“JUST A DRAMATIC PAUSE”
In one of the school shows was an operetta. Trudy Clements was involved in the footlights. I jumped onto the stage but didn’t speak right away. Thinking I’d forgotten my lines, she started prompting me. I stopped --this is in front of the audience-- pointed down to her and said: “This is just a dramatic pause, Trudy. I know my lines.” Of course, the crowd roared with laughter at the joke. I thought Carl Chapman would give me the dickens, but he said: “Leave that in. Your singing wasn’t that great anyway!”
When I was at McMaster, I took History. There were no Physical Education courses then, and History was my major. I took some Geography at McMaster and also at summer school at Western. In those days, Guidance was a three-year summer course. I figure I spent about thirteen years at summer school.
At McMaster, I played football for two years and ran cross-country for one. In my fourth year, the athletic director asked if I’d like to coach the freshman football team. I did, and one of the players I coached on that team was a fellow by the name of Roger Macaulay.
When I was at OCE in Toronto, the Phys Ed head said: “We have an opening for football and basketball. These are the junior boys. You can apply.” A Windsor boy came over to me in a hurry and said: “You take the football. I want the basketball.”
I took the football and then stayed an extra semester instead of going out to practice teaching. When Dean Althouse called me down to the office in January, I thought: “Oh boy, I’ve missed too many French classes at 8:30 in the morning. I’m going to get bumped from this.” I went in, stood in front of Althouse, and he said: “Would you take a job at Brockville? They’ve lost a Phys Ed man.” I wasn’t through my course, but I joined the Brockville high school on the twenty-fifth of January.
After three and a half years at Brockville, my wife Alma spotted a job at London’s Central in the paper. It said “Football and Basketball Coach”. I applied and was accepted.
Later on at Central, one of the inspectors from the Department came around. He said: “You didn’t do the right thing when you applied for a job at Central for a football and basketball coach.” I said: “Well, that’s what was in the paper!” He still insisted I had no business applying for an athletic job at a high school.
During my first year at Beck (1955-56) we didn’t have very much success with football. How, I wondered, were we going to get along when we didn’t have enough players to practice one team against the other?
Basketball: Witherden, Boug, Timbrell, Laird, Howson.
Howson was amazing in the 1957 Ontario Finals. I had never realized how athletic he was. At Hart House gym, the ball hit the backboard. Howson jumped into the backboard and had possession of it. It was almost professional! The fellow he was playing against was a little bit heavier but that guy played his heart out.
I can still remember we took the boys over to our hotel. There were just the five of them. They took the bed apart to lie down on the floor for a rest before the final game at night. The people who were running the tournament had drawn it up that we had played the BEST team on the first night. If one of the Welland boys hadn’t had a broken arm, we might not have won.
During this game, Witherden knocked the ball out of the hand of the guard with eight seconds to go. From the bench, I looked across to the scorer’s table. Paul Cropp was scoring, and Bob Gage from the Free Press was sitting near him. Both of them had closed their eyes and dropped their heads down, thinking that Beck had lost. Having robbed the other guy of the ball, Witherden then scored a basket, and we won by one point. ONE point!
In a way, our win was unexpected, but then we had to play the good team from Sudbury. At the final game, of course, we played the winning team in the other section, a Toronto team. The fellows did themselves proud in that one.
The next year, Rog Macaulay left, and I had to take the basketball team. We lost to Windsor Assumption in the final here in London. Howson and Boug were the key players; Witherden had gone.
Timbrell, of course, had played football for me, and he played for Terry Ferris before that as a lineman. I made Timbrell into a fullback. We had good success in that league, in part because Boug became a quarterback.
The other day, I was thinking about Boug in a practice scrimmage. An over-anxious lineman came in and tackled Boug and wrestled him to the ground. Boug was saying: “Lay off! Lay off!” Boug banged his hard helmet with his bare hand and hurt his passing hand. Nobody understood why he wasn’t his usual self in the game, why he couldn’t get the grip of the ball.
Howson and Boug went into teaching. My wife remembers them because we went to a Bob Gage dinner, and those two boys came up and gave her a big hug.
The second year I was at Beck --1957-58-- Bill Dunlop came over from Catholic Central where he’d been the junior coach. The team was turned over to him, and I didn’t coach as much football after that.
Remarkable school spirit. Just remarkable. I still remember Gary Boug being hurt on the far side of the field in football at Labatt Park. The full lineup of cheerleaders jumped up while he was carried off and put down on my side of the field. I walked over to him and said: “You sure picked a place to go down with the cheerleaders.” Boug didn’t have any broken bones and wasn’t seriously hurt and jumped up and ran on the field. What a rotten thing I had to do, but he forgave me.
We had remarkable singing auditoriums. The girls sang high soprano as well as soprano. Even boys like Witherden felt the singing auditoriums were very important.
Gerry Fagan was a track and field man. The first time I saw him, they used to have a digit for the feet. Terry Ferris was on one side of the track, and I was on the other. I was beside Fagan as he was pumping, and I said: “How old are you?” He was as furious as the dickens, and he ran over and told Terry: “That guy asked how old I was!” Twelve years old, and he went to Beck!
In the last part of my years at Beck, I had two other winning teams, a junior basketball and a senior football.
Rich Hawkins became a doctor, but when I first saw Rich, he was shooting a ball at a basket during a gym class. I walked over to him and said: “You’re going to be quarterback next year.” He had such strong forearms that he could just flip the ball and play quarterback. He was from Byron. We filled up with Byron people.
Tommie McKenzie, a speedster on the track team, was a winning sprinter. Tommie and Rich were neighbors. I used to have to drive them home after practice because I lived in west London. I got to know Rich this way.
Rich went to Western but only played football for one year. Metras wasn’t the same kind of coach. At Beck, I told the team that when the defense moves, tell our offense to move. Rich did this at Western, and the coach didn’t believe it. Rich made the move anyway, sent it to one of the senior players and told him to go five yards out. Rich told him: “When you break out, break to the inside.” The player said: “I won’t do that! Metras will have my ears and take me off the field.” Rich didn’t last very long on that team.
Rich went on to play for the London Lords and was quite successful. Eventually, he went to the States and into medicine, where he was a shoulder expert. In Utah, he operated on Greg Norman the golfer, who advertised that he was successful because of Rich’s shoulder operation.
My son was reminding me that in a final track meet, each time Rich came
on the run up, he stepped over the line. He was judged foul every time.
He had the winning throw, but he had fouled out. The other thing was
that Lightbody, who had come back to Beck for his final year, didn't
make it for this event. Lightbody had a job umpiring in the PUC and
couldn't come. These things happen.
The next year at a track meet in the summer, I watched this fellow by the name of Bob Gooder having fun and running faster and faster. He came to Beck and played junior football for Dunlop. Gooder played senior for me for two years. In his second year, we won the senior championship against CCH. Rich Hawkins quarterbacked our team.
In 1962 took a year off when I started going blind. I’d been blind in one eye but I didn’t ever tell anybody which eye it was. The blindness was from an injury from when I was a kid. I was in the army cadet training for three years when a colonel who’d known me since I was a kid, told me: “The army is not interested in one-eyed recruits, Rice.”
Over the years, I had several operations on my eye. The first was on the retina for attachment. After four times, they gave up.
When I returned back to Beck, it was to do Guidance. I was out of Phys Ed then.
I won’t betray any secrets from the Guidance office when I talk about Fagan. He told me what he’d have to go through to be a professional piano player, going on tour and stuff like that. The sisters at Mount Hope were training Fagan, and they didn’t agree with his playing basketball in case he hurt his fingers. I said: “Gerry, you could be a high school music teacher.” He did and even taught at Beck for a while. Now he has a chorus that tours with him. I hope he gets back in time for this reunion and somebody interviews him. He has an orchestra as well. Music is his life.
When I started losing my sight, Rog Macaulay, who was principal at South, called up and said: “There’s a job over here for you. You’d be better off with me.” That’s how I went to South and taught Guidance there. Two years later, the boys persuaded me to do some coaching in basketball and in track. I stayed at South until I retired.
How would I like to conclude this interview? How I got to be a song leader.
One day during lunch in the cafeteria, Carl Chapman said he was going to do “On The Road to Mandalay” in the singing auditorium. I came from a missionary home and said in our home, we were not allowed to sing that song. The line “There’s a Burma gal a settin’ and I know she waits for me” did NOT appeal to my mother.
That Friday, I came to the singing auditorium a few minutes late after a gym class. I was just settling down in my seat when Mr. Chapman announced: “We’ll have Mr. Rice lead you in “On The Road to Mandalay”. With no more warning than that, I got up on the stage and did it.
Based on that I became a “former song
leader” at Senior Kiwanis, and my name is on a program!
Wil Rice, a coach who knew how to get the best out of his teams and who is remembered by his players as caring, compassionate and laid back. What more need be said?
Copyright Carol Lowe July 22, 2004
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