Some 120 delegates from across the country are in St. John’s this weekend for Softball Canada’s Annual General Meeting and Congress, in the province which helped conceive the national sports governing 52 years ago.
It was at the Marlborough Hotel in downtown Winnipeg in the spring of 1965 the federal government initially recognized a sports governing body for softball, a decision in which Softball Newfoundland played a big role.
But first some background.
Softball Newfoundland was founded two years prior, in 1963 at the old PC Club on Military Rd., next to Bannerman Park.
The idea to form a provincial sports governing for softball came about a year earlier when Placentia Intertown — celebrating some sort of anniversary — invited St. John’s to come down for a softball game. Vince Withers coached the squad, which included Bill Malone, an all-star hockey and baseball player.
The next summer, Dee Murphy, then a sports reporter for The Daily News in St. John’s, had been in Corner Brook attending the Newfoundland Soccer Association’s AGM, where he was elected vice-president.
About a week later, back in St. John’s, Murphy and Withers invited a bunch of teams, including a handful from the Placentia area, to the city for a softball tournament.
A team from the U.S. Naval Facility in Argentia won, beating St. John’s in the final. But something bigger came from the tournament.
Murphy, just back from Corner Brook and the soccer meeting, was convinced the time was right for a provincial sports governing body for softball.
A meeting was called, and Murphy was elected Newfoundland softball’s first president. Withers, who like Murphy is a Softball Canada Hall of Famer, was appointed secretary-treasurer and Reg Caughie was elected vice-president.
Which brings us to Winnipeg two years later.
Curious to find out who was head of softball in Canada, Murphy reached out to Canadian Press reporters, who informed him of one Cecil White of Vancouver, head of the Western Major Fastpitch Association, which represented Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
Ontario had its own organization, and was aligned with the three Maritime provinces.
“Nobody knew what was going on in Quebec,” Murphy said.
With travel expenses secured from Graham Snow, then the director of sport and recreation for the provincial government, Murphy traveled to Winnipeg for the Western Major Fastpitch Association’s AGM on the May 24th weekend, 1965.
“I never had time to change, or shave or anything,” Murphy said. “I just threw my luggage in the room and went down to the meeting.”
Murphy recalls seeing 20-odd men in the meeting when he walked in. White, the president, asked Murphy to sign in.
“He looked at the book and said, ‘Gentlemen, we will adjourn for 10 minutes. Newfoundland is here and I want to talk to my new friend.’”
With one end of the country represented at the meeting, along with the four western provinces, Ted Petersen from Sport Canada agreed the group would be recognized as the national sports governing for softball and would be renamed to reflect that.
White was elected Canadian softball president with vice-presidents Murphy, Ed Corbett of Calgary, Bill Jurens of Winnipeg and Sam Wall of Saskatchewan. Percy ‘Pop’ Simons of Vancouver was the first secretary treasurer.
It goes without saying Ontario wasn’t too happy. And that province would get more sour.
“Back then,” said Murphy, who would go on to become a Softball Canada honorary life member, “if you wanted to travel to the States to play softball, you needed a travel permit. And because we were the governing body for softball, we had the permits.
“And we decided if you weren’t a member of the association, you weren’t getting a permit. And the States were on board with us, too. Needless to say, Ontario was vicious.
“The next year, they beat the door down getting to the meeting to become a member.”
That summer, in 1965, Newfoundland sent a team to the first Canadian men’s softball championship in Calgary. The Argentia Seals, from the U.S. Navy base, posted a 2-2 record and finished fourth.
The only Newfoundlander on the team was Malone of St. John's.