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Home-Grown Heroes remains the go-to for Sudbury sports history
2021-08-15
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This might sometimes be hard to fathom, but there is actually a time that predates the advent of the internet. Actually, there’s a whole lot of time that comes well before ARPANET and many of the early forays into the technology that is now so universally accepted and utilized.

And while sites such as Wikipedia and countless others have done wonders to create vast storage reservoirs of historical information, the truth is that precious little is stored in terms of permanently, easily accessible, widely encompassing locales for anything beyond the very elite level of local sports.

A floor further down, spreading right down to the very base of local amateur sports honestly is not the stuff of which mountains of searchable information is made - and certainly not in the form of data and stats and the like that date back much further than the year 2000.

Just for fun, I googled Sudbury Hardrocks, the name of the football club that morphed to become the Sudbury Spartans in 1967 after joining initially as one of the founding members of the Northern Ontario Rugby Football Union (NORFU) in 1954. Ironically, 1967 was also the year that the NORFU was rebranded as the NFC (Northern Football Conference).

All of this information above is located on the NFC website, which actually does a better job than most comparable leagues, regardless of the sport, at disclosing such details. There is also a paragraph devoted to the renaming of the Hardrocks on the Wikipedia page of the Sudbury Spartans.

Beyond that are some mentions of the Hardrocks on the Sudbury Museums website, mixed in with some references to the Elm Street pub that also shares the name. The fact is that a great deal of the information that was maintained in some form of paper based source (old programs, newspaper clippings, league/team records, scrapbooks, etc...) have long since fallen victim to the passing of key contributors, with so much of these memories now deeply buried in local landfill sites.

And quite honestly, that is an absolute shame.

It’s also part of the reason why I have so enjoyed the opportunity, during the pandemic, to leap enthusiastically into interview after interview with those folks who can still recount the stories of that era, the handful of people who enjoy passing along their memories of the Sudbury sports scene of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

As for actually digging up relevant sources of information, the truth is that Home-Grown Heroes remains easily my standard go-to. Written by Sudbury Sports Hall of Famer Frank Pagnucco, who passed away far too early (in 2017), still in his early sixties, the must read for any fan of Sudbury sports nostalgia was published in 1982.

A total of sixteen different sports are covered over the course of some 182 pages, with separate sections also devoted to the headings of Women’s Sports and Other Heroes. Largely, it seems that the bulk of the information that is contained in the book was retrieved by scouring microfilmed copies of editions of the Sudbury Star and Sudbury Journal, quite likely the ones housed in the main branch of the Sudbury Public Library.

In that sense, I can absolutely relate to the undertaking on which Frank and friends embarked, as I continue to follow in their footsteps, as much as possible, researching fun factoids and tidbits of information from yesteryear for use in the This Week in Sports segment of SudburySports.com.

Thankfully, I did enjoy the chance to get to know Frank pretty well, largely through his involvement with the aforementioned Sudbury Spartans, as Pagnucco enjoyed a strong friendship with Sid Forster, easily the father of football in our city.

Home-Grown Heroes does a wonderful job of sharing the exploits of so many legendary Sudbury athletes, quite often in the writing genre of their particular time, which in and of itself makes for some highly memorable transcripts.

Consider some of the following nuggets of gold that the group stumbled across:

In the chapter on lacrosse: “The referee briefly addressed the teams, particularly in reference to swearing and bad language, which if indulged in would necessitate him leaving the field” (1891)

In the chapter on baseball: “Over 800 spectators saw Darcy Regan’s braves administer another defeat to the Copper Cliff aggregation of ball players on Monday, last, Victoria Day, at the new Victoria ball grounds, as they have appropriately been named. The admission was 50 cents, and we have not yet heard of anyone who wanted his or her money back.” (1908)

In the chapter on football: “Over the midnight tea and toast in Wah’s hash parlour last night, Alex McKinnon and Earl McIntyre, ardent Argo supporters, made a little agreement with “Rusty” Wright and “Mac” McFarlane that if the Argos win by five points, the two Queen’s supporters must do the parade stunt with the baby carriage (though town), and to be seated in the carriage with a bottle of milk and a comforter.” (1922)

Imagine the fun that could be had if we could simply revert to the writing style of our forefathers in covering the Sudbury Wolves of 2021-2022.

The challenge, it seemed, is that by the very nature of the research, much of the information on any particular sport often centered on a handful of particularly important moments in time. To be fair, that only makes sense.

One could not possibly expect Pagnucco and company to begin traipsing their way through each and every sports section of the daily newspaper covering a period of eighty years or so. Still, there is no doubt that visits back to the Home-Grown Heroes book, or to the library archives, or simply indulging in conversations from folks of that era all get my mind racing a mile a minute.

Over and above the possibility of looking at picking up where Frank left off, an endeavour that would be made far easier based on the fact that I now have compiled almost twenty years worth of relevant information since the launch of my website in 2004, is the fact that both Pagnucco and I bring slightly different backgrounds to the table.

Where he was a writer, at heart, I likely consider myself as much a statistician and researcher, blessed with a never-ending affinity for local sports, and also able to put together hopefully the occasionally legible story.

In that sense, I can easily envision the day where my retirement project encompasses the creation of some sort of A to Z gathering of all information related to the history of sport in Sudbury. Along with the stories that Frank and others can share so well, picture a singular site which outlines the timelines of various leagues and teams, providing interesting data on organizations that are no more.

With that in mind, I will leave you all with this simple request: if at any point you stumble across those wonderful old boxes stored deep in the nooks and crannies of your parent’s basements, boxes that are filled with the type of local sports information that cannot easily be recovered, please feel free to reach out to me.

The truth is, not everything can be found on the internet.

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