All-Ontario softball champs reunite for 60th anniversary celebration

HARRISTON – Members of a Midget softball team that captured an All-Ontario championship in 1963 gathered here on Aug. 12 to share memories of the achievement.

At the time, Midget age group teams across Ontario competed in an “Open” category.

So the team’s journey to capturing the Western Ontario Athletic Association title, then the Ontario Amateur Softball Association crown, required series wins over Linwood, Sarnia, Preston, Oshawa and Burlington, before the final series against the Cache Bay Trappers, a team representing northern Ontario.

“We played six series, we only lost two games,” recalls team member Murray Coulter.

The final series was played on the Thanksgiving weekend in 1963 at the ball park in Harriston, with the Cache Bay contingent making the journey of more than 400 kilometres from the community, northwest of North Bay, in a combination of buses and personal vehicles.

“It switched between north and south in alternate years. So this was the alternate year that the south, which was us, became the home team,” Coulter explained.

The schedule called for two games on Saturday, Oct. 12 and another if necessary the following day.

“We won both of the games on the Saturday … fairly handily, because the two games were 16-3 and 27-1. So we didn’t have to play a game on the Sunday,” said Coulter.

While Cache Bay was a smaller centre – the 2021 Census pegs its population at 648 – the Harriston squad reached the final by downing teams from several substantially larger municipalities.

Coulter said they never felt overwhelmed by the size disparity.

“We didn’t go in thinking we were going to lose. We knew we were a good team,” said Coulter.

“The coach told us from day one that we are a really good team and his words were ‘It’s going to take a really good team to beat us.’”

He added, “There was no intimidation. We just played our game.

“And winning is a great thing, because as you win you feel better and better. I think by the end we didn’t think we could lose to anybody.”

While the local side was based in Harriston, the playoff format allowed teams to pick up players from neighbouring communities whose teams had been eliminated, so some players came from Drayton, Moorefield, Clifford and Palmerston.

All of the playoff pitching was done by two players, Harvey Manderson and the late Wayne MacKenzie.

Provincial champions – This photo of the 1963 WOAA and OASA championship Harriston Midget softball team, taken by R. J. Russell of Listowel, was among the displays at an Aug. 12 Harriston Historical Society exhibit on the team’s win. From left: front: Kim MacKenzie (bat boy), Stan Kumagai, team captain Bruce Whale, Roger MacDougall and Neville Leake. Middle: Bert Pletch, Jim Sinclair, coach Chester Shannon, coach Bill Dodd, manager Grant MacKenzie, Bob Seip and Derwyn Reuber. Back: Murray Coulter, Harvey Manderson, Wayne MacKenzie, Doug Johnston and Bill Smith. Absent from photo: coach Scotty McLean, player Doug Henry and team statistician Mark MacKenzie.


A newspaper report at the time notes that Coulter got the team on the scoreboard in game one of the final with a second-inning grand slam, while Bruce Whale and Doug Johnston also homered.

MacKenzie pitched the entire game, striking out 16 batters.

In game two, MacKenzie struck out 19 batters en route to tossing a no-hitter, with the lone Cache Bay run coming on an error, two walks and a fly ball.

Meanwhile, the Harriston team “pounded three Cache Bay hurlers for 24 hits.”

The Kitchener-Waterloo Record reported in its Oct. 15 edition that “About 1,000 persons saw the two games in this town of 1,600 population.”

Newspaper reports indicate the community made an occasion of the series, with the local minor sports association hosting a lunch for the visitors at the arena auditorium before the first game.

A baton twirling exhibition was held during the afternoon contest, with Norwell District Secondary School cheerleaders offering vocal support for the home side between innings.

Following the first game, a short parade headed by the Norwell band was held, with both teams, officials and dignitaries riding in cars and wagons.

A victory parade was held after the evening game, with the Harriston players boarding a fire engine for a tour around town with the siren blaring.

The following day, a dinner was served at the Harriston Legion Hall for members of both the local team and the visiting group.

Previously, the team held reunions on the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the championship.

The Aug. 12 reunion, approaching 60 years since the big win, involved members of the team gathering for lunch at a local restaurant then spending the afternoon at a Harriston Historical Society display celebrating the champions in the society’s space at the local public library.

Eight members of the group were present, with a number unable to attend and three players (Wayne MacKenzie, Roger MacDougall and Doug Henry) and several members of the coaching staff are now deceased.

Asked if there were any plans to toss a ball around after the exhibit closed, Coulter quipped, “No. We just do stories now.”