Sarnia was Ontario champs during softball’s golden era

The Sarnia Motor Sports Midgets won the 1971 Ontario Amateur Softball Championship: from left, front row: Stan Matej, Ron Ladner, Brian “Nipper” Campbell, Frank Stewart, Dave Greenwood, and Bill Savoy; back row: Lou DiMuzio, Al Sarachman, Greg Wade, Terry Smith, Rick Brown (Head Coach), Terry Easterby, Terry Norris, Al Fangeat and Dave Henry (Assistant Coach). Submitted Photo

Troy Shantz

When the 1971 Motorsports Midgets took to the field in Sarnia as many as 2,000 people would show up to watch.

“We had a great following of fans and it was a very magical time for us back then because softball was big in this town,” recalls Dave Greenwood, a team member.

“It was a great way to spend an evening, watching a ball game at Tecumseh Park.”

This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the squad winning the Ontario championship for the second year in a row, when Sarnia defeated Etobicoke in the final of a best-of-three series.

The group of shaggy-haired 16 and 17-year-olds – many still live in Sarnia – represented the best of the SMAA house league system.

And that season was special. The team sponsored by a Confederation Street motorcycle shop – which still exists today- lost just twice, Greenwood said.

One of those losses came during the Sarnia-hosted Tournament of Champions, the biggest softball meet in Canada at the time. Despite falling to Scarborough in the final, the home team was cheered by enthusiastic fans that filled the field on Russell Street.

“You couldn’t get near the park,” Greenwood said.

The Ontario championship final against Etobicoke was a best-of-three affair.

Game one, in Sarnia, got started after a lengthy rain-delay. A pair of buses rolled in from Toronto carrying the opposition’s own rabid fans, who came armed with a megaphone, songs, chants and taunts designed to get under Sarnia’s skin, Greenwood recalled. Some Etobicoke fans even threw pebbles at the home team.

But Sarnia prevailed and won the opener 5-2.

Sleet and wet snow covered the diamond for game two in Etobicoke, a soggy tilt that ended in a 3-3 draw.

League rules stipulated the final be played in a neutral city, roughly half way between the opposing hometowns. So it took place in Woodstock, where Sarnia emerged with a 6-2 victory and the provincial title.

“Everybody had their moment to shine. There were great catches and everybody contributed,” said Greenwood. “It was a total team effort all the time, and everybody enjoyed one another.”

Many members of that team went on to other sports glory.

Brian “Nipper” Campbell became a Junior B scoring champion with the Sarnia Bees.

Second baseman Al Sarachman also played for Bees. He helped Sarnia win the Ontario Championships in 1972 before becoming an All-American goaltender at Bowling Green University.

Shortstop Al Fangeat has since passed, as have both coaches, Rick Brown and Dave Henry, Greenwood said.

“We would really like to acknowledge the memory of our two coaches … they spent countless hours taking us to tournaments and games all over the province.”

Prior coaches Mike Caughlin, Dick Clatworthy,  Bob Hemstreet and Ron Smith were also instrumental, he said.

“There was nothing like a beautiful summer’s evening and the chance to enjoy watching the many talented players of all ages,” said Greenwood.

“The 1971 Motorsports Midgets simply tried to keep up the tradition of great softball teams representing the City of Sarnia.”