You People Don't Play Hockey
When I was about seven years old, my aunt, who was from the West Indies, decided that I, as a young Canadian boy, should learn how to skate. To that etid, she took me to an outdoor skating rink about three blocks from our house in Toronto.
Katie, being from a warm tropical climate, really respected the cold weather, so before we started off she bundled me up in about 20 pounds of heavy winter gear. I could·hardly move my arms and legs.
Just before we started off,- she went down into the basement and returned with a sinall package about the size of a shoebox. I asked her what was in the box, but she wouldn't tell me. As we left, I could hardly think of anything else, other than what was in the box. It is an unwritten law that you do not carry a box, with unknown contents, while a 7-year-old is anywhere within 50feet!
Well, we finally made our way the three blocks through the slush and snow and at last we got to the rink. Actually, there were two rinks. One was oval-shaped surrounded by snow banks. The other was rectangular and had boards around its perimeter. The latter one was obviously a hockey rink. I knew what hockey was. I spent many a winter evening listening to the Hockey broadcast on the radio.
She took me to the skating oval and sat me down on a nearby bench. At long last, she unwrapped the box. Inside was a pair of miniature hockey skates. They appeared to be my size. Whoo eee ! Syl Apps! Watch yourself! I'm coming on! I could- hardly sit still as she took off my shoes and laced my feet into the skates. I could already see feet. Reality immediately set in. I no sooner touched the ice then I was on my face, reading the ice surface, wondering what had happened.
I CAN'T SKATE! The shame of it all. Every Canadian born can skate. Maybe I'm not a Canadian.
Anyway, as I was kneeing my way around the ice, Katie had disappeared. She soon came back carrying a broken hockey stick. At first, I thought that I was in for a bum beating, but actually she just wanted me to grab the end of the hockey stick, so that she could tow me around the rink.
You had to be there to see the ridiculousness of the situation. Katie was about 57 at the time. She was bundled up like Nanook of the North, wearing a moth-eaten fur coat and a pair of men's galoshes. To top it off she was towing a bundle, on ice skates, around the rink. The story I told my chums at school the next day, was slightly different: Something about Dick Button and Katie Ann Scott wowing the crowds.
Around and around the rink we went. I was having a great time until Katie got tired and told me that I should start skating on my own. After I continually kept falling down, she called over a little girl who was practicing figure skating. She asked the girl if she would teach her little boy how to skate. The offerwas twenty five cents a lesson. The little girl was happy at the offer.
You must remember that in 1944-45, a quarter was big money to a child For instance: with a quarter, 1 could go to the Saturday matinee, buy a bag of popcorn almost as big as I was and have a dime left over.
I knew how big a quarter was. Every couple of days, Katie would give me a quarter and instruct me to take a milk bottle to the corner grocery store. I was to buy·a quart of milk, a loaf of bread and the Toronto Star newspaper. Her final words would always be: "Bring back the change!"
The skating lessons continuedfor about two weeks. During that time, I discovered that I had natural balance and enjoyed skating. I was thoroughly convinced that within a few more months I would be a good hockey player and ready for glory. I would make my auntie proud.
Listening to the hockey broadcasts on the radio (TV did not come to Canada until 1952) became almost a religion with me. My aunt realized that I was spending-a lot of time on the rink and listening to hockey, so she decided that I should learn to play hockey and join a boy's team.
The next Saturday afternoon, she told me to grab my skates and get ready to go and play hockey. We were going to the hockey rink and I was going to be on a hockey team. The word happy does not adequately describe my feelings.
We went over to the hockey rink and watched two teams of boys my age playing hockey. They even had team sweaters with logos. I could hardly contain myself. In my mind's eye, I would be flashing around the rink, faster than the wind, scoring goal after goal.
As we watched the game I got more and more excited. I thought that I would explode! Finally, the game was over. Katie pulled me after her as she bulled her way through the milling boys to the coach.
She started talking to the coach, while I was standing there, trying to look as tall as I could. Katie was not a person to waste words. She immediately asked him if he could put me onto one of the teams. Then things started to get ugly. They both began yelling at each other, but the one phrase that stood out was the coach telling my aunt that "You people don't play hockey..." I had no idea what he was talking about.
As we walked home,(I walked, Katie stomped) Katie was cursing and crying. She started to scare me the way she was carrying on. I had never seen her so incensed. The next day she had calmed down enough to tell me the results of her conversation with the coach. She sat me down and explained what the coach had meant when he said "You people don't play hockey because you have weak ankles".
Up to that point, I had never even thought of the possibility ofmy not playing hockey because I was black (in 1945 we were Negroes). I remember Katie ranting about that issue for months after the event.
I was in my 20s before I realized that there was nothing wrong with my ankles. By that time I had developed into a top-notch handball player. For over 30 years I played handball with a vengeance, never giving any quarter. I wonder what that was all about?
Being denied the opportunity to even play on a boy's hockey team soured me on playing team sports for the balance of my athletic·days. For a grown person to stop a little kid from playing with his peers, on such a flimsy excuse, was unforgivable. To me that comes under the heading of child abuse!
Not to worry, I'm over 70 now and I have finally reconciled myself to not playing in the NHL.
Hey! Do you think the Blue Jays could use another coach?