MAC’S MUSINGS: Football in Cornwall, in 1964, was filled with passion

A gallon of gasoline cost 35 cents. Pierre Trudeau was a non-descript law professor at the Universite de Montreal. Nicolas Cage, Sandra Bullock and Russell Crowe were in diapers. Nelson Mandella was starting a life sentence. A cocky boxer had changed his name to Muhammad Ali. The Beatles were singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and Bob Dylan wailed that “The Times They Are a-Changin'”.

It was 1964.

And with the summer of ’64 winding down, a group of young men assembled on a patch of dusty earth on the Windmill Point campus of a French Roman Catholic school called College Classique de Cornwall run by the Clerics of St. Viateur. Head coach was Gilles Leger. His assistant was Harvey Provost.

It was an odd collection. The players ranged from Grade 9 to third-year university level students. A handful had never played competitive football; however, two strong threads held the group together: school spirit and pride.

They were preparing for the school’s first season in the competitive Ligue Intercollegiate de Football du Quebec.

They were called the Classics.

At season’s end, to the surprise of most armchair quaterbacks and against all odds, they were champions and the toast of a city that three months earlier hardly knew they existed.

While school discipline was not harsh, but it was strict. The 400 or so students were required to wear ties, white shirts and school blazers. All students – boarders and non-borders – had to returned in the evening for a one-hour study period.

The military-style discipline, in an undisciplined decade, spilled over to the football field and helped shaped the team’s character.

An excellent 5-2 regular season win-loss record was capped with a stunning 20-13 road victory over highly favorite Mont St. Louis Kodiacs in the championship game on Nov. 15. It ranks as one of the biggest upsets in local sports history.

The team’s young kicker was Pierre Guindon who went on to a successful career in the Canadian Football League with Ottawa and Winnipeg. Ray Perras became an assistant coach with the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Bob Marleau’s football career finished with the Classics, but he rose through the civil service ranks to become Clerk of the House of Commons.

Other Classics’ alumni members became doctors, lawyers, teachers and successful in the business world.

The Classics would remain competitive and attract large crowds – one game at the Athletic Grounds pulled in 3,000 fans – but the Miracle of ’64 would not be repeated. A repeat was snuffed out in the 1965 semifinals.

Eventually, the cost of operating the team – and the school – became too much for the clerics. Both football squad and school, in 1968, folded.

To mark the 50th anniversary, members of the championship team will huddle one more time Saturday at Summerheights Golf Club. In recognition of their feat, the city, fittingly, has proclaimed Saturday “Classics Day”. Three members of the championship team have passed away, including the powerful star fullback Bernie Charbonneau, as well as Paul Prevost and Gerry Samson.

The dust of time will be wiped away and treasured memories rekindled at the reunion but the milestone marker on life’s journey for the Boys of ’64 makes this one special.

The original team photo preserved all these years will be turned over to the Cornwall Sports Hall of Fame to be displayed in the Hall gallery of champions at the Cornwall Civic Complex, a lasting tribute to the Boys of ’64.

School alumni members and the public are invited to attend the 2:30 p.m. news conference at Summerheights. Tickets for the evening dinner are available to the public. Cost is $35. Contact Wayne Gosselin at 932-4290 for reservations.

SPORTS STUFF One of the local scribblers made a failed attempt to link Willie Wise and Bob Kilger, claiming that Willie was Kilger’s boss when he coached the “minor league hockey” Royals. The fact is, when the mayor coached the Royals (1980-1982), the team was owned by Paul Emard and Gus Lebrun. Willie came on board six seasons after Kilger. Fact is, Kilger and Wise hardly knew each other. … With no competitive fastball in town, local players Dave Murphy (where does he get the time), Steve McGillis, Frank Marceau and Jason Woodside signed on with Maitland (Brockville) of the Grenville Fastball League. Going into the weekend, the club was 12-0 with the local guys playing a big role in the team’s success.. … Thoughts and prayers for Doug Cummings, a Cornwall Collegiate quarterback in the 1960s and who was one of this scribbler’s track teammates. He is battling health issues. Also for “Mr. Lacrosse”, Sonny Herrington over at Glen-Stor-Dun Lodge.

TRIVIA What was built in Central Park (renamed Horovitz Park in the early 1900s, near the bandshell, with money provided by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)?

TRIVIA ANSWER Halliwell’s Tire and Brake Shop (once called Halliwell Tire & Vulcanizing Shop) opened at Water and Sydney streets in 1919. The founder was Ashworth Halliwell. Earl and Bill took over from their father and operated it until it closed when Sydney Street was re-aligned for construction of Cornwall Square in 1978.

HERE AND THERE Finally! Four months after what was labelled a three-week project, the two-block stretch of York Street between Second and Water has been finished. … Three of the best educators to serve this community were Rosaire Leger, Gilles Metivier and Gerry Samson (not to be confused with the councillor of same name). If Metivier had secured the Liberal nomination (he lost to John Cleary), there was a good chance that Premier David Peterson would have named him education minister. As I’ve joked ad nauseam, he is the best education minister we never had.

IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR Two of the “perks” of growing up as a kid in Cornwall in the 1950s were the Mayor Aaron Horovitz annual picnic at Central Park and the Palace Theatre Saturday morning Elmer the Safety Elephant Birthday Club. The week before your birthday a letter arrived with free tickets for a Saturday morning show, a soft drink and box of popcorn. Hundreds of kids packed Central Park for the summer Horovitz picnic where ice cream and pop were handed out to the rambunctious guests. The highlight of the day were the draws for bicycles and tricycles. Horovitz knew the kids couldn’t vote, but their parents sure could.

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