Born in Winnipeg
but educated in Transcona at TCI.
I wasn’t much into school
’cause I was a music guy
Most of what I know now
I learned while shooting pool
But all I ever wanted to learn
was the art of being cool
My first year of High School in Transcona was a train wreck. A few of my teachers, noticing my lack of interest, were already hinting that perhaps intellectual pursuits may not be my cup of tea. Some even suggested that I should consider becoming an apprentice at the local CNR Shops.
The only teacher who appeared to give a damn about me was George Derenchuk. Mr. Darrenchuk who was in his rookie year (pictured above) after introducing himself, he then said, “Ok, I want the brains to move to the back, and I want Johns, Quail, and Ringach up front here with me.” We didn’t know anything about him, but it was obvious that he had done his homework on us. Once we were sitting up front, he said, “If you jokers will give me 20 minutes of your undivided attention at the beginning of each class, we’ll spend the rest of it talkin’ football.”
Not only was his class fun because of the football talk, but the first twenty minutes was also kinda interesting too. I ended up getting an “A” in his class which was the first one I ever received. My daughter Candis claims that he was probably the only one of my teachers who were smart enough to give me one.
A few years ago when I was back in Winnipeg for a reunion at CKY, my good friend Jim Quail arranged a lunch for us with Mr. Darrenchuk. Once again he seemed to know everything about us, so we spent the time talking about him. Candis had gotten it right about his being smart because not long after Jim and I had left school, he went on to later become a principal and then also Superintendent of Schools
While growing up in the Winnipeg area, I spent a lot of time playing baseball and of course hockey, but the sport I loved the most was football. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a team in Transcona so you can only imagine my excitement when they announced that they were going to start one in the fall.
We were called the Transcona Nationals and we were coached by Larry Cockburn who was known as “Coby.” Coby, whose son Huey was our QB, didn’t have any problems handling a bunch of Transcona “tuffs” even though they had authority issues. Huey who had a gun for an arm, consistently threw 60-yard touchdown passes to our “Touchdown Twins,” Jimmy Harrison and Ermanno Barone making us one of the best teams in the league. Unfortunately, though, we were also one of the most penalized.
I have no idea why the refs had problems with us, hey it was like Lo Lo explained to them after throwing his helmet at a fast guy’s head who was on his way for a touchdown which brought him to his knees. “Hey what was I supposed to do, the guy’s a track star, there was no way I was gonna catch him.” Was it our fault that the uppity prep school team we were beating 53 – 0 at the half, refused to come out for the second half? It was just as well I guess because the first half took forever what with all the timeouts they took so that they could drag their injured players off the field. However when their parents were booing us we were getting back on our bus, that was poor sportsmanship.
When the final game of the season which determined who the champions were rolled around, the referees were waiting for us. They had grown weary of our antics all season and took their revenge early. We were penalized almost every play and they even went as far as to eject some of our best players.
Being a Transcona National was wonderful, not only did make me proud, but it also gave me a taste of fame. The fame part came about when Bill Burdeyny, the sports editor for the Transcona News started writing about us. Bill was a good writer and a great guy, but as I look back now, I suspect that we may have given Bill a lot of interesting copy. As he said in one of his columns, “Not only are the Nationals, a good football team, they’re also great Canadians, they’ve brought a little hockey to the game of football.”
The Transcona News was a weekly that came out on Thursday, and every Thursday, there we were lined up waiting for it to come off the press. (and yes, I still have all the clippings) With Bill’s writing and our swagger, we were beginning to create small buzz around town which brought a lot more folks out to our games.
Even though the refs burst our bubble at the last game of the season, we didn’t go down without a fight. But then again, fighting is the reason this story doesn’t have a better ending.
The arrival of our team jackets which we wore like badges of honor everywhere, including our class picture, (see photo above) took a little of our pain away. Even at our 50th team reunion, a few of the guys were still wearing their jackets with pride. Mine had long ago disappeared, but my friend Jim Quail surprised me with a brand new one which I proudly wore as we discussed that final game, perhaps for the last time. (sadly, of the four Transcona Nationals shown in the photo above proudly wearing their jackets, I’m the only one left standing.)