Special Story on roots of spongee that paved the way to 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, those brothers were eager to begin their search for an open rink, new sticks in hand and a red, white and blue sponge ball in pocket! NO SKATES!!! Quite often they were able to play at a school yard pleasure rink just a block away from their St Ignatius Church. 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 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 in the school yard of that La Verendrye Elementary School 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 ten 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 play 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! To these boys, and many area youths, they all pretended to be Gordie Howe, Davey Keon, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr and that they were playing for the Stanley Cup...to become WORLD CHAMPIONS~~~~
Many a time, their Mother would get mad at them 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 that open rink! Starting with Earl Grey CC, hearing " Hey! get off the ice!"..onto to Crescentwood, thrown off again...hitting River Heights and then on to 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! And their poor Mom! Though she knew where they were first going, she never knew where they would end up! Their father would have to 'cruise' all rinks...to find them! But these treks kind of made the game a little more appreciated!
And with community centres concerned about their ice, more and more signs were being posted..that declared:
NO BOOT HOCKEY ALLOWED!
Waiting outside for other team (4 more brothers!) 1963!
Years later, one of the brothers, John, as a recreation director ...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 an influx of participants from all over the city, ALSO take to the ice! A sight to behold with not a pair of skates to be seen on both rinks! 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!
And John, having seen what spongee did for the centre in winter decided to promote summer programs and events as well! And many still remember , and claim to have attended, that infamous summer volleyball tournament, on a mix of sand, dirt and grass!! An event that saw players from both the original Jets and even several blue bombers participate, all political parties, doctors and nurses, police, firemen, teachers, students and even a few aspiring national team players! With an outdoor beer gardens, games of chance, a social, and community involvement like no other time, the event wrapped up with John Hannah (Streetheart and Harlequin fame'), playing his special rendition of 'OH CANADA!' ...on the hard top of the main rink, with the teeming crowd shouting for more! And more they received, as cars kept arriving, looking for a spot to park after being drawn by the music on that warm and still June sunday nite in '75! John said he never saw so many new and smiling faces! Right then he knew that Broadway Optimist was on it's way back!
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?"
To establish and protect Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada as the birthplace and World Capital of Sponge Hockey, John filed for and received a Certificate of Copyright for our unique sport! And fittingly so, seeing that Winnipeg was tagged as the 'coldest' city in the World in the category of populations over 600,000! Thus having the 'longest possible' available outdoor ice!
In 1982, Canford Sports 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 and again in 1990 to promote spongee at the Grey Cup in Vancouver! The Bombers last Cup...in a 55-11 rout of the Eskies~
Having established Winnipeg as the birthplace of our unique brand of foot hockey, plans are under consideration to stage regional & north american playdowns and a return of the 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 right through the winter season!
Winnipeg, THE SPONGE HOCKEY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD IS ONE MORE REASON
THAT OUR COMMUNITY CELEBRATES WINTER, that of 'running on ice'
in the http://www.cityofplay.ca/ !
And something noteworthy: Now more than half a century later, those former 'runny-nosed' Robbies of the 60's enjoy a little chuckle...when visitors, from time to time, arrive at the the Spongee Rinks, carrying their skates, only to see posted signs that proudly state:
NO SKATING ALLOWED!
The "Robbies" in 1982, with their Dad after competing in the 1st World Sponge Hockey Championships at the Old Winnipeg Arena! (Dad, & Uncle John founder of our Marathon & of Rider pride also played!)