Special Story on the Roots of Canford Sports!
On Christmas Day in 1957, five young boys watched and waited from a snow bank at the edge of a skating rink on the south side of Winnipeg. All were brothers...ages 3 to 12! Although the brothers, with their three sisters...always enjoyed Christmas morning, come afternoon the brothers would be treking towards that rink, new sticks in hand and a red, white and blue sponge ball in pocket! NO SKATES!!! The brothers would watch and wait for a small open space on the ice surface ....then sneak on and play, but more often than not, they would be forced off the rink, onto a 'snow packed' corner section against two screened fences. There they would run & slap that sponge ball until it was worn down and torn up ..soon resembling a sponge 'puck' that certainly glided much better along the slippery ice surface... than on the snow!
Elite Divison 2007 Action
Those patient brothers ..usually outlasting all skaters, found themselves.. most times under cover of darkness...being able to sneak back onto that pleasure skating ice surface to play full end to end games! A wood burning stove inside the little shack, afforded just enough warmth to keep their game going! NO wind chills were known, with the numbing of toes and fingers telling the boys when to quit! AS weeks passed, more and more area kids... joined in! And over the next eight years ...this family of 5 brothers and 3 sisters DOUBLED, welcoming ANOTHER 5 brothers & 3 MORE sisters! The 'Robbies' team invaded many of the south side rinks, with on lookers 'watching' brothers against brothers! Soon enough, those that watched, would also be invited to play! And before long, the Robbies would be accepting challenges from any and all pick up teams, never refusing anyone that simply wanted to PLAY!
Amongst the many sports the Robbies would play, inventing the simplest of games, depending upon how many brothers were available..became the norm! A tennis ball or sponge ball would be used for street or corner lot hockey in spring, summer or fall! That same sponge ball was also used for a game we called 'Ledge'! We would trek to one of the old classic schools like Gladstone or La Verendrye to throw the sponge ball against the building walls, aiming for an angled ledge about 10ft up! If we hit it...the ball would sail high into the air and if we caught it, that was worth 5pts! If we did not hit the ledge, but caught it on first bounce, well, that was only 1 point! We would play for hours, two on two...one on one! We loved HOT BOX tween two trees to see how many 'runs' a Robbie could make running back and forth without being tagged out! And yes, the runner had three outs in which to total his runs! And the sponge balls didn't hurt as much when we were hit!
Come winters, Mom would get mad at us for using her turkey knife, to cut up a new sponge ball ...to form a sponge puck, rather than waiting til it wore down naturally! The Robbies team...and other 'converts'...would roam in packs from rink to rink, on the south side of Winnipeg, in search of an open rink! Starting with Earl Grey CC, onto to Crescentwood, thrown off again...hitting River Heights and then Sir John Franklin!
And again..and again.. almost daily...as often as they discovered an open rink...they never knew just how long they would be able to play before being thrown off! Kind of made the game a little more appreciated though! With community centres concerned about their ice,more and more signs were being posted..that declared:
NO BOOT HOCKEY ALLOWED!
Waiting outside @ 1043 Dorchester for other
team (4 more brothers!) 1963!
Years later, one of the brothers, John ...in an effort to save a dying inner city community centre from closure (Broadway Optimist)..as well as keep his brothers active and together, threw several spongee tournaments that not only saw area youths playing on the centre's rinks, but a mix of pro NHL & WHA players..ALSO...take to the ice! A sight to behold..with not a pair of skates to be seen..on any rink! Spongee was IN! That was the winter of 74-75, and with a surging demand by participants to play SPONGEE...the 1st Canford Cup was staged!
CANFORD stemmed from CAN- offer -FOR- the community and -D ..determined to do so! With the added goal to establish Winnipeg as the most caring community...thru PLAY! Within seven years, the city wide appeal of the sport, led to the staging of a full day of Championship Matches at the Winnipeg Arena...Home of the Jets!...with a CBC Sports Weekend TV feature...beamed across the nation! National broadcaster Ernie Afaghanis announced to
all of canada "Well, look what's happening in Winnipeg, isn't that amazing?"
In 1982, Canford (now a sports group..offering touch football) was allocated a closed down 'rat' infested centre with one outdoor rink! Within a year, after building six additional rinks...Canford was providing a spongee program for over 150 teams, and sending teams on tour...to promote it's sport of spongee! The Canford rinks were filled with sand in summer..to enable ALL...to get tanned, playing beach volleyball! BY the end of the 80's Canford was operating nine rinks with over 300 teams, drawing attention from all over North America, and proudly returning each spring...from it's TEAMS ON TOUR Challenge Cups to Toronto.. bringing home...it's annual sweep of medals!
And what became of those brothers? All ten are still around..., with many still active in sports! Being the original Canford team, the Robbies are pretty proud of being Champs in all Canford Sports..of spongee, touch football, and sand volleyball! From waiting on a snow bank, back in 1957...to boarding planes in the 80's (with many brothers having never flown), they were off to represent the Peg in the EAST-WEST CHALLENGE CUP OF SPONGEE..in Ontario!
Having established Winnipeg as the birthplace of our unique brand of foot hockey, Canford is planning to stage annual regional & north american playdowns and WORLD Championships! Spongee, a sport that takes the very best from soccer and basketball----leading to a game that sees end to end action with no off sides called or face offs----involves thousands & thousands of participants in a community that boasts about it's 'cold & harsh' winter weather
that enables them to enjoy outdoor ice much longer than most cities!
Winnipeg, THE SPONGE HOCKEY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD IS ONE MORE REASON
THAT OUR COMMUNITY CELEBRATES WINTER, that of 'running on ice'
in the www.cityofplay.ca/ !
And something noteworthy: Now in 2007, a half a century later, those former 'runny-nosed' Robbies of 1957 enjoy a little chuckle...when visitors, from time to time, arrive at the Canford Spongee Rinks, carrying their skates, only to see posted signs that proudly state:
NO SKATING ALLOWED!
The "Robbies" in 1982...with Dad!