If you’ve been at a Gryphon game at Alumni Stadium during the past two or three decades, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Brenda Pilon or Eleanor Marriott.
They’re long-time fans who usually sit at the top of the hill on the east side of the facility, quite often with cow bells in hand. This is the 35th season they’ve been at the games cheering for the Gryphons.
“Our nephew, Jeffrey Yanchus, went to rookie camp and made the team right away in 1982. We come from a big family and we support each other’s kids so when he went there – well, my mom went, she was Grandma Gryphon,” Brenda says. “We were supporting Jeffrey and it kind of caught on.”
“We love the football and I think it’s a great way to support the university, too,” Eleanor says. Both have had family members study at the University of Guelph. “We used to go all over – Hamilton, Toronto, London. We really do not like London.”
Sisters, Brenda is 76 and Eleanor is 79 and they used to be joined by another sister, Jeff’s mother Caroline Yanchus who’s 77. However, she switched her allegiances to the Laurier Golden Hawks when Jeff’s son Jackson went there a few years ago. Jackson’s now with the Golden Hawks as a coach so Caroline has remained a Laurier supporter. However, the three sisters should be together on the hill Oct. 14 when the Gryphons and Golden Hawks battle at Alumni Stadium Oct. 14.
“Autumn isn’t complete without going to university football,” Brenda says. “I really have only missed five games in 30-some years. There were days when Eleanor was working that I took my mother. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew that Jeffrey had played for them so that was fine. University football is exciting and it’s Canadian.”
Guelph natives, their love of football began during their high school days.
“I went to John F. Ross when it first opened in 1956 and because we had a team of fellas trying to play football who had never been on a field before, E.L. Fox, who was the principal, said that everybody had to take football rules as part of their phys ed course so that we could support our boys and know what they were doing,” Brenda says. “I still have a lot of that in the back of my brain when I watch Gryphon football. He was a real gentleman, but he really believed in school spirit.”
Being Gryphon fans, they were supporting the team when they won the national championship Vanier Cup game in 1984. Brenda was in the stands at the Rogers Centre (then known as the SkyDome) that day.
“For me, it was about a 75 per center,” she says. “It would’ve been 100 per cent because they won and everything else, but I had someone sitting in front of me who kept saying I had her seat. I said ‘I don’t have your seat’ and then her husband got in the act so they took a lot of the pleasure out of it for me. I want to be at the next one.”
Unfortunately, Eleanor couldn’t go, but she watched it at home.
“I didn’t get there because I got hurt at work with my back. I was home laying on the couch watching it,” she says. “My ex-daughter-in-law was in Toronto and she was all painted up in the Gryphon colours and everything else. I was scheduled to go, but then my back … but I watched it on television and I’ll tell you, I was hooting and hollering at the television. My husband thought I was crazy.”
Gryphon supporters for a long time, they both say their favourite Gryphon is a recent graduate, linebacker John Rush who’s now with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“I would say he was my all-time favourite,” Brenda says. “When they interviewed him, he was always a gentleman.”
“Same here. We just thought he was a fantastic kid,” Eleanor says. “I like, of course, our nephew Jeffrey when he played and Jed Tommy when he played with him.”
“But he was arrogant,” Brenda says. “He knew he was good.”
“Yeah, but I never had any problems with him,” Eleanor replies. “He was always polite to me.”
They also see many of Jeff’s former teammates at the games, usually at the Homecoming Game.
“Most of those kids that played when Jeffrey was playing speak to us at Homecoming,” Eleanor says. “The boys, well they’re not boys now, they’re men, when they come they come over and ask us how we are. We’re the mainstays of that hill.”
When they first started attending Gryphon games, they watched the game from the grandstand and they’d also watch the people cheering.
“When we first started going, there was a young engineer named Charlie,” Brenda says. “He always sat in the stands with a big beach umbrella and a bevy of scantily-clad girls and he was having the time of his life. We would always look to see who the heck Charlie had with him today.”
They also say their family started one of the traditions at Gryphon football.
“It was our family that started the business with the bells,” Brenda says. “My late brother-in-law Joe (Caroline’s husband) had this big bell, almost like a big cow bell, at the shop where he worked. All of us had whatever kind of bell we could get so that Jeffrey knew that family was there. That’s what started it. Now they’ve got those fiddly little things that don’t do anything.”
“I have a big bell. I have a Gryphon bell and I have a bigger one,” Eleanor says. “I used to take an air horn.”
“Our family gets into it,” Brenda says.
The sisters have seen Gryphon teams of varying degrees of skill levels throughout the years, but they’ve cheered for each one exactly the same.
“On the whole, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Gryphon team that I didn’t like,” Brenda says.
And their support of Gryphon sports doesn’t end when the football season is over. That’s when they’ll head down to the Gryphon Centre to cheer for the Gryphon women’s hockey team.
“We don’t mix our sports, though,” Brenda says.
The sisters are a bit of a rarity for the football team as they’ve kept attending the games and supporting it although they haven’t had a relative playing on it for decades.
“I can’t give you one definitive reason why we’ve continued,” Brenda says. “Most of the parents we see for four years. Then the child graduates as a young man and we never see (the parents) again. At Homecoming, you might see the son. I haven’t come up with a good reason to stop going. Maybe when I get older I might, but until I can’t navigate – I might even go if I had a walker – I’m just going to keep going.”
And they haven’t stayed away because the weather wasn’t ideal.
“We’ve sat through snow and rain and hail,” Brenda says.
“Everything – everything they can throw at us,” Eleanor says.
“But we are true fans,” Brenda says.
“You’d have to have really bad health before you’d stop going. We have no reason to stop,” Eleanor says. “We’re Gryphon fans. We’ve been Gryphon fans and will always be Gryphon fans.”