Heroes — those shining luminaries — amaze and inspire. We identify with them. They’re part of our lives. And like that first love, they’re never forgotten.
Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and causes. We’re talking Mother Teresa, guerilla fighter and politician Nelson Mandela, soldiers, astronauts, scientists, sport superstars …
My dictionary defines hero as “someone admired or idealized for noble qualities, courage or outstanding achievements.” Actress Debi Mazar has her own interpretation. “A hero,” she says, “is somebody who is selfless, generous in spirit who tries to give back as much as possible …”
Most heroes, of course, we know only from a distance. They’re interviewed on television and radio; their fabled stories appear on websites and in magazines and newspapers. Perhaps we’ve been lucky enough to meet them face-to-face, snag an autograph or stand alongside them for a treasured snapshot.
And now to the point of this article: a good number of heroes are unsung. How many, you ask? Well. Put it this way: every hamlet, village, town, city, and mega-city is blessed with great men and women who’ve gone above and beyond — with always the same goal: Push humanity in the right direction.
Often, these heroes aren’t well known. No matter. Their contribution to society is phenomenal just the same — because it’s so worthwhile. It’s as simple as that. There’s less drug use, crime … and fewer heartaches. They’ve made our communities safer, better places to live.
Children ‘find themselves’ instead of finding themselves in court. Families are happier, communities healthier … and it’s all because when it came to caring for others, somebody ‘walked the talk.’
They made life important and in my book, they are true heroes. Don Hume is one such individual.
The following article is about Don — a good friend and mentor. There’s also a look at the youth soccer club he started and the scores of kids he influenced, including me.
This story takes place in the small, Northern New Brunswick community of Campbellton …
Donald Charles Hume was born in 1940 and raised in Campbellton. The young, handsome man became a popular announcer at CKNB, the local radio station, ‘950 on Your Dial.’
Don had a golden voice and a heart of gold.Mr. Hume ended his working years — not in broadcasting — but as a public servant: A letter carrier with Canada Post.
In the early 1960s, I was barely a teenager — skinny, shy and stuttering — when I joined an indoor soccer team called the Speed Demons. We played in a four-team, church-based league.
Church. Demons. Weird, I know. But it spoke volumes about the Baptist Church in my hometown: That those in charge were fair and open-minded. Speed Demons was the name the boys had chosen, and church management was okay with that. The strange name got their blessing, if you will.
The youth group was the brainchild of a Sunday School teacher at the Baptist Church, Don Hume. Hume didn’t just go to church and sing hymns, go through the motions, etc … he lived his faith the way God would want it to be.
When you get to the end of this article, tell me if you don’t agree.
Don was our coach, although he hadn’t played soccer himself. That didn’t mean a whole lot to us because we won most of our games anyway [and winning is always cool] … plus we hung out and travelled here and there. All fun stuff.
When the team folded in the late 1970s, it went into the sunset with a remarkable winning record which included a 34-game winning streak in the mid-1960s. That’s the year the Speed Demons went an entire season without losing a single game. Not many teams, pro or otherwise, can make that claim.
“One thing I really appreciated about Don,” recalls Bill Flann, “was his style of coaching. I do not remember the man screaming, yelling, or belittling his players. That seemed to be the style at that time. We certainly laughed a lot and thankfully did not have to endure what players in other sports had to deal with.”
In the 1970s, one of the two local newspapers, The Tribune, commented in jest that life had three certainties: death, taxes — and the Speed Demons capturing another championship.
As the Speed Demons became synonymous with winning, their popularity increased. The boys had a following. They now had fans, even cheerleaders.
Winning was all well and good but in the end, it really didn’t matter. What mattered was that the boys were shown how to win in the Game of Life. They learned right from wrong and how to behave, which included losing with dignity.
The boys were given lessons that would help them when they grew up: Lessons about teamwork and hard work, integrity, honour, caring — and ‘doing the right thing.’
Call it old-fashioned but love and class never go out of style.Don married Julie, a popular nursing-assistant. The couple had no children, although one could say that Don had close to 80, the number of kids who’d wear a Speed Demon uniform before both the team and the league went the way of 8-track music tapes.
For the longest while, we were the only team in the league that had uniforms. Another thing: those green and gold Speed Demon jerseys were not handouts from the government or a charity.
To pay for our uniforms, club jackets, equipment, team trophies and Father-and-Son banquets, we collected dues, made and sold fudge, went door-to-door with bottle drives and sold “shares” in our Club. Everyone helped raise money. Keep in mind that Campbellton was a [relatively] poor town in a [relatively] poor province. I put relatively in brackets so as not to insult people living in the so-called Third World. Now that’s real poverty.
The boys also cut down evergreen trees and from those trees, they crafted beautiful Christmas candleholders. The work was done in the basement of Don’s parent’s house. We put in long hours and on those cold, starry nights we walked home very tired — but content, a good tired, if you will. Everyone helped and we kids learned a valuable life lesson: That assists weren’t limited to scoresheets.
The 1960s and 70s was a cool time to grow up. Life was simpler, lower to the ground.
Back then, Commandment #8 meant something. Doors were often unlocked and car keys could be left overnight in the ignition. Try doing that today. Pizza was not delivered to our homes, but milk was.
The hit parade was dominated by Elvis, Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, the Beatles, The Beach Boys, Herman’s Hermits and The Rolling Stones. Their 45 rpm records sold for a buck.
Colour television was still a novelty in the 60s and, of course, nothing was digital. There were no 500-channel LED TV’s and Blu-ray DVD’s … however Campbellton did have two movie theatres and a drive-in theatre. TV stations weren’t 24/7 — and we just had black and white programs such as the Ed Sullivan Show, Rawhide, and Hockey Night in Canada … which we thoroughly enjoyed. The NHL had all of six teams back then, and the players weren’t millionaires controlled by billionaire owners.
Another thing, for the Speed Demons and the teams they played against, their reality shows were actual soccer games.
It was on CKNB Radio where we heard the latest hits, and we’d sing along to them. Does anyone sing along to the radio anymore?
Let’s go back to 1964. Here’s teenager Brian Brooks with his [brief] impersonation of “Lucky Lips,” a 1963 hit by Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Richard himself follows with the original tune, then snippets from more than a dozen other songs from the 60s. The final tune — which is played in its entirety — is “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
Total playing time is just under 16 minutes. Feel free to sing along …
The songs, in order:
- Lucky Lips [Cliff Richard and the Shadows]
- I’m Henry the VIII, I am [Herman’s Hermits]
- Wishin’ and Hopin’ [Dusty Springfield]
- Glad All Over [Dave Clark Five]
- Friday On My Mind [The Easybeats]
- Fun, Fun, Fun [The Beach Boys]
- Do You Believe in Magic [Lovin’ Spoonful]
- Battle of New Orleans [Johnny Horton]
- Walk Right In [Rooftop Singers]
- P.S. I Love You [The Beatles]
- Sugar Shack [Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs]
- Blue Velvet [Bobby Vinton]
- She Loves You [The Beatles]
- [I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction [The Rolling Stones]
- Yesterday [The Beatles]
Sorry for going a little heavy on The Beatles.
You can buy these songs on iTunes — or if you really feel nostalgic, you can dust off the old turntable and pull out your old 45’s and LP’s.
In the 1960s and 70s, families could be supported on one income. For workers in Campbellton, that usually meant a paycheque from Canadian National Railways [as it was then known] or from pulp mills in nearby Atholville and Dalhousie.
There were no computers either but, hey, we had electric typewriters. There was a time when electric typewriters were high tech, state of the art. I kid you not.
No Speed Demon player was online — but on the first, second, third or fourth lines. ‘Booted’ and ‘hard drives’ had different meanings as well.
Also, there weren’t a thousand different styles of running shoes. We wore sneakers, but none that glowed in the dark. We glowed when that beat-up soccer ball hit the back of the net.
Our indoor soccer was played along the lines of ice hockey rules with six players, three periods, hockey-size goals — and body-checking. And no one faked an injury — making an ass of themselves in the process — just to get a penalty shot.
- Handball — Contact from shoulder to hand with ball will result in a penalty shot in favor of the opposing team.
- Ball may not be thrown beyond centre line by the goaltender. If thrown, it will result in a face-off in the offender’s end.
- Goaltender holding the ball longer than 5 seconds will result in a face-off.
- Penalties will be handed out to players who do the following: tripping, holding, roughing, boarding, elbowing, charging, interference. This will result in a 2-minute penalty.
- Fighting players will be disqualified from the game and could be suspended indefinitely. It is the referee’s decision.
- Games are to be started on time. Ten minutes is allowed to the team if it is delayed. If team does not appear, game will be forfeited to the other team.
- Captains and assistant captains are the only persons allowed to discuss calls with the official.
- A game misconduct will be served to those who use foul language.
- All problems will be taken care of by the Arbitration Committee. The Committee consists of the following: Rev. Robert Steeves [Chairman], Rev. Vernon Smith, Rev. Desmon McConnell, Don Hume [Organizer & Publicity] and Lou Bursey.
- The game will consist of the following: 4 periods of 12 minutes each with 12-minute break at half-time.
- Each team can call time out during the game. But the time to be called cannot exceed a total of three minutes per game.
- All players must observe the above rules or will not be able to play.
- The following is a list of the member of the Soccer Committee: The First United Church [Chargers] – Rev. V. Smith; Bob Brooks, Bob Gallup, Donald Adams; United Tide Head – Rev. D McConnell, Lou Bursey, captains to be named; Baptist Church [Speed Demons]; Don Hume, Rev. R. Steeves, C-Byron Christopher, AC Raymond Poley, AC Lance Enright. Note: the first name on this list is responsible for his team and only him.
- Age limit: 20 years
- Your co-operation will be appreciated.
“The rules also made it possible for us to learn how to “play fair,” to experience the joy of moving toward a common goal [pardon the pun],” he says, “and for a bunch of kids it let us shape the perception that we knew how to handle ourselves — there was something bigger out there. We knew that we had to observe these rules — or we would not be able to play.”
“It made me more comfortable because everyone was equally accountable and responsible for doing the right thing. It put us all on common ground.” – John McDonald
Team meetings were held every Friday after school in the basement of the Baptist church. While one lad took minutes, another chaired the meeting, directing traffic and doing his best to keep a sometimes noisy crew in line.
Every meeting and league game began the same way: with bowed heads and a prayer. Christ, that might be illegal today.
The meetings went beyond budgets, game strategies — what worked on the floor and what didn’t — and voting for Captain and Assistant Captains. We discovered first-hand about the need to show up on time, proper protocol at meetings, manners and how to sort out our problems. We also learned that every suggestion was important and that everyone should pull their weight. ‘Entitlement’ wasn’t in vogue back then.
Flowers were given to teammates in the hospital and ‘Thank You’ cards went out to those who had given us a helping hand. There’s not a Thank You card that I’ve mailed out in the past 50 years where I didn’t have a flashback to the first one I signed, at a meeting in the basement of that old church.
Indoor soccer became so popular that new teams emerged to accommodate younger boys who also wanted to play. And so, Don formed the Junior Speed Demons.
Mr. Hume didn’t realize it, but he was fast becoming the #1 babysitter in New Brunswick.
Former Club president and team captain Brian Brooks, semi-retired and living in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, points out that Don Hume’s biggest influence was that he gave the boys the perception they ran the show. “Here we were, a bunch of kids,” he says, “making decisions on strategy, financing, fundraising … and of course, sport.”
Looking back, what did that do for the former captain and the team’s highest scorer? “I was President of the Club for a number of years and had to run meetings, keep order and follow a meeting agenda,” Brian recalls, “all this at the tender age of 12, 13 and 14. I was able to transfer this knowledge and confidence to a career.
“Even today — after having gone to university where I studied business, economics and marketing — I think back to a foundation that began in the basement of the Baptist Church with my best friends and team-mates [now life-long friends]. This all happened because of the dedication of Don who allowed us to be kids and make our own decisions.”
“I love the guy. He’s been such an influence in my life, and will continue to be.” – Brian Brooks, former Club President.
In one of the strangest stories from the world of sport, the Speed Demons made Vernon Smith an honourary player. Such was the respect the boys had for this great man.
Smith was one of two Chargers to be named ‘honourary Speed Demon.’ The second was Bob Gallup, a senior RCMP officer who died on 21 February 2018 when his heart gave out. He was 68.Dennis Arpin of Grand Falls, New Brunswick — former Campbelltonian and a cross-country skiing coach for the Canadian Olympic team — reveals, “I ended up playing for two competing soccer teams [in Campbellton], but I always wanted to play for the Speed Demons. I eventually played three decades of outdoor soccer at the senior level throughout the province. I have fond memories of those years gone by …”
Bob Brooks of Caledonia, Ontario, also played for the Speed Demons. Bob attended business college, then worked in the steel industry in Hamilton, Ontario as a maintenance supervisor. “Don showed us how to be leaders,” the former forward recalls, “his influence helped me become a better supervisor. Don’s influence was instrumental in teaching me how to work as part of a team.”
The meetings were followed either by a practice or a league game. I played left defence and remember the blocked shots hurting in practice as much as they did in the actual games. The boys gave it their all, as fired-up youngsters do.
One forward — whose initials are Bill Allen — would drill his shots in practice as though he wanted to take out the end boards. For a scrawny guy, Allen had one heck of a shot.
I was reminded of that a few years ago when I chatted with former hockey goaltender great Glenn Hall [Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis of the National Hockey League] who confided that one of his Black Hawk teammates, Bobby Hull, also drilled his shots during practice, causing Hall to quip, “Hey, not so hard, Bobby … it’s just a damn practice.”
On that note, if anyone had been asked to sign a waiver [for release of liability], the response would likely have been, “What’s that? … someone who waves?” We took our lumps [in some cases had bones reset], sucked it up and moved on.
At times, the games were overly competitive, over the top. Is that unusual? I don’t think so. Competing — especially winning — gave the boys confidence.
Those club jackets were worn with pride.
We especially enjoyed our out-of-town games, which usually meant traveling to Dalhousie, 17 miles distant. For kids like me whose parents didn’t own a car, it was cool to travel to another town and play soccer in front of people [okay, girls] we didn’t know.
It was even more exciting to go on a one-week trip to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and other parts of New Brunswick, which we did every summer. That was quite the adventure. The boys cranked up the radio and sang along to the hits of the day. We slept in large tents, drank pop, pigged out on potato chips … and cooked our own food, usually hamburgers. Pigged out on those too. Concerns about high cholesterol were light years away.
Not once did we pull over at McDonalds or Tim Hortons, because there weren’t any.
Don used his own vehicle to drive the boys to and from games and to trips across the Maritimes, but he wasn’t alone. His brothers, Dale and Cecil, helped … as did Charlie Gilbert, Jack Lutes, Paul Thomas, Bill Vienneau Senior, Reverend Robert Steeves, Brian Brooks, John Szekeres and Rick Stymiest. Their payment was nothing more than hot dogs, burgers, soft drinks … and a Thank You card.
Both the Campbellton Tribune and the Campbellton Graphic kept readers up to speed on what the Speed Demons were up to, whether they won or lost … and where they’d been on their summer holiday.The Graphic went under a number of years ago, leaving only the Tribune to serve Campbellton and area — and even that was taken over by Irving-owned Brunswick News.
Don got the youngsters to stand up in front of the congregation at the Baptist Church — a packed house then — and talk about the trips around the Maritimes. Let’s go back more than half a century — to 1963 — and hear 13-year-old Mike Trites, talk about the trip. At the end of the 1:26 clip you’ll hear the voice of Don Hume and Reverend Alexander Crowe.
Mike Trites became an engineer. When Mike retired, he was Assistant Deputy Minister with the New Brunswick Department of Transportation.
In the clip, a young Mike talks about travelling the Stuart Highway. People travelling the highway today, near the town of St. Quentin, will pass a bridge designed by Mike Trites. We Speed Demons know it as “Mike’s Bridge.”
AN OPEN MIND
It was Don’s idea we attend churches of faiths other than Baptist, and we did this as a team. This taught us to be tolerant of other religions.
Without a doubt, there’d be more peace and harmony on this planet if we had more people like Mr. Hume.
English, French and Native lads, Protestants and Catholics played together on the Speed Demons. Kids being kids, the English often made fun of the French but in the end, those boys were “punished” because many married French girls. Hmmm … karma at work???
ANOTHER PERSONAL NOTE
One special memory I have of Don Hume has nothing to do with soccer. It was summer, the mid-1960s and I was alone, walking down Roseberry Street when someone called out my name. It was Don. He was working part-time at the Paramount Theatre. “Wanna see a movie?” he asked. Playing was Nashville Rebel, a ‘picture show’ featuring country music star Waylon Jennings. I said, “Sure, what the heck …”
Don ushered me in and we grabbed a pair of seats. I can’t recall what we talked about that night. What I do remember vividly though is a cool tune from that movie. “Green River” is now one of the most played in my iTunes library of 3,500 songs.
Thanks to YouTube, here’s a clip from Nashville Rebel with Waylon singing ‘Green River’ …
TIME MARCHES ON
A lot happens in half a century. The boys grew up to be men with careers and families. They became fathers, grandfathers and — yes — great grandfathers. Nearly all have now retired.
At least ten of the Speed Demons are in Heaven, or Home, as some prefer.
With confidence partly instilled by being a Speed Demon, the boys went on to become police officers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, train drivers, DJ’s, mechanics, accountants, electricians, reporters, office managers, supervisors … you name it. One became an Assistant Deputy-Minister. Some also became salesmen, but very few sold out.
The boys became positive contributors to society, and there are few things more honourable than that.
Many of the Speed Demons became volunteers for youth groups. Ed Black, Mike O’Connell, Bill Allen, Bill ‘Bud’ Flann, Mike Trites and others gave many hours of their time [and some of their own coin] so that youngsters could have a good time playing sports.With teacher Bill Flann, there’s always been an obligation to give back because of the influence of people like Don Hume.
For years, Bill played sports — including soccer — until a bum knee forced him to look at a new pastime. And so he coached for 35 years. From coaching, Bill has moved to officiating basketball and hockey.
And what’s he paid for this? In monetary terms, probably very little … but in the Big Picture, the rewards can’t be measured.
At our last reunion, in 2000, Bill Allen shared about the time he coached a boy’s softball team in Moncton, New Brunswick. It was late in a tie game and his next batter was a poor hitter. Was the kid replaced? Nope. The youngster stepped up to the plate with the likelihood he wouldn’t reach first base. Want to know what he did? … did he strike out? … reach base? I don’t know; Bill didn’t tell us about that because it really didn’t matter.
It was a lesson Mr. Allen had learned in Campbellton many years earlier. The important thing wasn’t winning. It was having that child hear, “You’re next …!”
REAPING WHAT WE SOW
Not surprising, Don Hume has maintained contact with many of the guys, myself included. Hardly a day goes by where a member of the youth group he founded more than half a century ago doesn’t phone or wave to him in traffic. Harvest time. [Just look at the smiling faces in the above photo!]
Every year, former Speed Demons — grey hair and in some cases no hair at all — return to Campbellton and stop by Don’s small house. The old coach can’t resist taking the senior citizens out for a meal and hearing what they have to say.
Don never stops caring for the boys. He’s overjoyed with their successes and saddened with their setbacks. His Speed Demons are discovering that when that final buzzer goes, they may ‘win’ … but not with a shutout.
The boys have also discovered that falling down — which we did so often during our games and practices — is an essential part of our journey on this sometimes wacky planet, and that getting up again is what life is all about.
Some of the Speed Demons are now experiencing memory loss; a clear sign of old age. Others are repeating themselves.
Others are repeating themselves.
“Middle age is when your old classmates are so grey and wrinkled and bald they don’t recognize you” – Sandi V. http://www.wackywits.com
RECOGNITION BY THE CITY OF CAMPBELLTON
Campbellton, New Brunswick, has a true hero in Don Hume. It’s worth saying again that every community has people like him. I’ve met many over the years. Bet you have too.
In 1996, the City of Campbellton recognized Don’s contribution to youth by inducting him into its Sports Hall of Fame. Donald Charles Hume went in as a coach and builder.
Make that a builder of men as well. The Selection Committee at the Sports Hall of Fame nailed it, recognizing that local heroes amaze us and influence us. Debi Mazar got it right too.
In 2008, surviving members of the Speed Demons pooled their photos and thoughts and published a 100-page book simply called The Speed Demons.
In September 2014, the book was presented to Campbellton’s beautiful Centennial Library at 19 Aberdeen Street. It is available as ‘reference material’ which means that people can go to the library and read the book [or photocopy pages], but it can’t leave the building.
In an email dated Saturday, 25 April 2015, Centennial Library Director Jocelyn Paquette writes, “The Speed Demons [book] is being looked at regularly. People are so enjoying seeing themselves as they were then and appreciate the great memories that come with such a read.”
Good to see that the book has … well … legs.
The Speed Demons book is not available at any bookstore, nor is it online.
Our old jerseys were given — not sold — to others on the team. I’d forgotten who ended up with mine [#9] until I came across an old team photo and saw forward Arty Stewart wearing it.
Don Hume wore #77. That’s bizarre. Seventy-seven was the number of boys who played for the Speed Demons.
KINDNESS IS TIMELESS
At the Village Nursing Home in Campbellton visitors come and go without much attention, but on 10 November 2015 all eyes were on three well-known locals — all former CKNB radio announcers. They were meeting an old friend from the 1960s.
Resident Kenny MacIntyre was celebrating his 75th birthday and the announcers — Don Hume, Terry Adams and David Humphrey — showed up to shake MacIntyre’s hand and wish him well — and to remember the old days. A lot of that goes on in nursing homes.
But there’s more to this story [click to enlarge] …
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
They’re in just about every Canadian province. Here are the Speed Demons as they are today — ordinary folk guided by an extraordinary man, someone who saw greatness — not just in heroes — but in children.
PAYING IT FORWARD
A former Speed Demon never forgot the kindness shown to him when he was a kid. He became Santa. But a modern one — no reindeer-drawn sleigh for him. The man also became known as Monty. Over the years, the former soccer forward has ‘paid it forward’ by bringing hope and joy to thousands of children. He’s made a difference in this world.
Who is he? Take a guess:  Don Hume …  Mike Trites …  John McDonald …  Mike LeBlanc …  Hermini Thibeault.
Mike ‘Monty’ LeBlancy, a movie stunt man for many years, now lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
A number of Speed Demons are no longer with us: Earle Woodworth, Rick Kierstead, Phil Legacy, Raymond Shalala, Gordie Dickie, Bill Allen, Allan Black, Peter McLardie, Dave McKenzie, Robert Hamilton, Stephen Gilbert, Arnold Christopher, Dave Lefurgey … and Rev. Vernon Smith. RIP, boys.
Robert Hamilton, a former Rocky Mountains tour bus driver who’d been tagged with the cool nickname of ‘Stubby,’ died in Calgary on Sunday, 17 May 2015. His obituary can be seen here: https://www.mhfh.com/hamilton-james-robert/#.VVuCB_JCovs.facebook.
Robert’s ashes were buried at the Campbellton Rural Cemetery on 19 September 2015.
Stephen Gilbert, a forward, died at a hospital in Saint John on Monday, 27 May 2019. He was 69.
Stephen’s obituary is here: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/campbellton-nb/stephen-gilbert-8725820
Arnold [Chris] Christopher — my brother — died on Saturday, 3 August 2019 at his home in Grand Digue, New Brunswick. He was 68. Arnold played goal.
And on 4 September 2020, Dave Lefurgey died at the age of 67. His obit is here: https://www.dignitymemorial.com/en-ca/obituaries/campbellton-nb/david-lefurgey-9346941
Here’s a perfect time for an easy-listening, reflective instrumental called Theme From the Cider House Rules [a cool movie, by the way] by the Soundtrack and Theme Orchestra …
Earle Woodworth, our assistant coach and number-two driver, was the first club member to cross over.
Story time: It was late June 1986 and sweltering hot in Campbellton … and things were heating up in more ways than one. The city was buzzing because scores of Speed Demons — grown men now — were back home for their first reunion.
A full-page write-up in the Tribune revealed that the boys were back in town.
Earle was in town too, but he couldn’t make it to our bash. In fact, he couldn’t make it out of bed. Suffering from the advanced stages of dementia, Earle was alone in a quiet hospital room in a sometimes not so quiet ward where the main door was locked to keep people like him from ‘escaping.’
No one wanted to talk about it, but the most senior Speed Demon was doing his final lap.
I drove around to the hospital to see Earle — although I’d been warned he likely wouldn’t recognize me. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. “How are ya, Byron?” he mumbled after I walked into his room.
From under the covers came Earle’s right hand for a gentle handshake. Flashing a grin, he asked, “What brings you here? …” Gosh, what does one say to that?
I smiled and held his hand.
I then pulled up a chair and we began to talk about all the fun we had years ago.
For a man suffering from dementia, it was incredible what he could recall. Like, how does that happen?
Earle rattled off the name of just about every Speed Demon … then went on about their strengths. “Danny Edmunds,” he said, cocking his head to one side and pausing to make a point, “… what a scrapper!! Man, he was good along the boards! That Eddie Black was tough … and Arty Stewart, gosh, he could sure foot-handle …”
Earle wouldn’t stop talking. That was okay by me; I had all the time in the world. Earle didn’t.
The old coach often capped his comments about the players with the same question: “Where’s he now?? …”
It may not have been obvious to the youngsters who’d left Campbellton ‘for greener pastures’ but they were not only remembered but missed.
Earle only talked about the old days. When the man got tired he simply closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. For a brief moment, I thought he was in training for a job in the Canadian Senate. Again, no big deal. I was in no rush.
When Earle awoke, he picked up where he left off. “… And those Brooks boys,” he said, reaching back to adjust his pillow, “… they always found the net …” Well not always, of course, but you know how it is with the passage of time, there’s a lot of favourable editing.
Earle was a great communicator. He could tell a story … then again, I think most old-timers are like that. They just know too much.
Our assistant coach went on about things as though they’d happened only yesterday. So much for dementia. Just goes to show that sweet memories can have medicinal qualities.
Ever notice that people about to cross over talk about stuff that’s real? No small talk. They want to talk about things that have substance. Real meaning. The Speed Demons Soccer Club had that in spades …
Earle Woodworth recognized what we will all see one day — there was tremendous value in what Don Hume had started.
Here’s a strange thought. How many times did we players leave the court saluting the star of the game — someone who had scored two or three goals — and on the bench, applauding and cheering us on, was the true star? It took me years to see that.
I’d gone to the hospital in Campbellton — not only to meet with Earle — but to present him with a special commemorative pin, one that forward Ken Chambers and I had designed for the reunion.
I reached over and attached the shiny pin to Earle’s hospital gown, near his chest. He looked up and flashed a warm smile. It was like I’d given him a million bucks, not that money would have mattered much at that point.
Earle and I said our goodbyes and we shook hands one final time.
As I left the room, I glanced back to see something special that stopped me in my tracks: Earle tugging at his reunion pin, looking down and squinting to have a better look.
Mr. Woodworth died a few months later. He was 72. It was Don Hume who called me with the sad news.
Earle’s funeral was very well-attended. One of the pallbearers was his best friend — our best friend — Don Hume.
Seeing a dying man beaming at the sight of a small Speed Demon pin is one memory I’ll cherish forever. It brought tears to my eyes then — and decades later, I still tear up thinking about it.
“THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HELP”
The last time I saw Bill Allen was in the summer of 2008. I met him at his home in Moncton. The former Speed Demon Assistant Captain was frail, his voice barely a whisper. The damn cancer was killing him.
Bill had only weeks to live.
We talked about all sorts of things, but — again, as with Earle — mainly about stuff that mattered. The clock was ticking and we knew it. Bill and I discussed his illness, then on to more positive topics … such as growing up in Campbellton and our time with the Speed Demons. When the soccer club came up, Bill broke into a smile and his voice became stronger. I figured as much.
Before I stood up to leave, the man who had terrorized goaltenders signed — pardon me, autographed — our photo book on the Speed Demons. “Thanks for all your help with the reunions.” he wrote. “… And for being a friend.”
It was at a side door alongside his driveway where Bill and I parted company. We shook hands. But he wouldn’t release his grip. Bill’s eyes locked onto mine and for a brief moment he didn’t utter a word, as though he was searching for the right thing to say. “So long,” he said, breaking the awkward silence. “It was great …”
That it was, Mr. Allen.
A few weeks later, a phone call came in from New Brunswick with the news that Bill had arrived in Heaven. On the line was a somber Don Hume.
It had been years since Speed Demon goalie John [Duhy] Bourque saw forward Ed Black, but they met again on a cold winter night in late 2016 when Duhy made a surprise visit to Ed’s new digs in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton.
Mr. Black, a retired City of Edmonton worker, is now living on the fourth floor of a new, ‘secure’ care facility. In spite of his age , Ed is suffering from dementia. [His brother, Bill, died from Alzheimers at the age of 75.]
Ed, a fiesty Speed Demon known for sticking up for his teammates, got some caring in return when Duhy embraced him and told him how much he had meant to the team.
The encounter underscored the importance of positive experiences during our youth and how, yet again, a disease as debilitating as dementia can take a back seat to great times, great memories … and great bonds.
The sketch of Don Hume was drawn by the late Claude Picard of Edmunston, New Brunswick. Image courtesy of the Campbellton Sports Hall of Fame.