Years have passed and much has been written in lacrosse circles about the 1978 World Field Lacrosse Championship and the Canadian National Team victory.
Memories fade and teammates and family members have left us sadly and from time to time it is only natural as we age to live in the past some days remembering this time.
We have had reunions with great success, high turnouts and these have been documented with pictures and video presentations in this age of technology.
1978 is a long time ago now, and we in the lacrosse world, have seen the game grow. New championships created, many countries now playing, many young men and women earning opportunities through our game.
Having said all that, this story is written about the detail’s pretournament 1978. The events and climate in Canadian lacrosse, Ontario lacrosse at that time. The key “off the field” individuals with Team Canada and how it all got going in a not so smooth manner, truth be told.
The tournament is history, we know the results of games played that year. Proudly, we now see between 40-50 countries take part in current World Field Tournaments as well as 20 countries in the World Box Tournament in 2019.
This collection of honest facts lays out just how close Canada was to not going at all on that now historic trip. Winning was climbing a steep, high mountain. Getting off the ground was also a bit of a mountain at times as you will read here in the way things played out over the months preceding July.
Decisions were made late in 1977 to send a Team to the World Field Championships in England July 1978. Then the fun started. Deciding to go was easy, putting all the moving parts together proved to be a bit more difficult.
Before this, Canada had participated in Field events in Canada’s Centennial Year 1967, losing badly to the Australian side and to the Americans.
Again in 1974 with a team of mostly Western box players in Australia, and again, being somewhat “out of their element” field skill wise, game strategy wise, Canada played with limited success but, as a country we had a taste of this game. Field was emerging in Canada through these efforts and discussions were being held on the Field game, which some box people did not appreciate.
Box and Field are two vastly different games. Different muscles, different movements, different world.
Late in 1975 there was an effort in Ontario to expand the game of lacrosse beyond the box game into schools and out onto the field. The provincial government would supply funding to hire a coach and assist getting the game into schools with only one provision, that no one would be taken away from the box game to accomplish this. Trouble was that there was really no one in Canadian lacrosse who could do this Field experience wise, so the project stalled.
1976 saw the Canadian Lacrosse Association embark on a National Team plan and this was endorsed by the Ontario Lacrosse Association. This project was also not successful. They meant well but again, the struggle between box and field was evident. Where will all the people come from? The box structure was tied into mostly small towns, fed by minor systems. Field at the time was an American version of lacrosse really which was regional but somewhat successful and scholarships were available. There was reason to pursue this effort.
Two different administrative groups. One established and one fledgling without an on the ground team to work in areas of the country. Winter weather complicated things, other sports were established, even box was mostly Ontario and B.C for the most part with a bit of box being played in a few other places in Canada.
In 1977 again, the O.L.A. would take a kick at sending a team to the 1978 World Field Championships sending its President and Vice President to the Executive Meeting of the C.L.A. in Saskatoon. The O.L.A. feeling was that Canada should be represented and there had been Canadian box players earn scholarships to US colleges to play field and the handful or a couple more could be the start of putting a team on the field in Manchester.
The O.L.A. was advised that they should present this idea at the C.L.A. annual meeting in Charlottetown. Getting the run around the O.L.A. with good reason felt something was wrong.
It is easy to see early on that the climate in Ontario was somewhat contentious and, putting a team on the field that could compete was a bit far fetched. Funding such an effort was even more of a chore.
Even within the Ontario lacrosse community there were differences between influential people when it came to the box vs field subject. The O.L.A. executive has endorsed this project with one of the most, maybe THE most influential person in the game at that time, Jim Bishop being very much against the effort. He knew well that the best box players would be chosen, taken away from the box game to take part, as our field reservoir was kind of low.
Many things took place as this juggernaut moved slowly forward toward the 1977 C.L.A. AGM in Charlottetown P.E.I. Permission was given to the O.L.A. to represent Canada in England. Oddly, this is what the Ontario delegation thought they had received but not what the C.L.A. executive understood they agreed to…..and it begins. The C.L.A. actions over and again seemed to be aimed at scuttling this project.
This misunderstanding was to be the first of many situations where the entire project almost came off the rails. The efforts of Marshall Spence and Boyd Baragar, Doug Budden, current C.L.A President Keith Clarke (who was ill but still gave his all) and a few more unsung heroes in the O.L.A. really, cannot be overstated in this entire lead up period to us actually leaving for England as our National Team.
Taking any team anywhere can be an exercise full of unknowns. Putting trust in people to ensure things get done as a group, always begins with the assumption that everyone involved is pulling in the same direction with common goals and will do their assigned jobs. Remember 1977, no cell phones or internet, not even sure there were “beepers”.
Geography, jobs, infrequent in person meetings, family obligations all fill up the day for most. Working from a checklist of volunteer people with delegated, understood responsibilities is how things get done but … only if everyone does their job. Lots of moving parts and many tasks for this small group of people.
This project involved tens of thousands of dollars, government grants and lots of planning. A training camp to decide who will be on the team, a coach, and coaching staff, organizing the structure that would make this all come together, practice sites, rooms, meals, travel, exhibition games to learn how to play, which sounds a bit funny on its own.
Many of these things would fall into place as soon as team personnel was chosen. Who would coach? Who could coach? Who would be invited to camp? Equipment? Trainers? This would be played in the middle of the box season.
Remember this was now, spring 1978, the tournament in early July. The scramble was on once all approvals were given and misunderstandings cleared up yet still, many things needed to be done or decided on. How to fund such an ambitious undertaking? The use of players during the box season, how would box teams react?
Monies were received from the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Recreation. Wintario lottery money was another potential source of funding if all government conditions were met. Federal available monies? These types of things were handled by Boyd and Marshall for the most part. Their heroic efforts again, need to be clearly recognized.
The team executive had to make choices on where best to obtain the necessary funding as there were monies as stated available provincially as well as federally. This was sport and International sport at that, so the province felt that federal funds were available for travel as per the agreement between provinces and the federal governments.
Ted Peterson a sports consultant did an outstanding job helping stickhandle through the obstacles in this process. Without his stickhandling help we would not have left the ground.
The Head coaching decision was made with only one name in mind and that was Bobby Allan from Peterborough. There was to be no money change hands here as no one involved was paid at all for this honour. A huge commitment. March through July really, representing your Country in a game where we had no teams, no league, we did play lacrosse and kind of made that clear in the end.
The responsibility to coach Canada’s National Team was finally accepted by Bobby during a Nov 77 meeting at his house with Marshall and Budden. He would oversee all matters pertaining to the team and the selection of players along with Offensive Coach Don Barrie from Peterborough and Defensive Coach Gus McCauley from Brampton. Ron Wicks was the G.M. also from Brampton. It was clear, we did not just want to compete. We were now going over with a chance to win.
From that moment on this thing had legs. All the behind-the-scenes stuff you will read about in this story was a distraction and well handled by Marshall and Boyd. Others of course, were on the team executive and had responsibilities with most doing their job. Players knew and heard none of these things.
It must be stated here again, that the C.L.A. was never fully behind this project. Seems like an odd statement for sure. The following examples will explain some of the early obstacles:
C.L.A. Executive Director Bob Oliver was invited to all meetings (twice monthly planning meetings began early in the year and were help right through the July tournament. He did not attend one meeting, came to the game in Ottawa and was on the plane for the trip to the UK.
Jim Bishop opposed this project and was hired by the C.L.A. He stated he was playing a Devils Advocate role…..which no one needed. There were strong feelings on the box and field sides. Bishop and Marshall Spence did not see eye to eye and perhaps a big part of Bishops opposition to this project was that Allan was chosen to coach and not him.
Ontario Lacrosse people Howie Biggar, Al Baxter, John Mullins, Doug Budden, Frank Huntley, Boyd Baragar and Marshall Spence were the glue guys who corrected mistakes, steered the ship, and made sure things were right. There were many times where the planning chores were assigned to Oliver and Tobias with them saying they would do things, then did nothing and openly say things were all good. Discovered by Spence and Baragar who felt the need to double check everything, legwork was necessary to heal the lack of action during this time sensitive period. This created mistrust and many times others had to check and double check to find out the entire group had been let down.
Tobias travelled to England with a list of duties as a front man, to set up our visit and it was discovered no one over there even knew who he was. Canadian Embassy, lodging, travel, exhibition game against an English side. UK Lacrosse people hosting the tournament all wondered what was going on with Team Canada.
Tragic and the clock was ticking all leading up to the tournament. Many of these things involved funding monies and there was a lot of evasive action and this added to the workload of Marshall and Boyd who were dealing with lots of mixed messages from the dodgy twosome, and something did not pass the stink test.
The Ontario lacrosse contingent continually had to step in to ensure things got done and often come up with unbudgeted monies to make things right again and again. They had to purchase all new equipment after waiting and waiting for John Tobias who said he had equipment and would bring it to the team and never did. It was in storage somewhere but no real knowledge of how much or condition of this mystery gear.
Spence and Mullins had to go to England to make sure of what exactly had gone on and were disappointed to hear that nothing had been done. The Honorable Paul Martin Sr. was the High Commissioner and welcomed the two offering any help he could. He had more information about the tournament than Spence or Mullins all thanks to CLA Program Director John Tobias not doing his job. He was not assigned any additional tasks and did not make the trip…. Hmmm.
Exhibition games, lodging and travel arrangements as well as planned receptions we all on the table at this late date and the Brits were pleased they were now getting somewhere with Canada as 12-14 letters written to Tobias were never answered.
Up to Manchester to look at facilities. The field, accommodation at the Univ of Manchester with ivy covered walls. The Lacrosse Federation and host committee were very gracious and accommodating answering every question. This was all very discouraging to Spence, Mullins and Baragar and others.