History of the A's

 
 

An Interview With Tommy Bye

 
 

St. Catharines native Tom Bye played minor,

junior & senior lacrosse in the 1940's

 

Gary: Tom, when did you start playing lacrosse?

 

Tom: 1939.

 

Gary: What age group would that have been?

 

Tom: I was 14.

 

Gary: What do you remember of those early teams?

 

Tom: Well on those particular teams from 1939 to 1942 I played on the Tecumsehs. The team I played for had one little kid that went as far as junior. For some reason I stuck with it.

 

Gary: Where did the Tecumsehs play?

 

Tom: They played at the St. Catharines Haig Bowl.

 

Gary: At one time wasn’t there 2 or 3 lacrosse bowls in the city?

 

Tom: Yes there was. West St. Catharines had a bowl. It was on Chetwood Street. There was a bowl in the east end, down at Bartlett Park (on Tasker Street near Welland  Avenue). There was a bowl in Merritton and also one in Port Dalhousie around 1944 or 45.

 

Gary: Do you know where the Merritton lacrosse bowl might have been?

 

Tom: It was near the high school. I can’t remember exactly where it was but it was near the high school.

 

Gary: What were the other city teams besides the Tecumsehs in those days?

 

Tom: The team from the east end was called the Wanderers. Then there were the Tecumsehs, the Athletics, and the Alerts. There were the Shamrocks in west St. Catharines and in 1939 Thorold had a junior team.

There were four junior teams in St. Catharines. At the end of the year, the Shamrocks won the city championship and they picked up some players from the other teams and then they won the provincial championship. That’s the way it was in 1939. I was picked to play on the bantam team and we won the Ontario championship. That year St. Catharines won in bantam, midget, juvenile and junior.

In 1939, Doug Favell, who later played with the senior Athletics as a goaltender, played on all four championship teams. As a bantam goalie he also played junior against the 20-year-olds when he was only 14!

 

Gary: When you were really young, did you go see many of the senior games?

 

Tom: I did when I started to play.

 

Gary: Didn’t they usually fill the Haig Bowl in those days when they had those early, great Mann Cup teams?

 

Tom: Yes, it would be jammed. The Haig Bowl would seat about 4,000 and it would be jammed. We couldn’t always get in and there were poplar trees along the side that we would climb to see in. Tickets were probably only like 25 cents but at that time when we were kids we didn’t have 25 cents.

 

Gary: Was the floor of the Haig Bowl a paved surface?

 

Tom: No, it was like a fine gravel surface. It was really easy on your legs but it was hard if you fell. It took the skin right off. It was rough that way.

 

Gary: What was the size of the playing surface?

 

Tom: I think it was 100 feet by 200 feet. It was a good size.

 

Gary: Did the kids who played at that time make there own pads?

 

Tom: Yes. In fact, I wore shoulder pads in senior that I made myself. We use to go to a harness shop that was at the St. Catharines market square and buy felt that was maybe ¾ inches thick. We would make shoulder pads out of that and add some hockey pads to it. We would make the kidney pads out of the same stuff. When you would get sweating it would get full of water and it felt like you were carrying 100 pounds on your back.

You know, even when we played as seniors we never got anything in the way of equipment. I wore the same pair of pants from the time I played midget and an old pair of gloves that a guy gave me. Chuck Bain had played field lacrosse and he had a pair of gloves that were real small and my hands were small. I wore those things right through. And I got a second hand stick. The money wasn’t there. They were paying something like 25 cents to get into the game and by the time they paid the expenses like traveling, there was little left. I think a full share for the players at the end of the year in 1944 was something like $60.

 

Gary: How would the home-made pads hold up to the checking?

 

Tom: Oh, you felt it when you got hit, especially with the wooden sticks.

 

Gary: Would they check the same way they do now?

 

Tom: Yes and no. Not the same type of checking. They were mostly crosschecking with the handle. And they would hit you with the end of the stick across the pants or across the shoulders. They always kept 2 hands on the stick. It was pretty rough. I remember Gus Madsen could really check guys hard (Carl “Gus” Madsen was the captain of the Athletics on their first 4 Mann Cup teams and later became an inductee into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame).

 

Gary: Was Gus Madsen one of the tougher guys you saw play?

 

Tom: He was a clean player but a heavy, hard check. He was the hardest checker I think. He was also really good on offense.

 

Gary: Did he retire early because of some knee problems?

 

Tom: I don’t know why he quit. I know he wasn’t that old when he quit and it was a little after I started to play senior.

 

Gary: Your first year of senior was 1944. You were still a teenager then weren’t you?

 

Tom: Yes, I was 18.

 

Gary: That 1944 team was remarkable in winning the Mann Cup with a blend of veterans from the 1930’s teams plus the additions of some of the “kids”.

1944 ST. CATHARINES ATHLETICS

Mann Cup Champions

First Row (Beside Mann Cup) - Bill Frick, Tommy Bye.

Second Row - Bill Whittaker, Jack Gatecliff, Jay MacDonald (Secretary), Bill Taylor (President), George Cleverley (Coach), Roy Morton, Bill DeMars (Trainer).

Third Row - Doug Cove, Sid Wright, Carl Madsen, Carson Myers, Vern Whitely, Bill Nelson, Frank Madsen.

Top Row - Bill Mackie, Bill Lachanse, Ken Croft, Gord Moore, George Coles, Norm MacDonald

St. Catharines Standard photo

 

Tom: Yes, we had Bill Whittaker in goal. Gus Madsen. Pung Morton. George Coles, he had played for Orillia. Syd Wright was a guy who had played at Cornwall and he came back to St. Catharines. Norm MacDonald was a good goal scorer.

 

Gary: So yourself and Ken Croft were both teenagers on that team, and I guess "Whitey" Frick as well.

 

Tom: Yes, and Jack Gatecliff too.

 

Gary: Did the kids on that team get to play much that year?

 

Tom: We played quite a bit. I don’t remember how many games were on the schedule, probably about 16 or so, and I think I played about 12 games.

 

Gary: Was Bobby Thorpe another teenager on that team?

 

Tom: He was just a little bit older. I think Bobby was about 20 then and he was a great player.

 

Gary: Yes, I guess he played a lot in Peterborough when they had some great teams up there.

 

Tom: Nice guy too. We looked up to the older guys. I guess because of all their lacrosse experience and in life itself you know. And, they could go for a beer after the game while we’d had to wait in the car.

 

Gary: Who on that team might have stood out as a leader? Someone who would stir things up if it was needed or might help out the youngsters a little?

 

Tom: I’m not sure of any one person in particular. I’d say Frank Madsen was like that.

 

Gary: How would Roy Morton get so many goals? (Roy “Pung” Morton scored over 900 goals in his 15-year career with the St. Catharines Athletics).

 

Tom: He had a real hard overhand shot. He would get a lot of goals, long goals, with it. A terrific shot.

 

Gary: Was he a fast runner?

 

Tom: He was fairly fast, but not really the fastest.

 

Gary: What was big Bill Whittaker like? (Whittaker tended goal for the Athletics for 19 seasons).

 

Tom: He would throw the ball at you so hard that if you didn’t catch it, it would kill you. I liked Bill, he was a real nice guy. One thing about him with us young guys, whenever we were in some trouble on the floor, we could count on Bill. He would come out and grab the guy. He’d stick up for you, you know. I was only small and young. If they tried to rough you up then he’d take care of them.

Whittaker used to have the strongest wrists. He used to pick up the ball and throw it over his shoulder when he made a save. On a low shot he would catch it and throw it all in one motion. He’d throw it over onto Pleasant Avenue. He would take a few windows out.

 

Gary: With goalies like Whittaker not wearing face masks, would shooters ever try to intimidate them by shooting the ball near their heads?

 

Tom: I don’t remember anyone doing it intentionally, but there were some guys with some pretty hard shots. Bucko McDonald from Orillia, played in the NHL as a defenseman, had a hard shot. He was very slow, a very slow runner, but he could fire that ball. He would shoot it over his shoulder too.

 

Gary: How about some of the other players on that 1944 Athletics team, like Joe Cheevers?

 

Tom: He didn’t play too much that year I don’t think.

 

Gary: Bill Mackie?

 

Tom: Bill Mackie was in the navy I think and he would get passes to play some weekends. He missed a few games while in the service. He had two boys that I coached in juvenile.

 

Gary: Your son played Junior A, didn’t he?

 

Tom: Yes, he played at Port and then St. Catharines when they moved the team.

 

Gary: On the ’44 team, “Tank” Teather would have been one of the veterans then.

 

Tom: Yes, “Tank” liked the submarine shot. He would throw the ball underhanded and he scored quite a few goals that way.

 

Gary: He wasn’t really a big guy. How did he get the nickname “Tank”?

 

Tom: Well, he was built wide. He was muscularly built, but he wasn’t tall.

 

Gary: Was Jack Gatecliff a good lacrosse player? (Jack Gatecliff would become the well-respected sports editor of the St. Catharines Standard newspaper).

 

Tom: Yes, he was. He was not flashy, but he could score you a goal.

 

Gary: And Ken Croft was there.

 

Tom: Ken was fast.

 

Gary: George Cleverley was the coach of the ’44 team. Was he a former A’s player?

 

Tom: I don’t know where he played earlier but he wasn’t that old when he was coaching us, maybe 35 or so. I remember one game in Burlington we were short-handed and he dressed and played the game. I remember I scored a goal and he got an assist on it.

 

Gary: And Rex Stimers would have been doing the game broadcasts for the radio in 1944. What recollections do you have of Rex?

 

Tom: Rex was very excitable. He would be in the press box and the first thing you know he would have his shirt off. He’d get hot and take his shirt off. He was a character. He would do the games on the radio and he had a lot of his own expressions like “5- bell save”.

 

Gary: Tom, you know I saw a team picture of the 1944 Athletics and I thought Whitey Frick looked so young that at first I thought he was the team mascot.

 

Tom: Well, he and I were on either side of the Mann Cup in that picture and we were pretty young then.

 

Gary: Did you get to play in the Mann Cup finals with that team?

 

Tom: I only played in one game.

 

Gary: I think they started that series at Maple Leaf Gardens,  but didn’t they play some of it in Hamilton?

 

Tom: Yes, they played the final game in Hamilton at the Barton Street Arena. We wanted to play the final game in St. Catharines but they wouldn’t come here.

(The New Westminster Salmonbellies were the opposition that refused to play the fifth and deciding game in the Haig Bowl that year. The A’s then edged the “bellies” in Hamilton by a score of 11 – 9 to win the Mann Cup in what was a terrific series).

 

Gary: How many years did you play Senior “A” lacrosse in St. Catharines?

 

Tom: Well, I only played 2 years. In my second year I tore some cartilage in my knee and I only played the first 4 or 5 games. Then I was out for the rest of the year. In 1946 I was still junior age so I played junior in St. Catharines. Whitey (Frick) played junior and so did Kenny (Croft). We were all still junior age.

1946 ST. CATHARINES Jr. ATHLETICS

Back row: Fred Conradi (manager), Jack Timlock, Tony Cupola, Jerry Fitzgerald, Red Mitchell, Doug Cove (coach), Donald "Nip" O' Hearn, Doug Wignall, Larry Cunningham, unidentified.

Bottom row: Leo Teatro, Jack Gatecliff, George Scott, Bill "Whitey" Frick, Ken "Weiner" Croft, Bill Bradshaw, Tom Bye.

Photo courtesy of NICKERSON APPLIANCES, St. Catharines

 

Gary: Was that a good junior team that year?

 

Tom: A pretty good team but we didn’t win it. Owen Sound was very good that year and they won it.

 

Gary: That must have been a long trip for your team to play games in Owen Sound.

 

Tom: It seemed like it was so much further back then. Of course the cars weren’t like they are today and the roads weren’t as good. All the trips, even to places like Mimico or Brampton would take something like two hours. Guys would drive about 40 miles an hour and today that would get you a ticket for slow driving.

 

Gary: When I watch the game today, a typical offence may be to set up around the perimeter and pass the ball around to try to get a guy open. Is that very similar to the way they played in the 1940’s?

 

Tom: Pretty well. Pretty well the same style. I think they set up their plays more now than they did then. They would take longer back then to get set up especially without the 30-second shot clock.

I’d have to say I think the game today, because of the rules, is faster. We were continually having face-offs. Every time the ball went out of bounds we would have a face-off. Now they just give the ball to the other team.

I think the game today is faster and the players seem faster. Tactically now they play offence-defense, whereas we played both ends. When we got the ball we didn’t change players. We would change only when it was time for a line change. Now with offence-defense, they get the ball, they pass it off and go off, and the offence steps on. I think it speeds the game up.

 

Gary: What was the coaching like in the 1940’s?

 

Tom: They didn’t really give you instructions, you know. They might give you heck if you did something wrong. Nowadays I think the coaches give you plays but we didn’t have that. We never had an awful lot of practice either.

 

Gary: Did the management of the teams back then help players find jobs?

 

Tom: They did earlier in 1938. Some of them got jobs at General Motors or Columbus Chain. Roy Morton got a job at GM through the Athletics. They were so popular in those days. A lot more so than when we played.

And the 1938, 39, 40, 41 and 42 teams were almost perfect when they played. Every player had his own specialty. Like “Wandy” McMahon could kill penalties. He could run for a few minutes with the ball. In those days, if you had a penalty, you would give it to your player who could rag the ball and he would kill the penalty.

 

Gary: Was “Wandy” fast?

 

Tom: Not particularly fast but he had the knack of hanging onto that ball and when someone came to check him he could keep the ball in his stick.

They all had their special gifts. Roy Barnard was a rugged defenseman. Not particularly good with the ball but a real tough guy. Joe Cheevers was the face-off man. When you put them all together you had a pretty good team. Billy Wilson was the kind of guy who could pick the corner. He was a nice guy too.

 

Gary: I think Wilson won something like 7 Mann Cups between playing for Orillia, St. Catharines and I think New Westminster. I don’t know if anyone has done that. I think by the time he came back home to play in St. Catharines in 1938 he had already won 4 Mann Cups.

 

Tom: He had a wood working shop in St. Catharines and when there wasn’t any work he headed elsewhere.

 

Gary: When you were a kid Tom, did you ever meet any of the old-timers from the old Athletics field lacrosse teams?

 

Tom: Yes, I did. I met some of them. Eddie Sheehan, he was a field player. A big guy. Chuck Bain, Irv Lounsbury. My dad’s uncle, "Tod" Downey. My grandmother was a Downey and Tod played pretty much in St. Catharines. And my dad played field lacrosse and I saw him play on the Collegiate grounds.

 

Gary: At one time there was a field lacrosse stadium where the Collegiate now stands. Was that gone before you remember?

 

Tom: Yes, it was gone. My dad played in 1920 and 1921 for the junior Alerts and they won the championship. I remember seeing my dad when they changed to box lacrosse and they had a lacrosse box in Port Dalhousie at the park.

 

Gary: Did he teach you the game?

 

Tom: We used to play catch.

He never really coached me but we lived down at First Street Louth and Pelham Road and he used to get a bunch of guys together and on Sundays we would have a game at Sheehan’s farm on Vansickle Road. They had a field set up there and we had burlap bags as nets.

That’s really where I started, you know.

 

Gary: When you were a kid, did most of the kids you knew pick up lacrosse sticks and start playing?

 

Tom: Yes, quite a number. We had several boys where I lived that played for the Shamrock teams. A couple of them went into service and really never came back to play. I guess when you get 3 or 4 years out of your life it really changes things.

 

Gary: One last question Tom, who was the best lacrosse player you ever saw?

 

Tom: I would have to say it's a tie between two players. One would have to be Bill Isaacs, a Hamilton player who I played against in the forties. He was a native player and he got a lot of goals. He was added for one game to the St. Catharines' line-up for the final game of the 1944 Mann Cup.

The other would be Billy Wilson. He played for St. Catharines during their championship teams in 1938 to 1942.

Bill was also a good scorer and playmaker.

 

Gary: Thanks Tom, for your interesting recollections of St. Catharines lacrosse.

 

 

Sadly, Tom passed away on September 19th, 2011. He was in his 87th year.

As well as Tom's accomplishments with the Jr. & Sr. Athletics touched upon in this interview, Tom gave much to the sport with his many years of coaching juvenile lacrosse teams in St. Catharines (including the '67 & '68 Ontario champions) and the 1969 Ontario Jr. "B" finalists. He also played Sr. "B" lacrosse in Fergus, Niagara Falls & Burlington.

Tom worked for 49 years at Thompson Products as an inspector and as pension chairman of the T. P. E. A. for 20 years prior to retirement. He prided himself in helping many pensioners and widows.

 

 

Haig Bowl photo courtesy of Bob Luey

INTERVIEWS