something to do,” she recalls. “Judge Stanbury, he was the head judge here, and he was getting distressed at so many young kids coming up before his court (to face charges). He approached these different churches to start (offering) youth (activities)” Stanbury apparently went to the right place in seeking a solution to his problem. In a letter published in the CYO Youth Bulletin in January of 1946, Stanbury expressed satisfaction and gratitude: “I should like to express to you my respect and appreciation for the great work which you are accomplishing for the youth of the community…In 1937 I was distressed and alarmed when the records showed that 131 juveniles had been before me. I contacted the authorities in the different Churches, including your own, as well as the Service Clubs active in boys’ work, and you will appreciate my enthusiasm over the results when you know that the number of juvenile delinquents coming before the court was drastically cut down until it is only nominal…”
George Darte III remembers his father Oz, Jeff Alexander and George Howard recalling the fact that there was nothing for the kids to do in the early 1930’s: “There was no Garden City Arena in those days, so they organized a bunch of kids. If kids are into sport, they aren’t into trouble. There were no other leagues in those days. There was no organized hockey and they decided they’d start some.”
Sheehan believes that the founders “wanted to do something for the altruistic motives for the young people of this area. I think they were doing some good; everyone likes to do some good.” Sheehan does, however, also acknowledge the religious influence on this venture, saying “it’s just an off-shoot of Catholic doctrine that you provide something for youth.”
It is not likely that these men perceived a morale problem which resulted from the economic Depression of the era. Both Hay and McCaffery, who played CYO hockey in the 1940’s, recall that in simpler times, children did not want what they didn’t have. Such an attitude made for greater satisfaction in life. McCaffery recalls that “those were days when the average young fellow didn’t look for much. He knew he didn’t have much, so he lived with what he had. Back then, anywhere you had to go, you could walk. It only cost ten cents to go skating.”
Hay remembers walking to hockey games and practices. “In those days, you took your gear to school and from school you walked to the arena; from the arena you walked home.”
Each of the four founders had his own role or significance in the creation of this league. Sheehan credits Father Cassin with being the pioneer. “He was really the founder of it.” Father Cassin had come from a parish in Toronto, where Catholic Youth Organization activities were quite prominent and popular. Sheehan also believes that these men used the CYO in Toronto as “a model to go by.”
According to Nora Howard Father Cassin not only started the CYO hockey league but was also responsible for establishing the entire St. Catharines CYO, which featured other sports and activities in which local Catholic boys and girls could partake. “(Father Cassin) went and got permission from the priests (in St. Catharines) and then went to Toronto and got permission to start the CYO (in St. Catharines). He was the one who started it and originated it.” Father Cassin also helped out with transportation, Sheehan remembers. “Father Cassin would rent three street cars to take (the players) up to Niagara Falls for a hockey game, or for baseball.”
Jeff Alexander was the league’s true administrative organizer. His administrative role presented him with responsibilities which included scheduling games and administering discipline. Nora Howard recalls a time when Alexander was forced to be stern with a coach. The coach was not giving his players equal playing time. “I remember Jeff correcting him. Jeff told him all the kids, they all pay their three dollars, and they all pay their six dollars for insurance, so every boy is entitled to (the same amount of) ice time.”
According to McCaffrey, Alexander “made sure everything ran smoothly.” In addition to this executive role, Alexander ran the teams as a manager when the teams used to travel to Toronto to play.
Ozzie Darte was in charge of officiating the games. The position of league referee belonged to him. Darte was also involved in seeing how the boys got to Toronto to play.
Darte’s major contribution, however, came in the league’s formative years. Son George remembers his father’s financial responsibilities with the league. “My dad and Jeff were the organizers in terms of getting money. (They) tried to get money to help sponsor some of the expenses that the kids would have.” As a funeral director, Oz was quite well known. “He had a lot of contacts throughout the community and he would get, maybe fifty dollars from this person or twenty-five dollars from that person which was, in those days, a lot of money,” according to George.
Darte and Alexander did not limit their soliciting to the Catholic community, and were quite successful outside of it, in the non-Catholic community in terms of acquiring donations. George Darte recalls how “they didn’t experience any difficulty, there was never a hint of (reluctance to give money), if there as, it was simply ‘hey, we don’t have enough money (to make a donation)’”.
George Howard, being trained by St. John’s Ambulance, was in charge of first-aid. Howard’s primary function, however, was that of league timekeeper. He held that position until he retired from the league in 1986. In addition to those responsibilities, Howard was also involved in transportation, specifically getting cars together to take the boys from place to place. Nora Howard remembers how involved these tasks could sometimes be. “One time they were driving to Niagara Falls and they didn’t have too many cars. George took twelve kids in his car. A policeman stopped him and told him he couldn’t drive with that many kids in it. George took six kids out and told them to stay there and don’t move. He drove the six of them so far and dropped them off and so on until they reached Niagara Falls.”
Kathy Zutell, George Howard’s daughter and current league secretary, remembers another one of her father’s more trying times as league timekeeper. “There was this lady whose son played in the league. Her son got a penalty and she came whipping around behind (George), who always wore a cap, and pulled his cap off and took her purse and whacked (George) over the head and said, “That’ll teach you to give my kid a penalty!’”
The first-aid position was one which could never be taken lightly, for it too presented its challenging moments. Nora Howard remember: “One time a kid got cut so badly, it must have been in the throat because the blood was spurting out, and they didn’t think the kid would live. So, George went with him in the ambulance because he didn’t want to remove his hand (which was applying pressure to the wound).”
George Howard was also quite capable of partaking in the duties of other positions. According to Nora, George had his referee’s certificate as well as his coach’s certificate.
As these men worked at developing the foundation of the league, there was never any shortage of assistance. As Sheehan remembers, “they had the support of the parents, the churches; people were very involved.” Nora Howard remembers how “people from around the church would help, like Joe Dwyer helped with the driving (of the boys to games out of town).”
George Darte echoed the notion of parents being substantial means of assistance. “The parents were, and still are today, obviously the mainstay for any kind of assistance. Once their kids were out of the system, then there would be a new set (of parents to help). That’s mainly where they got their help from. There were also non-parent volunteers that just wanted to help the kids.”
It is apparent then that the St. Catharines CYO hockey league possesses a beginning steeped with good intentions and good people. There was no shortage of character or morals in the league’s formative years, the 1930’s and 1940’s. What remains to be seen in the following chapters, is how unwavering these virtues have remained from those formative years to the present.
Chapter 4: How the League Developed
This chapter will chronologically examine the significant events which have transpired over the course of the league’s history. Beginning with the league’s founding in 1934, chapter 4 will focus on those events which have had an impact on the league’s development over the past sixty years.
The CYO began its hockey operations in the early 1930’s. Joe Sheehan believes that “in those days, the CYO ran virtually all the sports in the city. They had hockey, lacrosse, baseball and basketball. In those days, the 30’s and 40’s, there wasn’t any television, (sport) was like a culture.” Kathy Zutell, current league secretary, claims that the hockey league originated around the end of November or beginning of December in 1934. The term league, however, can be used loosely to describe the CYO of this era. At this stage, the league games were played outdoors, on the Fifteen-Mile Creek, the Sixteen-Mile Creek, and Martindale Pond. George Howard would arrive at the pond with a car-load of boys who would shovel the snow off the pond if necessary, while Howard built a camp-fire on the shore. The camp-fire was used to make hot chocolate to keep the players warm between shifts.
The competing teams were actually teams which represented various elementary schools from the Separate School Board in St. Catharines. Even in the 1940’s, Bill Hay remembers such schools as St. Nicholas, St. John’s, St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s being involved.
“The boys would play outside, and I can remember sending them hot chocolate and cookies”, Nora Howard remembers. The games were played on Fridays at noon. There was no other choice as the City of St. Catharines would not see an enclosed arena with man-made ice until 1938.
From these school teams, the best players would be chosen to represent the St. Catharines CYO at the Toronto Diocese Hockey Championships. At that time, Catholic churches in St. Catharines belonged to the large Diocese of Toronto.
Joe McCaffery remembers “in those days, hockey began in Bantam, (14 years old), then (players moved up to the) Midget (age group), and finally (there was) Senior, which was adults.”
In 1938, the first major change in the format of CYO hockey occurred. The opening of the Garden City Arena in St. Catharines reshaped the league. The CYO became the new arena’s first tenant. It was as the first tenant that the CYO established a great working relationship with the St. Catharines Parks and Recreation department which runs the arena. That relationship remains in place today. Zutell illustrates the mutual respect the Parks and Recreation Department and the CYO hold for each other when recounting a recent anniversary celebration. “In January of 1989 there was a 50th anniversary celebration of the Garden City Arena. They asked us (the CYO), to be involved because we were the first people to use Garden City Arena, we were the first tenants.”
While one might assume that such a move to a working arena would result in increases in operating costs, Nora Howard claims that these cost increases did not filter down to the players. “(The switch to the arena) didn’t affect them that much because, at that time, they had to pay six dollars, each kid had to pay for their own insurance when they played outdoors. This was in addition to the three dollars that (the boys) paid the CYO to play hockey. That was the most important thing was the insurance.” Mrs. Howard indicated that much of the new costs were instead met in charitable fashion. “We had people (to help financially), there was a big shot in General Motors that donated so much money towards the ice time. He was a school teacher at St. Mary’s school and he quit teaching to be a foreman at General Motors and he used to get money, whether it was from himself or the company, I’m not sure; and Msgr. Cullinane used to give so much money out of his own pocket. The priests used to give money out of their pockets.” This charity continued into the 1940’s when donations were given in the parishes. “In the 1940’s, they had fundraising. Once a month the people of the parish donated so much money. Mrs. McDonald, (a member of the parish), used to, once a year, have a big tea on a Sunday afternoon to raise money to go towards the uniforms for CYO hockey,” Mrs. Howard remembers.
Through the 1940’s and into the 1950’s, the school-team format remained in place. As in the 1930’s, the best players were selected to represent the St. Catharines CYO in the Toronto Diocese. According to Bill Keogh who had a major role in running the league from the early 1970’s to the early 1990’s, the St. Catharines CYO hockey league evolved from what was know as the Niagara District CYO Hockey League. Keogh believes that this league featured five teams, one representing Welland, one from Niagara Falls, another from Thorold and, finally, two from St. Catharines, namely Cathedral and St. Mary’s.
It was in the 1950’s, however, that the CYO hockey league underwent its most dramatic change. It was in 1958 that St. Catharines and the surrounding areas became their own Catholic Diocese and were no longer part of the Toronto Diocese. When this occurred, the St. Catharines CYO consequently became its own independent hockey league. The trips to Toronto stopped and as Joe Sheehan put it, the league “operated on its won with its own championship and everything.” Before that as Nora Howard said, “they played anywhere in the Toronto Diocese.”
Teams were formed at four parishes in the new St. Catharines Diocese. These parish teams then began to play against one another. According to Kathy Zutell, “St. Mary’s (of the Assumption), the Cathedral (of St. Catherine of Alexandria, formerly the church of St. Catherine), Immaculate Conception and Star of the Sea were the original parishes” when this format change was made.
Keogh, however, claims that St. Catharines becoming its own diocese had nothing to do with the city forming its own CYO hockey league. Instead, he claims that violent activities became so commonplace in the Niagara District CYO league that it was forced to dissolve. As a result, most of the cities involved began forming their own house leagues and only St. Catharines retained the name CYO.
Just two years later, the league would experience another major change. With the appointment of Joe Sheehan as secretary in 1960, the league would never be the same
Sheehan’s association with the league began in 1960 when his son began playing in the league. It was shortly after this that Sheehan found himself in a more involved role than that of a spectating parent. Sheehan remembers, “somebody asked me if I would like to coach. So, I started coaching and the next thing I know, someone asked me if I would come out (to a meeting) and be the secretary.” The role of secretary was, in those days, much more significant than the title implies. As Sheehan remembers, “the secretary virtually ran the league. I was the Father, Son and Holy Ghost for quite a few years in the CYO.”
The CYO torch was being passed to a new generation. “Jeff Alexander had been running the thing for years. He was getting older and wanted to step aside. So, I went off to this meeting and, when it was over, I had the job of secretary. Jeff wasn’t really involved hands-on anymore at that point, he was chairman of the board. I took over from a guy named Bernie Cibick.”
In terms of any sort of administrative operation, Sheehan was forced to start almost from scratch. “I know that when I got there, the league (administrative) format was really nothing.” Sheehan quickly began working toward a more structured operation. He was able to do so with the assistance of a few good men. “We had eight parishes. I was very fortunate to have very good men as the leaders of these parishes. These parish leaders would run their own parishes’ (hockey operations), and they left it to me to run the league. I looked after discipline, scheduling, (and) I even did the write-ups (for the newspaper). We didn’t have meetings; I’d just run it from (home). I was sort of a benevolent dictator. I was even an arbitrator.”
Sheehan was responsible for major organizational alterations in league policy. His first administrative change was to devise some record of the boys involved in the league. Sheehan “laid down the law and insisted that every kid show a birth certificate or baptismal certificate (as proof of age). (He then) made up a giant register (with every kid in it).”
It was over the issue of these birth certificates that Joe Sheehan would give those involved in the league an inaugural glimpse of the stern hand with which the league would be run until the early 1970’s when Sheehan’s tenure officially ended. “There were some problems with some of the coaches handing in these birth certificates there was one coach who was a good coach, but he was very poor at (handing in birth certificates). We got him into the playoffs, and I had to put his team out (of the playoffs because the coach had not submitted birth certificates). Even Jeff (Alexander) said I was being a bit rash, but I said ‘well, that’s how it is’. Or course some of the parents were mad at me, but I did it”.
In a separate incident, Sheehan showed a more lenient side when a boy from Port Dalhousie kicked another boy in the head during a game. Of course, both boys were wearing skates. Sheehan remembers arriving at the arena where: “everybody was saying ‘Joe, you got to do something about this.’ So, I called a rare meeting, because it was so tricky. Some people said we should ban him for life. It was in the playoffs and I suggested suspending him for two games. It was lenient, but it was extremely harsh to the people in Port Dalhousie. They had a parade and they were going to hang me because it was the playoffs and everything. It was very intense.”
With the league now having a more guided path to follow, enrollment numbers began to increase. The league, however, was beginning to realize that the ice time it possessed was far from sufficient. Sheehan quickly and efficiently addressed this need: “When I entered, we only had four hours of ice (per week) for 700 children. But some good things happened; Bill Burgoyne and Rex Stimers’ arenas were built. I made what was, (at the time), an outrageous claim and received eleven hours of ice time at Rex Stimers’. We then got another four hours at Haig Bowl Arena, so we could really expand greatly.”
Initially, the limited ice time had created other problems. One such problem forced Joe Sheehan to create a rule which exists in many house-leagues today. Sheehan remembers how “at that time, we only played eight games a year because that was all the ice time would allow. Other local leagues, like the Legion, were playing sixteen games a year. There were boys playing in both leagues.” Sheehan realized how this was unfair to many boys involved in only one league, and so he introduced the rule that no boy could playing the CYO while playing in another league. “The (league) was designed to give every boy a chance to play hockey even if he wasn’t the greatest hockey player.” Players were still allowed to play for school teams, however. Sheehan encountered a mixed reaction to this new rule: “When I brought the rule in, people would phone at night, they would spit in the phone; you wouldn’t believe how angry many of the parents were at me because they had a son who they thought was a pretty good player and that I was depriving their child. I explained that it was so that the boys who weren’t as good still had a team to play on. That was a very fierce thing, and many guys hated me for years for what I did.” As Sheehan remembers though, there were a great many more supporters. To this day, the rule remains in place in the CYO as well as in many other leagues.
As quickly as Joe Sheehan was hurled into a significant role in the CYO hockey league, he was eventually cast aside in similar fashion. For years in the CYO, there was a token position called Spiritual Advisor. But, according to Bill Keogh, who would eventually become instrumental in the drive to create an executive to replace Sheehan, no Spiritual Advisor had come out to the meetings for years. This changed when Monsignor Schaeffer became the Spiritual Advisor early in the 1970’s. According to Keogh, “Msgr. Schaeffer was very dynamic, and he made his mind up that he wanted to make (the league) run like a democracy. He was very forceful on the issue, there was no diplomacy.” Schaeffer decided to call an election for the purpose of choosing an elected leader in democratic fashion. Keogh remembers how Sheehan’s era quickly came to pass: “We were to have this election and I had it sort of delicately balanced so that Joe would be elected. But it got so vindictive that Joe didn’t want any part of it. I think that we could have made that transition (to a more democratically operated league) with Joe. But Joe boycotted the meeting, and then somebody had to say ‘who’s going to go over to Joe’s house and get all the records. Well I knew Joe, and I knocked on his door at 10:30 at night and, that was a hell of a night.”
In the matter of one evening, Joe Sheehan’s reign over the CYO ended. Joe Sheehan’s involvement lasted just over a decade. The impression he left on the league, however, is unmistakable. Joe Sheehan turned a loosely-run collection of hockey players into a powerful, dynamic league which resembled a well-oiled machine in terms of efficiency and productivity. Joe Sheehan’s signature remains on the league today.
As a result, Bill Keogh and some others were left to reassemble the structure of the league’s administration. They chose to replace Joe Sheehan with an executive comprised of more than one person. Keogh remembers how he assumed the weighty role of secretary: “initially, I was doing what Joe Sheehan did. The secretary position was the one that would up be doing everything.” The next step was to create additional executive positions which would assume different portions of the secretary’s responsibilities. “Roly Pepin was the treasurer for a while…the president was Kerry Howe. We gradually began adding other positions so that the work was distributed more evenly,” Keogh remembers.
This new executive would implement a series of changes throughout the 1970’s which would reshape the league. Among the first of these changes was the decision to be more closely tied to the church itself. The new executive chose to make it a point to have a priest on the executive. Keogh acknowledged the advantage this provided: “There were times when it was useful. I would tell the priest ahead of time if there was a hot issue; with the priest being there, most of the time I could get these guys to get along.” In addition to this, Keogh, beginning in his first year of involvement, decided to make the Bishop a part of CYO hockey by sitting down with him at the start of each season. Keogh “kept the Bishop very informed, the reason (he) did was because (he) knew that if there were problems at the parish level, eventually the pastor would get involved, or, vice versa, the pastor would cause us problems, so (Keogh) always made sure that the Bishop and (he) were one step ahead of these people.” This relationship continued for several years, but once the league began allowing non-Catholics to play, the executive met with the Bishop to inform him that there was really no point to preserve the association.
The new executive immediately began work on implementing what Keogh referred to as a ten-year two-step plan. The initial step was to define the role of the league executive, while the second step involved doing the same for the leader of each parish. Keogh remembers how the executive literally said, “Here’s what we want to do for the next ten years” and proceeded to create a list comprised of these objectives. “It took the first five years to get what I would call the fist stage, to get the executive doing what it was going to be doing, the job descriptions; getting the executive working as an executive,” Keogh remembers.
Having accomplished this, the second five years consisted of attacking parish-level leadership. The executive implemented a rule whereby the parish leader was not allowed to be a coach. This was done to remove biases from parish leaders.
While executive members came and went, Bill Keogh remained on the CYO executive until the late 1980’s – early 1990’s. When asked about his major contributions to the development of the CYO, Keogh listed three major alterations in which he was instrumental. The first contribution Keogh feels he will be remembered for was his lobbying to implement a strict monitoring system which the league continues to use to gauge equality of ice-time across players on teams in the playoffs. Under Keogh’s rigid system, executives attend each playoff game and physically record the number of each player on the ice for each shift in the game. This close monitoring is rare in the province of Ontario. Keogh remembers that many coaches left the league when this system was put in place. The league was not bothered by this mini-exodus, as they believed that the coaches who showed support for the system by staying on were the ones possessing the integrity to carry out the league’s philosophy of fair play and fun for all.
Keogh’s second major contribution to league development was his demand that every coach in the CYO hockey league attain coaching certification. Keogh could see the problem of many “old-time” coaches being involved who were concerned primarily with their own egos (which could be bolstered by winning, sometimes at any cost) rather than the welfare of their players. Keogh felt that those possessing these questionable objectives would refuse to get certified, giving him proper cause to end their coaching tenures in the CYO. As a result, Keogh made the rule that all CYO coaches were required to possess Level 1 certification in the OMHA hockey coaches’ certification program.
Keogh feels that the third major contribution to the CYO league’s development was his severe approach to discipline. Keogh formed a discipline committee which ensured that the league executive controlled discipline as opposed to the individual parishes. Keogh recalls how they “would set up a mini-court where the parish leader (would represent the offending player and) present a case”. And the discipline committee would decide on the appropriate penalty. According to Keogh, this discipline system worked for two reasons. Firstly, the league had the right parish leaders who agreed with the system, and secondly because these parish leaders agreed that this was the most democratic system.
While Joe Sheehan had also advocated strict discipline, this new system differed substantially from Sheehan’s methods. “Ours was a very structured, multi-page, typed-out system, not so much Joe making up his own mind (on a suitable punishment). We had a very complicated set of rules … by the time you were finished with it, nobody could complain” Keogh claims. While this seemingly perfect discipline system sent a message to the league, it came at no small price. As Keogh recalls, “a lot of times it was a pain in the neck, it would sometimes add two hours to our meetings, and it took about two years before people finally realized that this wasn’t going away. We had to get rid of some kids, we’d keep cards on them. This could only be done when people realized that the executive was for real.”
It was also in the early 1970’s that the league offered a new service to its players. As Joe Sheehan stumbled into the role of Secretary, so too did Bill Hay stumble into the role of league photographer. Hay remembers how “somebody asked me to take a picture of the team. Everybody seemed to like it so I cam home and made copies. I think I was the first guy to do it for the league, and I’m still doing it. It started as a hobby and I’m still going.” Initially, the role of league photographer was a volunteer job but has since become a paid position.
By the late 1970’s, the CYO had seen eleven different parishes involved in the league at one time or another. The Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Mary’s, Immaculate Conception, Star of the Sea, St. Alfred’s, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Denis’, Sts Cyril and Methodius, Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH), St. Julia’s and St. Patrick’s have been involved at one time in the league’s existence. Kathy Zutell remembers the face of the league when she first became involved. “There were just six parishes when I got involved in 1978; St. Julia’s had just gotten out. I think OLPH go out about 1982.” Sadly, in 1982, the league’s original parish, the Cathedral, was forced to fold due to low enrollment numbers. Shortly thereafter, Star of the Sea also folded. St. Patrick’s had folded several years earlier and Sts. Cyril and Methodius also ceased their hockey operations some time in the late 1970’s. This left the five parishes which comprise the league today; St. Mary’s, Immaculate Conception, St. Alfred’s, St. Denis’, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
It was around the same time that the league nearly lost another one of its oldest parishes, St. Mary’s. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, St. Mary’s endured low enrollment and iced many small teams. Recent real estate developments in the late 1980’s in west St. Catharines, where St. Mary’s church is located have created a hockey renaissance at St. Mary’s.
It seems that the distribution of players across different parishes in the CYO has mirrored development in different areas of St. Catharines. During the 1970’s when St. Catharines was expanding in every direction, many parishes comprised the league, each icing a small number of teams (one team in each age division. As development shifted to the north-end of St. Catharines throughout the 1970’s, north-end parishes such as St. Alfred’s, St Denis’, and St. Thomas Aquinas flourished. As the number of parishes dwindled in the early 1980’s, the league’s shape changed from many parishes, each featuring a small number of teams to a small number of parishes, each icing a tremendous number of teams. Most of these parishes have had up to four teams in different age divisions.
The end of the 1970’s saw another milestone in the history of the St. Catharines CYO hockey league. In 1978, Walter Zutell, grandson of founder George Howard became the first disabled boy to play in the league.
Because of his Cerebral Palsy, Walter had been told by doctors that he would never be able to take part in sports. In spite of this, Walter played many years in the CYO. His mother, Kathy Zutell, remembers how it began. “Walter wanted to play hockey in his grandpa’s league.” Kathy decided to let Walter try it, but there were some concerns. “He didn’t want to play for St. Denis’ parish because he went to St. Denis’ school and the kids were taunting and teasing him because he walked with a limp and was kind of awkward with things. But (George Howard) got him on to the Cathedral (team). He eventually went on to St. Mary’s (when Cathedral folded) and he played right through to Bantam with Cerebral Palsy.”
According to bill Keogh, the league seemed to get away from its grass-roots ideology of fun in the early 1980’s. According to Keogh, this departure occurred primarily because of a strong desire to win at the parish level. Keogh explains: “We got away from (the ideology of fun) for many reasons, the most important of which was that the parishes were cheating. They were cheating in the sense of recruiting kids whether they were Catholic or not, who knew. They were cheating with respect to extra ice-time. They were cheating in a sense of not playing the kids fairly. Some parishes, we found, were telling kids to stay home on certain weeks because they wanted to play their better kids.”
The executive recognized the severe need to take action to deter these types of infractions. Keogh explains how they brought the league back to that ideology of fun: “What happened was the registration process became very tight. The other thing was that once we were able to make this clear distinction between the fact that there was going to be select teams (comprised of the best players in certain age divisions to represent the league in select team tournaments), there was no need to (be so competitive in the house league). I think the most important thing was we wound up getting people on the executive who weren’t allowed to coach. In effect, what we got was an executive that didn’t have a vested interest. That was the whole key to it, these were now people who were aloof to winning the trophy. They could now think totally objectively. I think that was our claim to fame, no other organization in this city ever did that, they never crossed that bridge of having the thing run by people who did not have any reason to worry about the score down at the arena.”
Because of the CYO’s enduring philosophy of fun above skill, Walter Zutell was able to enjoy hockey as much as any other boy in the league. This same philosophy also led to a major format change shortly afterward in the mid-1980’s.
The addition of the buzzer-system was the league’s solution to the problem of unequal ice-time. During CYO games, shift changes are made only at a buzzer which is sounded every three minutes. During the 1993-94 season, the league has experimented with a two-minute buzzer. According to Kathy Zutell, inconsistencies in ice-time were becoming evident across the league. “Before that, you’d have coaches picking the players and you’d have certain kids playing more than others. I’ve seen kids sit on the bench for a whole period and not even play. Parents were saying ‘I’m paying as much as so-and-so, and my kid’s playing two minutes a game while his kid’s playing twenty minutes a game’.”
Along with the buzzer-system, came the league’s rotation system where the players are listed and are put onto the ice, five at a time, in succession from the first player on the list to the last player on the list, and then to the top again. These two systems have been successful in ensuring equal ice time for all involved.
It was also during the mid-80’s that the league became incorporated, assuming the status of a non-profit organization. This had many legal implications, the most significant of which ended the league’s exclusiveness to Catholic boys. According to Zutell, the league could no longer “discriminate against anybody on the basis of sex or religion. Even though we’re a Catholic league, if any non-Catholic wants to play, we cannot say no. If any girl wants to play, we cannot say no.”
A second implication of the incorporation of the league was the creation of paid positions. “We used to have volunteers for timekeepers and things like that; now we can’t have that anymore”, Zutell claims. In order to be insured under Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) insurance policy, timekeepers must be listed as employees.
Superficially, the incorporation of the league has manifested itself more prominently in the appearance of girls on several teams in the league. Marjorie Rogers was the first girl to legally play CYO hockey, when, half-way through the 1987-88 season, her father Chris prompted her to join the novice team he was coaching at St. Thomas. “My dad encouraged me to join because I played ringette and he didn’t like it, so he told me I should play on his hockey team,” she recalls. Marjorie didn’t hold the anxieties one would expect of a girl joining an all-boys league. While she admits some nervousness, her confidence in her playing ability enabled her to remain relatively calm. “I (was a bit nervous), but I was a pretty good skater and everything and so I didn’t have anything to really worry about,” she remembers.
Marjorie was quite well received that season, by both players, parents and coaches. The players had no objections to a girl playing on their team. Marjorie feels that their age was a factor in their attitude. “They accepted me like any other player after a couple of games, because when you’re so young, that age (7-8 years old), they don’t really mind that much,” she recalls.
Chris remembers the parents’ positive reaction to the team’s unique mid-season addition: “a lot of the other players’ parents always encouraged her; you’d always hear them holler her name, and they’d tell her they thought she played really well. That still happened this year when she played Bantam, the parents all slap her on the back and tell her how good she played.” Marjorie’s head coach that season was Bobby Batt. In Marjorie’s opinion, Batt didn’t treat her differently from the other players.
Surprisingly, Marjorie’s biggest concern that first season was her unique pre-game preparations. “It was just different because it was with boys and I’d have to go to the arena dressed (in her equipment) instead of getting dressed there.”
Although Rogers was the first girl to legally play CYO hockey, another girl had previously stepped onto CYO ice to play hockey some thirty years earlier. Zutell recounts a story that her father, George Howard, once told her: “There was one girl who played several years ago in the ‘50’s but she wasn’t legal. She went under a nickname so that they thought she was a boy.” League officials were quite shocked when the truth was suddenly stumbled upon. “they didn’t know she was a girl until she got hurt. She used to come in (to the arena) all dressed except for her skates. She got hurt and was cut and they had to take (some of her equipment off) and that’s how they found out she was a girl.”
The inclusion of girls in the league legally has led to an increase in the number of girls playing. In the 1993-94 season, the number of girls playing reached twenty-two.
More recently, in the early 1990’s, the CYO has continued to evolve. Beginning in the 1991-92 season, players no longer had to sell tickets or items such as fruit cakes or candles in order to raise money for the league. In place of the door-to-door campaign, the league adopted a weekly bingo in which the parents assist. Every Sunday, the parents of two CYO teams work as volunteers to help run the bingos at the Delta Bingo in St. Catharines. Delta Bingo gives the profits to the CYO for their service, the parents receive fifteen dollars in CYO bingo-bucks which they can use toward the cost of league registration or any tournaments their child’s team enters.
The league completed its most recent change this year, during the 1993-94 season. Five year-old players were removed from the Tyke division (previously featuring players aged from five to seven years old). To accommodate these five year-olds, the league began operations of the CYO Hockey School for five year-olds. This decision was one which the league executive felt forced to make. Zutell claims that the league refused to allow five year-olds in the league “not because we wanted to, but because we just didn’t have the ice time.” Eliminating the five year-olds reduced the number of teams in the Tyke division from thirteen in 1992-93 to nine in the 1993-94 season. “One thing the CYO has always prided itself on is the fact that we provide both a game and practice every week,” Zutell points out. Reducing the number of teams was the only way to guarantee a weekly game and practice for every team in every age division. “We spent a lot of time agonizing over the decision,” Zutell notes.
During the 1994-95 season, the league will continue to change as Star of the Sea will surface once again. Ron Harinck and Toni Collini, parish leader and assistant parish leader respectively at St. Alfred’s during the 1993-94 season, have, at the time of this writing, obtained permission from both the league and Star of the Sea to bring CYO hockey back to that parish.
It is evident that the CYO hockey league has grown substantially since its inaugural days on the frozen ponds and creeks of St. Catharines. It has slowly matured into the area’s largest house-league hockey operation. This growth is a result of the many people who so generously donated not only their time, but also their enthusiasm, patience, advice and faith. These qualities have enabled the CYO to allow its vision to remain focused on fun and learning in the sport of hockey. These objectives must be remembered as the CYO continues to evolve in the future.
Along with any growth, however, comes inevitable growing pains. The CYO has been no exception to this rule. Over the years, the league has experienced its share of tragedy.
Early in the 1950’s, the CYO experienced the tragic death of a player. While his death was not hockey related, it is easy to understand the impact of a boy’s death would have on those who enjoyed his youthful smile every weekend at the rink. Billy McCool was a player in the CYO at the time of his accidental death. Nora Howard remembers how he died: “it was on the 11th of November when the kids used to have the day off. There used to be a coal silo and (Billy) and a few of his friends climbed up there looking for birds’ eggs or something and he fell and was killed.” Billy was twelve years old and playing for the Cathedral Pee Wee team at the time of this death. In memoriam of Billy, his mother donated an award to the CYO hockey league. To this day, a trophy which bears his name is presented to the league champions in the pee wee age division.
Several years later, in the mid 1960’s, the CYO would experience another tragedy. During a game in 1966, Charles McLean, who played for St. Alfred’s, was involved in a skirmish and tragically lost an eye. Joe Sheehan remembers the innocence of the situation which suddenly resulted in disaster. “It wasn’t anything vicious, he just fell down around the goal crease, there was a pile-up and he lost his eye.”
The CYO community quickly rallied together to come to the aid of the McLean boy. Joe Sheehan remembers organizing a committee which brought a group of National Hockey League Old-timers to the city to play a benefit game for the purpose of raising money for McLean. The event was so successful that the Garden City Arena was “filled to the rafters,” he recalls. According to Sheehan, “that was the greatest single charity event up to that point held in St. Catharines.” The evening raised approximately three-thousand five-hundred dollars after expenses were paid.
The CYO was able to bring a triumphant result to a terrible tragedy. This horrible experience was able to bring the entire CYO community together to assist one of its own in a time of dire need.
Bill Keogh feels that the league experienced another tragedy in the 1970’s. In his opinion, the manner with which the league disposed of Joe Sheehan was unfortunate. “I think it was tragic that Joe’s era ended the way it did. It’s especially tragic when (that) didn’t happen to any of the other people. I think it was such a tragedy because it was such an important part of Joe’s life.” Indeed, this incident showed how unfeeling a league with the most honourable of intentions could actually be. To turn one of its most faithful servants away from something about which he felt so strongly, does not seem to be in the scope of fun and enjoyment for all.
Unfortunate circumstances were seen as recently as the early 1980’s. It was around 1982 that racism reared its ugly head in the CYO hockey league. As racial tensions arose between Québec and the rest of Canada, friction developed between Immaculate Conception, a predominantly French-speaking church, and the rest of the league. Problems arose when Immaculate Conception decided to be selective about who could play on their teams. “They didn’t want any English-speaking people (paying for them),” Kathy Zutell remembers. According to Zutell, the rest of the league responded unkindly; “there were a lot of racial remarks, kids were against each other, calling them ‘frogs’ and things.” Paul Harper, a player in the league with Cathedral and St. Thomas from 1977 to 1989, remembers the tension at the time. “Playing against Immaculate (Conception) was always different from playing against anybody else. You looked at them differently, there was a noticeable tension both on the ice and in the stands…I guess that was enhanced by the fact that you didn’t know any of the guys on their teams; whenever we played another English-speaking team, there would be guys on the team that you knew from school and stuff, but that wasn’t the case with Immaculate (Conception).”
According to Zutell, Norm Habel, who became parish leader at Immaculate Conception in 1983, was responsible for appeasing Immaculate Conception and initiating racial harmony in the league. Habel feels the fact that he didn’t subscribe to the theory that the entire league was against Immaculate Conception allowed him to do so. His fresh attitude showed that betterment of the league was listed high on his agenda. When speaking with people at Immaculate Conception, Habel made sure he didn’t use words like “them and us” to refer to the rest of the league and Immaculate Conception respectively. “When people did present that attitude at I.C., I would correct them and let them know that that wasn’t so,” Habel recalls.
Habel held the position of parish leader at Immaculate Conception until 1993 and, as a result, Immaculate Conception continues to thrive in the league today. In fact, there are no signs of scars from the emotional battle of the early 1980’s. Albert Venneri, a former player with St. Thomas and present CYO coach at St. Alfred’s feels any racial problems have long since disappeared. “I remember that (racial tension) going on when I played, and it was really ugly. You could tell that a lot of people were doing things to spite each other. When I got back into the league as a coach in the late 1980’s, it was so nice to see that stuff all gone. When we play Immaculate Conception, you almost expect to hear your players calling them (racial) names, because that’s what we always heard when we played, but you don’t, they’re just another team in the league. These days, every team seems to have both French and English kids on it anyway. Triumphantly, the CYO overcame this tragedy as it had so many times before. With this ugly episode behind it, the CYO has enjoyed smooth sailing into the 1990’s.
While we have seen the strong characters, who have enabled the CYO to follow a well-guided course to its present success, the league has also enjoyed its share of colourful characters who have given the league its own unique identity. From the Ceci brothers, Joe and ‘Black Nag’, of the 1940’s to Leo ‘Whiz’ Cunningham, nicknamed for his speedy skating style, many characters have allowed the league to develop a personality all its own.
No character, however, is as widely remembered as Ozzie Sweitzer. It would be impossible for anyone involved in CYO hockey during the 1960’s and 1970’s to have a shortage of entertaining or warm stories about Sweitzer. Sweitzer was an older gentleman with Downs Syndrome who thrived on being around the arena. “He was always a big help, he was a great help with the little kids (at the arena),” Kathy Zutell remembers. “He used to tie the kids’ skates and talk with them.” Bill Hay remembers Ozzie Sweitzer as: “a guy who was always around the arena, one of the most loveable characters. He was really funny, and he would be there helping, passing the water bottles, helping coaches on benches. You could always count on Ozzie to be there; he would never hurt a fly. He loved the game and was always around every Sunday, opening doors for people.”
The author, who played in the league from 1977 to 1985, and presently coaches in the league, can remember being a boy and seeing Sweitzer at the arena. Ozzie was the most recognizable symbol of CYO hockey in the eyes of the children playing on the ice every Sunday. The first thing children in that era did when they got to the arena was go say “hello” to Ozzie. Ozzie was difficult to understand, as he spoke very quickly and had very few teeth. The children, however, listened to and understood every word he said. The author can only speculate that in return, Ozzie could understand the children better than most adults.
When Ozzie was given a hockey jacket by Cathedral, the author, who played for St. Thomas, remembers feeling almost cheated. We wondered, how could the Cathedral claim Ozzie? Why did he have to wear the ‘enemy’s’ jacket? Could we still like Ozzie even though we didn’t play for the Cathedral? How we all loved Ozzie.
Another character was one who shared Sweitzer’s era. Don Jefferson was the most recognizable referee in CYO hockey during the 1970’s. Kathy Zutell remembers how Jefferson could do the job and entertain at the same time. “He used to joke around with everybody, he used to pick up the kids (who couldn’t skate very fast) and carry them to the face-offs.” Jefferson would talk to all the players on the ice and benches during the games, and even knew most of the players’ names. He would come up with his own flattering nick names for the players on the ice. Every “Big, Bad Brian” and “Speedy Scotty” surely remembers Jefferson to this day.
What Jefferson did was remind everyone around the arena that these were little boys playing hockey, and that they were playing for fun. He constantly, through his fun-loving antics, let everybody know that it didn’t have to be taken as seriously as some often felt it should. “I remember…every face-off…Okay, Ladies...that was his line,” Harper says, referring to how Jefferson would address the young boys playing.
What is most remarkable about Jefferson, is probably what is least known about him. Jefferson had lost a leg to cancer and returned to CYO and refereed on an artificial leg.
These significant events and characters have brought the league from its founding in 1934 to its present state in 1994. In addition, these people and occurrences have made the league’s history one which is rich and interesting as they have given the facts and records a dynamic, warm human side. Without these characteristics, the St. Catharines CYO hockey league might simply be just another hockey league.
Chapter 5: Personal Significance of Involvement
In order to better understand how much of an impact, the events listed in the previous chapter truly had, one need only ask those who were involved. Those who have had the CYO experience will hopefully be able to detail the more human side of the league’s existence. This chapter then will attempt to discern how involvement in the CYO hockey league personally affected some selected participants over several decades.
It is this human side that will give the history of the league its unique character and significance. Such character has allowed the league to persevere into its sixth decade. Without these aspects of involvement, the league would likely have become a mere activity designed simply for the purpose of occupying a few hours of time in the week of the participant. Hopefully, this chapter will show that the CYO hockey league offered so much more than a game and practice each week.
Recollections by those who were involved in the league are often rich with warm, exciting or bizarre stories that remain salient in their memories. From a player’s perspective, the fondest memories often involve victory.
Joe McCaffery, for example, considers winning the Toronto Diocese championship in the early 1940’s as his most memorable moment in CYO hockey. “As a kid in those days it was a thrill just to be going to Toronto, much less to play on the same ice as the great Maple Leafs, the same ice that guys like Charlie Conacher skated on,” McCaffery recalls.
For children playing hockey at a young age, it is understandable how these significant victories which can bring a young child to the passionate appreciation of sport which so many carry with them well into adulthood. Marjorie Rogers also considers a victory as her most fond CYO memory: “Winning the Thorold tournament in (my) first year in the pee wee (age division). That was the first championship we won. I scored a couple of goals in that tournament.”
While coaches obviously relish the thrill of victory, many are quick to point out successes away from the scoreboard as their most memorable CYO experiences. Bill Hay, who coached at St. Alfred’s in the 1960’s, fondly recalls the joy he experienced watching his players develop not only as players, but also as people: “I always coached the bantams, (aged 14 and 15 years old), and I always got great satisfaction out of watching a young man, at that time, starting to mature, starting to come out of his adolescence. He really starts to think about hockey, and you watch him develop, and that was very rewarding.
George Darte III, who coached at St. Alfred’s from 1985 to 1989, seems to concur that a player’s development, both on and off the ice, is what stands out most in a coach’s mind: “When I coached CYO, there was always that one kid who came out of his shell; not only his hockey shell, but also his personal shell, as he began to achieve not only goals or assists, but become more self-confident in himself as a person.”
To those who ran the organization, however, more administrative concerns are obviously what comprise the most prominent memories. Kathy Zutell, for instance, claims that what stands out most in her mind when thinking about CYO hockey is the league’s underlying principle which stresses fun and involvement for all above skill development. She will always remember that “kids never had to tryout, anyone who wanted to play could play.” In addition to this, Zutell remembers the league’s ability to rally together when one of its own was in need, even if assistance was given in a discreet manner. Zutell remembers, “if a kid didn’t have enough money to play, the churches used to pick up some of the tab. If a kid came to St. Alfred’s (for example), and didn’t have the money, St. Alfred’s would help out, but it was never publicized.” IN that vein, the league has organized a financial assistance program designed to aid those players whose families are experiencing financial difficulties. The George Howard Fund was established in the 1992-93 season to financially assist needy children who want to play hockey in the CYO.
What bill Keogh feels is most memorable is what he also considers to be the most interesting aspect of the CYO hockey league. League politics, Keogh feels, are the most fascinating area of the league’s development in that they give the CYO its own unique identity. “What’s most interesting is the politics, really because of the different parishes involved. No other house-league had these separate interests to create the tension which the CYO experienced. That’s what I’ll always remember.” Along these same lines, Joe Sheehan’s most outstanding memories pertain to the different parishes. Rather than the interests of the parishes, however, Sheehan remembers the individuals who ran the parishes during his involvement. “I’ll always remember my relationship with the parish leaders. They were all very nice.”
As a spectator, Nora Howard supplied an amusing anecdote as her most memorable moment relative to CYO hockey: “One day they were playing, and this kid did something so that he was going to get a penalty. Before the referee could turn around and give him a penalty, he jumped over (and hid below) the boards and he never got a penalty; was that ever funny.”
In addition to the fond memories they possess, many of those interviewed feel as though the CYO taught them things which they found helpful in other areas of their lives. The CYO was not only a teacher of the game of hockey, but also a teacher of life itself.
Bill Hay, for example, holds that the sense of teamwork he learned in the league was something he retained and used in his career as a fire-fighter. “We stressed teamwork all the time (in the CYO), and then I went into the fire service which is all teamwork,” Hay claims.
Hay not only used this concept in his career, but also in his personal life: “When you have a job to do, you go out and get it done, and everyone works together, and you can’t help but succeed. And that’s the way I look at life with family and everything. A lot of that attitude came from my involvement in the CYO; it comes from good coaches who teach children properly, how to play the game, how to respect one another, how to play as a team.”
As a boy in the late 1940’s, Hay claims that his CYO involvement kept him “off the streets” and was able to teach him the love of sport and the value of “getting involved”. These are two things which Hay feels he passed on to his children when he became a parent. “I learned to be a good sport, you can’t win every game, but as long as you do your best, you can’t go wrong,” Hay believes.
George Darte III feels that the patience he learned coaching in the CYO league has been beneficial to him in his present role as coach in the St. Catharines Minor Hockey All-Star system as well as in his business as a funeral director: “I learned patience with the kids and was able to observe many different personality types, and I’m referring to players as well as parents. Learning to deal with those different personalities has certainly carried over to my business and personal life.”
Darte claims that the people involved in the CYO also taught him the value of volunteering one’s own time to help others. “It created a respect of the volunteers, for the people who are part of the organization of the CYO,” he claims. “Unless you understand a little about it, you don’t have the same appreciation if you’re an outsider.”
For Marjorie Rogers, the lesson she learned was one which was quite significant. In fact, what she gained will probably influence many decisions she will make over the course of her life. What Rogers learned is that her gender is not inferior, and that girls and women deserve the same opportunities as males. She claims that the CYO taught her “that (she) could play on any boys’ sports team if (she) wanted to.” This lesson is certainly not restricted to sport. Indeed, it will likely apply to any area which she might choose to explore.
For those who played more administrative roles, such as Joe Sheehan and Bill Keogh, the CYO taught lessons in efficiency and character. When asked what valuable lessons they learned, these men talked about the managerial aspects of their executive positions.
Sheehan claims that the CYO taught him how to “face up to things.” His administrative position enabled him to learn responsibility as well as tact. “You learn to get along with people, you learn to compromise, you learn sometimes you can’t compromise. I think it’s the inter-relationship with people that helped me the most. The feeling that you’ve done something.” Sheehan took these skills with him to other groups such as the St. Catharines Barbershoppers, a local choral singing club in which he participates today.
Keogh, on the other hand, feels he learned a valuable lesson in selecting the people with whom you are going to work. He claims that finding people with the right personality is what the CYO taught him best. Keogh found that: “It’s not that easy to change personalities. You find that it isn’t worth the hassle. No matter how nice a person is, no matter how well you know them, if their personality isn’t suiting your aims and objectives you’ve got to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ and, in a nice way, ask them to leave. One thing I’ve learned is that I would do that a lot quicker, I wouldn’t wait, I wouldn’t try to get them to change.”
No person, however, has used what they have in the CYO hockey league as prominently as Joe McCaffery. As the present Mayor of St. Catharines, McCaffery has given countless hours of service to the community. McCaffery traces this munificence back to those who taught him hockey in the CYO. “From guys like Ozzie Darte, who was a tremendous person, and George Howard, who was a dedicated person, you learn that you have to not only take out of life, but that you have to give because you want to give,” he claims.
McCaffery feels that the things he learned as a player, coach, parish leader and league president have benefitted him in the office of Mayor. “The experience gained has been a great advantage to me as Mayor. It gave me a great knowledge of people in many ways, it teaches you how to live with people,” McCaffery claims. In fact, McCaffery goes so far as making the bold claim that “One of (his) greatest experiences which has helped (him) in life has been (his) involvement in CYO hockey as far as the associations made with people, learning how to understand people and how to control people.”
McCaffery did, in fact, use the associations he made in the CYO to his advantage at campaign time. He recounts how he found that: “when (he) began running for alderman and when (he) ran for Mayor, (he) needed assistance; and those people (he knew from the CYO) were always there. Whenever (he) needed pamphlets or whatever delivered, there was always an abundance of young people ready to help (him).
One might assume that playing hockey in a Catholic league would bring those involved closer to the church. While some of those interviewed feel it did, others seem hesitant to make such a claim. Joe McCaffery, who played in the early 1940’s and coached in the 1960’s, for example, definitely feels that his involvement reinforced his already strong faith. He remembers that: “The CYO did bring me closer to my church as a boy, because if you didn’t go to church on Sunday, you couldn’t play. As an adult, coaching in the league had the same effect because, in those days (the 1960’s), priests were stronger and very involved; a coach was supposed to tell his boys to go to church and he couldn’t do so if he wasn’t going himself.”
Bill Hay, who played in the late 1940’s, and also coached in the 1960’s seems to concur that the CYO brought him closer to the church. According to Hay, the CYO “created a comfort zone, you played for the CYO, you’re Catholic, you belong to the church, your parish.”
It is apparent then that there was a link between the league and the church during the league’s early years, as both of the above-mentioned men played in the 1940’s. Over the years, however, the church’s involvement in the league has become more diminutive. The church’s religious involvement in the league has withered away to almost nothing. While one might assume that this is a result of the league allowing non-Catholics to play in the mid-1980’s, it is apparent that the relationship decreased prior to that time.
For instance, Joe Sheehan, who was involved in the league from 1960 to the early 1970’s, feels that the league did not bring him closer to his church. In fact, Sheehan believes that committing as much time as he did, dragged him away from his church. When asked if his involvement in the CYO brought him closer to his church, Sheehan replied “I wouldn’t say so. I think it works in the opposite way.”
George Darte III not only coached in the 1980’s but also played in the 1960’s. Darte feels that the churches did not represent themselves at CYO games during the 1960’s or the 1980’s: “I could be wrong, but I really strain to remember if I could ever remember seeing a priest at a CYO game, even when I was playing. I’m not blaming the priests, but the priests were also saying that the hockey was interfering with mass time, (because the games were played on Sunday mornings when Catholic masses are generally held). That doesn’t hold an argument anymore, because of the masses held on Saturday nights, or Sunday afternoons. There’s all kinds of mass times, if a person’s going to miss (mass), they’re going to miss it because they don’t want to go to church.” Darte feels that the CYO did not bring him closer to the church one way or another. “The church and the CYO (hockey league) are affiliated perhaps by name only,” he claims.
It would seem then that whether or not the CYO influences a participant’s relationship with the church depends on the specific individual. One cannot even assume that the relationship depends on the person’s era in the league. If one were to do so, they would assume that Bill Keogh found that the church was not a factor in the league based on the fact that he was involved from the early 1970’s to the 1990’s when the league was becoming more separated from the church itself. Keogh actually claims that the CYO hockey league “showed us that there was a human side to the church. Back then, that was very unusual. Today, it’s very common to see the church involved in all kinds of secular things.”
While the league’s religious influences on participants is not uniform and consistent, one cannot contest the fact that playing CYO hockey influences the way a person conceives the sport of hockey itself. While this claim can be made by any hockey organization, it is particularly relevant to the CYO league.
Bill Hay claims that the CYO league was the “starting point” of his love of the sport of hockey, a sport which he feels became an important part of his life. He claims that: “The CYO got me involved in hockey and then from that expanded into the broader scope of the game. That came full-circle in my life with coaching and my children who are still playing hockey. I just quit playing hockey a couple years ago, so it was a full life in hockey for me which began in the CYO. Hockey for me was my life; it was something I really excelled in. we still go skating and I still enjoy going to games.”
For Marjorie Rogers, the CYO heightened her interest in the sport of hockey. As a converted ringette player, Rogers claims that being the first girl to play in the league and seeing so many other girls now playing enables her to envision women someday playing professional hockey. Rogers claims: “I look at the league and I see there are so many girls playing in the league, and I think maybe there will be some more girls who are really good. Maybe there will be a whole bunch of girls who will grow up and be good enough to play in the NHL.”
For Joe McCaffery, involvement in the league enabled him to see the sport of hockey as an educational tool. “The CYO made me realize that minor hockey is a great teacher, not only of sport skills, but also as a great teacher of character. CYO is a tremendous league as a teacher,” he claims.
For others, the CYO hockey league provided an introduction to the world of recreational house-league hockey. In some case, the darker side of even this level of hockey became evident. Joe Sheehan feels that the league revealed its ugly side to him. “Parents sometimes get overly involved, criticizing children and pushing them, screaming at referees, and that sort of behavior. But that’s not just in CYO, you can see that in any league,” Sheehan believes.
In spite of some negative aspects of CYO hockey, it is important to focus on how the league affected those people involved. The league has, for so many years, been a source of many fond memories. The affectionate recollections provided throughout this chapter provide testimony to the years of enjoyment that CYO hockey has provided for so many people, for so long.
In addition, the league has served to educate those involved in so many more aspects of life other than in the game of hockey itself. For the subjects to supply such a wide variety of answers regarding what they have taken from CYO to other areas of their lives only indicates the league’s true merit as a teacher of the values and life skills mentioned previously in this chapter.
The CYO league has also provided a unique venue where many young children were afforded the opportunity to combine their love of sport with their faith. The two very separate states of Church and sport were, for many years, working together to provide wholesome, positive activities for local youth. The children were, as a result, allowed to be involved in their church in a manner with which they felt comfortable and could verily enjoy.
Finally, it is plain to see that the CYO, as any hockey league, has a profound effect on the way that those who have participated view the sport of hockey. For many, playing in the CYO was their first experience with Canada’s game. For that reason, the opinions of the sport formed by the individuals during their CYO days are quite possibly ones which remain with them well into adult life. It is the experiences they enjoy or endure which form the basis of the passions these individuals eventually feel for the sport of hockey.
It is apparent that the St. Catharines Catholic Youth Organization Hockey League has enjoyed a long, prosperous and respectable history. For sixty years, the league has provided a venue in which children can play hockey with fun and involvement as their main objective rather than becoming the best player around or collecting the most goals, assists or victories. According to George Darte III: “The kids in the CYO system are there to play some hockey and have some fun, and I’m not sure it’s the hockey first and the fun second. The good thing about the house league is that they go there to have fun, they’re not looking at scholarships, they’re not looking to be scouted.”
The enthusiasm which accompanies fun can be seen not only on the ice, but throughout the entire arena. While many changes have occurred, the excitement of CYO hockey on Sundays remains constant. Bill Hay points out how the league he played in as a boy and the one he works in now as an adult maintains its exciting atmosphere: “you go there on a Sunday and the place is just buzzing, you see the looks on the kids’ faces in anticipation of the game, and the parents just as enthused; it hasn’t changed any.”
In addition, many who participated in the league over the years learned so much more than a prescribed set of skills which comprise the game of hockey. The fifth chapter clearly demonstrated how those involved in the league learned valuable life skills such as teamwork, the value of volunteering, patience, gender equality, responsibility and tact.
While the CYO has had its share of unfortunate or tragic occurrences, the league has endured to remain the area’s largest house-league organization. The name CYO is synonymous with tradition, fun, involvement and moral character. George Darte III outlines the high esteem with which the league is held in the community as well as why he feels it has developed such a favourable reputation: “they’ve always had that image and that sense of tradition. Obviously, to be around this long, the reason is that tradition; and part of that is because of the organization itself. It’s not one individual who has kept it going.”
The significance of the CYO hockey league does not end at its provision of a much needed recreational hockey activity for the youth of St. Catharines. According to Bill Keogh, the league was significant from a ‘secular viewpoint’ in that it caused the city to properly expand. “The league put pressure on for an arena to be built. In fact, it caused two much-needed arenas to be built, (Bill) Burgoyne (Arena) and Rex (Stimers Arena),” Keogh claims.
From a religious point of view, Keogh feels the league was once again highly significant in that it united local Catholic parishes. He claims that: “The league was the only thing bringing Catholic parishes together, different areas of the Catholic Church who would otherwise have no involvement with each other, like a Polish church, (Our Lady of Perpetual Help); a French church, (Immaculate Conception); and a Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic church, (Sts. Cyril and Methodius). “Finally, Keogh points out the league’s socio-economic significance: “This league was a vehicle which caused different social groups to come together. The French had their own adult hockey league. When it came to the children, however, you didn’t see that. Instead, they were now working with the English in a children’s hockey league.”
Groups which remained somewhat segregated in other areas of the community were therefore given the opportunity to coexist in one area of the community through the CYO hockey league.
Keogh even goes so far as comparing the league’s development to the confederation of Canada. He does so by pointing out the similarities in the two levels of power. Canada’s federal government resembles the league’s executive whereas provincial legislation is similar to the parish level of league power, Keogh feels. Keogh believes that the nation could learn from the CYO in that it has accomplished, in a relatively short period of time, what our nation has failed to do: “The league had the ability to make this transition over sixty years; to bring different social, ethnic and religious groups together, and, even overcoming racial strife. The league also established an effective balance of power between the parish level and the executive level. These are things Canada could have accomplished in the same sixty years but didn’t, racial harmony and a balance of power between the provincial and federal governments.”
While this comparison may be overstated, it cannot be denied that the CYO has overcome obstacles such as racial strife and power-plays on its way to becoming a relatively harmonious, efficiently run organization. Perhaps Keogh is correct in suggesting that our nation could learn something from the league.
The author hopes that this study has provided a beginning for a more complete history of the St. Catharines CYO hockey league. This study was undertaken partially for the reason that no account of the league’s history previously existed. However, as time was a limitation, there are areas which have remained unaddressed. Future studies of the history of this league might consider addressing some of those areas.
For instance, this study does not address the coverage given to the league by the local newspaper, The St. Catharines Standard. While sportswriter Jack Gatecliff has featured the league in his column from time to time, coverage in recent years has been reduced to nothing more than results of games and the names of the goal scorers. It is known that during the 1960’s, Joe Sheehan submitted more detailed game reports to The St. Catharines Standard which were subsequently featured in the sports section of the Monday night edition. It would be interesting to review these reports and investigate why they are no longer featured.
Of equal interest would be an attempt to uncover why The St. Catharines Standard does not offer the league more celebrated coverage, such as pictures, or an assigned staff reporter, or volunteer from within the league, to offer insight and occurrence on a weekly basis. When one considers the fact that over 600 players are involved in the league, and the resulting interest of parents, grandparents and friends, it is difficult to understand why the newspaper does not cater to that interest.
Additionally, such a report might consider reviewing the type of newspaper coverage the league received in its formative years. Local newspapers from the 1930’s offered a respectable amount of sports coverage. It would be interesting to see if the formation of the first house-league hockey organization in the area went unnoticed from a media standpoint.
Another area which may be investigated in greater detail is the ear of the 1930’s. While it was difficult to attain first-hand accounts of what the CYO league was like during its inaugural days on the frozen ponds of St. Catharines, it is possible that there is information which could present a clearer picture of the league’s beginning than was presented here. A future attempt to do so might lead to information which might allow us to view the CYO league in a different light.
On the other hand, such a venture might simply confirm what we already know about the St. Catharines CYO hockey league; that it greatly enhanced the city’s hockeyscape by providing a much-needed recreational hockey program for the city’s youth; that the volunteers who have, through the years, devoted their time to the league’s development have done so in a steadfast manner which has provided the league with a solid foundation which has enabled it to enjoy its sixtieth year; and finally that the league has provided sixty years of fun and enjoyment to many boys and girls as it has made, and continues to make, a significant contribution to the hockey history of the city of St. Catharines.