I was sorting through some old files the other day, part of a regular disposal routine I do to keep my office space at least somewhat manageable. Otherwise I would be physically buried in paper, even in this computerized age.
That’s when I came across documents submitted with team nominations to the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 2006. As a member of the hall’s selection committee, I receive such files each year, though the last couple years the system has gone green by using computer discs instead of those massive amounts of paper.
That explanation is a roundabout way of explaining how I came across the information that accompanied the hall of fame nomination for the 1971-78 Pictou County Senior Rugby Team, one of the finest sports organizations ever in the county.
I couldn’t help but browse the submission again, reminding me of the great accomplishments of that particular team in the 1970s, a championship run that is almost unmatched in Nova Scotia sports history.
Of all the information I read on the team, the clipping that caught my attention the other day was the copy of a letter to the editor of The Evening News from team captain Francis Long and manager Mike Flynn.
While reading it at this particular time, I couldn’t help but compare how the club was being operated to the situation currently keeping National Hockey League teams off the ice in a ridiculous and needless dispute between billionaire owners and millionaire players.
In sharp contrast to the hockey lockout, the way financial matters were handled by the Pictou County rugby team vividly demonstrate what true sports really are.
The rugby squad won no less than 13 Nova Scotia and seven Maritime championships, a run that began in 1971. In the eight-year period from 1971 to 1978, the team won seven provincial crowns by posting an outstanding 91-6 won-lost record. If ever a statistic underlined a success, that was it.
But back to the letter that started this discussion, it was references to the squad’s finances that grabbed my eye.
The letter was written, it said, “to give the rugby fan an insight into what goes on behind the scenes and how the club is run.”
What was fascinating were the conditions under which a team like Pictou County had to operate: “No rugby club is allowed to have a sponsor. No business firms or groups, willing though they may be, can give sums of money or merchandise in any shape or form and receive in return a certain amount of advertising.”
Imagine those restrictions today when operational costs have skyrocketed, whether you’re talking about a team in a highly competitive league, or even a kids team in a minor sports league.
The rules in the 1970s went still further. “No club is permitted to carry the name of a business establishment on their jerseys. Rugby clubs, such as the Pictou County club, can and do on occasion accept the payment for advertisement of games and programs which is calculated to spur attendance. Monies are forwarded to the local press to pay for pricing of the ads.”
The letter told how the rugby team raised money by holding dances, suppers, pantry sales and ticket draws. Families and friends had to chip in to make such ventures succeed.
The players’ involvement certainly didn’t end with playing games. This from the submission: “The organization of the club was handled by the older players who took the different positions on the executive. They looked after everything from the starting lineup to putting the lines on the field to securing the referee for the home games. For away games the older players looked after the transportation.” How’s that for doing it yourself?
Here was another significant factor: “The players are the unsung heroes. They pay their own expenses for games and travelling, plus gear. They receive only jerseys and socks from the club. Players, from their own pockets, pay all expenses. They do this because they love the sport.”
There’s the kicker: “…because they love the sport.”
Organizational matters done, they went out on the field, gave 100 per cent, and won championship after championship.
Quite a contrast, I say, to what is keeping NHL owners and players from reaching an agreement that would get the league back in action.
You know, Pictou County has had a lot of great sports teams through the years, in baseball, softball and hockey in particular. But you can’t help but admire what the ruggers did four decades ago, especially that eight-year run that gave the club a deserving place in the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame. Their won-lost record definitely underlined what was achieved.
The team was assembled with locally-developed players, mostly young men who had played in high school rugby during the 1960s.
What they did was explained eloquently by Jack MacLean, a former player, coach and referee, and a former New Glasgow town councillor and mayor. He watched the team excel and added his recommendation in the submission to the provincial hall, explaining how team members did so much more than just operate their own club.
“This close-knit group of players and executives,” he said, “worked for the good of the community, volunteered their services in many ways. They helped reorganize high school teams by providing clinics, coaches and referees to the school league. They are certainly a credit to their sport and the surrounding communities. The rugby club has made a tremendous impact on the athletic and overall enjoyment of many county residents.”
Yes, the Pictou County Rugby Club, in their glory days in the 1970s, showed for everybody what sports should be all about.
Hugh Townsend, a New Glasgow native and Nova Scotia sports journalist for almost 60 years, can be reached at 204 – 435 Portland Hills Drive, Dartmouth B2W 0A8