Born in Winnipeg
and educated at TCI.
But school wasn’t cool
cuz I was a music guy
Most of what I knew
I learned while shooting pool
But all I cared about,
was how to be cool
As I was saying, music was dominating my life, but now I was also driving and dating, so School was a train wreck.
Noticing my disinterest, some of my teachers had hinted that intellectual pursuits might not be my cup of tea.
The only teacher at TCI who appeared to give a damn about me was George Derenchuk. (pictured above)
Mr. Derenchuk, a rookie teacher during our first class together, said, “Ok, I want the brains to the back, and I want Johns, Quail, and Ringach upfront with me.”
We knew nothing about him, but apparently, he’d done his homework on us.
Once we were up there, he said, “Ok, here’s the deal, if you jokers give me 20 minutes of your undivided attention at the beginning of each class, we’ll spend the next 20 minutes talkin’ football.”
Not only was going to his class fun because of all the football talk, but the first twenty minutes were pretty interesting too.
Hell, I even ended up with my first ‘A’ in his class. However, my daughter Candis claims he was probably the only teacher smart enough to give me an A.
A few years ago, when I was back in Winnipeg for an overdue reunion at CKY, my good friend Jim Quail arranged a surprise lunch for us with Mr. Darrenchuk.
Once again, he knew everything about us, so we spent the whole time talking about him.
Candis had gotten it right because not long after Jim and I had left school, Mr. Darrenchuk became the Principal and then Superintendent of Schools. RIP, sir.
While growing up, I spent a lot of time playing baseball and hockey, but the sport I loved the most was football.
Unfortunately, there was no football team in Transcona, so when I heard that they were starting a team in the fall, I was very excited.(I’m on the far left of the second from the front, holding a football in the photo above)
The team would be called the Transcona Nationals, and Mr. Cockburn was our coach.
Coby, as he was known, didn’t have any problem handling a bunch of Transcona “tuffs” who had authority issues.
Coby’s son Hugh had a gun for an arm and consistently threw 60-yard touchdown passes to our “Touchdown Twins,” Jimmy Harrison and Ermanno Barone.
Before long, not only were we one of the best teams in the league, but we were also the most penalized.
I have no idea why the referees didn’t like us.
I think Lo Lo, after getting thrown out of a game when he brought a guy down by throwing his helmet at him, explained it best.
When the Refs asked him why, he said, “Hey, what was I supposed to do? He’s a track star; there’s no way I could catch him.”
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of players, so Lo Lo just put another sweater on with a different number and went back into the game.
Was it our fault when the prep school team we were playing refused to come out after half-time?
We were leading 53 – 0 at the half, but the game was taking forever because they were taking so many time-outs to drag their injured players off the field.
I think that it showed very poor sportsmanship-like conduct when their parents booed us as we got back on our bus.
Some of our lads even wanted to stay behind to fight them, but Coach Coby forced them back on the bus.
Unfortunately, when the championship game rolled around, the referees were waiting for us.
They had grown weary of our antics all season and took their revenge on us early.
They penalized us on almost every play, and they even went as far as to eject some of our best players.
Even with all that adversity going against us, we almost won the game anyway.
Being a Transcona National was a great experience because it gave me my first taste of fame.
The fame came about when Bill Burdeyny of The Transcona News began writing about us.
Bill was a great writer, but I suspect that the Nationals may have given him something to write about. One of the things that Bill wrote that I loved was, “Not only are the Transcona Nationals, a good football team, they’re also great Canadians because they’ve figured out how to bring hockey to the game of football.”
The Transcona News came out on Thursday, so every Thursday there, we were lined up waiting for the paper to come off the press. (and yes, some 60 years later, I do still have all the clippings)
What with Bill’s writing and our swagger, we were beginning to create a small buzz and before long, a lot of new folks were showing up at our games.
Even though the refs put an end to our unbeaten season, we didn’t go down without a fight, but then again, fighting was why this story doesn’t have a better ending.
Even though we were disappointed, the arrival of our team jackets lifted our spirits, and we wore them to school like badges of honor.
Even at our 50th team reunion, a few of the guys still wore their jackets with pride.
My jacket had disappeared long ago, but my good 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 team jackets above, I’m the only one still standing. RIP guys.)