One of the things about Gryphon football training camps is that you never know who might drop by.
On the opening day of this year’s camp former OAC Aggie Harley Deeks and his family stopped in to tour the facilities and watch the on-field action.
“They were interesting years,” the 91-year-old Deeks said of 1946 to ’49, his playing years with the Aggies. “Three of the four years we won what then they called the Dominion Intercollegiate championship. We were very proud of that.”
And the secret for the team’s success?
“Hard guts I guess,” he said. “We didn’t have all the measurements that we had today, but we went out strong and for the good of the college.”
Hard to imagine, but back then home games were played on Johnston Green and spectators would stand on the sidelines to watch.
“That’s all we knew,” Deeks said. “I remember we played in Hamilton against the team there and we played our first game ever at night. They had lights and we wondered how we were ever going to see the ball. You think about what they have now and it’s quite a difference.”
Not that the lights had anything to do with it, but Deeks was shaked up in that game – but he never left the field.
“That’s the one game in four years that I was hit on the head, I think. I remember the coach calling the signals and I didn’t know quite where I was. But I got over it and I didn’t miss anything.”
That would never happen now as research has revealed that knocks on the head are a lot more serious than previously thought. Players hit on the head are taken out of games.
“And rightly so. I agree with that,” Deeks said. “Fortunately it didn’t harm me in my life.”
Another difference when Deeks played is that players played both on offence and defence. Deeks was a tackle.
“I was one of the big guys then, but I’d be a midget beside these guys,” he said as he looked out at the workouts on the Alumni Stadium field. “When you played both ways, you had to learn the offence and the defence. The signals were very small. As I remember, it was T right 3 over 11 which meant they were coming over me and I had to clear the path.”
Back in Deeks days, all the players lived in residence.
“We lived it what we called Rugby Alley,” he said. “It was just residence rooms on both sides. You roomed with somebody and there was one shower at the end of the hall and we all piled into the one shower. That was it. You lived there through the year, all the way through.”
While at OAC, Harley met Barbara Herring, a cheerleader who also attended the college and lived in residence at Mac Hall. They married while they were students and lived in Guelph for about 10 years before moving west. Two of their seven children were born in the Royal City.
“My (favourite) memory (is) marrying a girl from Mac Hall and raising all these kids,” Harley said. “We raised seven and they’re all here today which is really great.”
Unfortunately Barbara passed away last year. Now Harley and his kids and their spouses are embarking on a week-long tour of Ontario that will also include stops at Niagara Falls and at Pembroke in the Ottawa area, Barbara’s hometown. But the U of G and Alumni Stadium were their first stop.
“We were just through the offices here,” Harley said of the Gryphon Pavilion that also houses the team’s locker room. “What they have I expect them to win every year. I hope they do. I’ll be cheering for them.”