Throughout my life, human interest stories have caught my attention. Not just stories in the sports world, but stories in our communities and beyond. Stories about life.
Sure, most of my career has been in sports, writing about athletes, telling their stories, pointing out their successes, commenting on their victories and their championships. Most of all, giving readers an insight into what makes sports-minded people tick.
When we talk sports with each other, while attending events, while chatting with friends in coffee shops and restaurants, we concentrate on goal-scoring plays, gigantic home runs, key plays in yesterday’s games. It’s all part of being fans.
But there’s something much more important than the winning and losing. There’s the news – sometimes good, sometimes bad – about those people that we cheer and support.
It’s news about life itself.
By now, most Pictonians have heard or read about Bill Munro’s narrow escape from death, how the local real estate agent is alive today because of a loving and caring wife, because their home is only five minutes from the Aberdeen Hospital, because paramedics were nearby and ready to help, because doctors and nurses acted quickly when he arrived in the emergency department.
I won’t echo the details of Bill’s experience. The story has been well told by local and social media outlets. I’ll just add that, even people who recall his summers as a young softball star were thinking of him and giving thanks for his recovery.
The Bill Munro that I knew best was the teenager who played with the Thorburn Junior Mohawks, the club that won Maritime championships in three consecutive seasons in the mid-1960s.
I spent those summers at the end of the team’s bench, scoring their games and getting to know those young fellows very well.
Bill was one of them.
It wasn’t just his play in the field that interested me. I was just as impressed with his dedication to his team and teammates, his insights into the important things about participation.
After those exciting times out in Thorburn, I didn’t get to sit down and chat with Bill until the day the Mohawks were being inducted into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame. By then it was 1999 – three and a half decades after the team’s back-to-back-to-back titles. By then, Bill was 55 and well established in the business world and local community.
He was still talking enthusiastically about those long-ago softball days. I loved listening to him recall the story.
What was it like?
“It was all heart,” he told me. “We had a lot of ball sense from being raised in Thorburn. It was part of our life out there. There weren’t too many other ways to entertain young fellows back then. We would be on the field from daylight till dark.”
He was so realistic.
“I can honestly say that, back in those days, there was not excess money to go around. Any time we received any kind of financial support from our parents, it was on the basis of a major sacrifice on their part.
“So we had to do a lot of things ourselves to raise money through card parties and so on. We raked the field, limed the field, put up the backstop; we did it all, then we played ball that day. It was just a desire to do it.”
There was something else in Bill’s thinking that impressed me – the pride he always saw in his teammates.
“You know what they say, that pride is expensive baggage and sometimes you can afford to carry it and sometimes you can’t. In those days, I guess that’s what carried us. We perhaps had that burning desire to win because of the pride. Nobody in those days ever knew the word quit.
“And growing up in Thorburn, or in any other mining town, you had this real competitive spirit, not to be nasty to the other team, but they really were the enemy, and you did not fraternize with the other players. You shook hands maybe at the end, but you treated them as the enemy and you were going to win any way you could within the rules. It was part of the rough, tough environment you grew up in and you carried it over to the ball field.”
Bill is 75 years old now – yes, he’s grown old with the rest of us. He’s well known in Pictou County because of the success that followed him into his lifetime profession.
Yet he never forgot how his experiences with the young Mohawks carried over to his career.
“There is absolutely no question about that. I’ve been very successful in business and my motto has always been that second place is the first loser. That’s the way you grew up in Thorburn. (Later), when I was coaching, I took a team from Thorburn to the national championships in Edmonton, and it was the same kind of moxie and desire that got that team there.”
Not surprisingly, Bill credits his softball background for other good things, too.
He believes “you can make many friends and acquaintances as you travel down life’s road. But you’ll never make friends and acquaintances like you made when you were free teenagers in those years, the life-bonding type of relationships that we made with that club. That togetherness has continued to this day.”
Though Bill and I haven’t crossed paths many times since the 1960s, I think often about him and his old softball champions every time I see his familiar face in his company’s advertising.
The bottom line is clear.
While his wife Sheila and the others deserve much credit for saving his life, I think Bill’s still around for another reason – the positive attitudes, the pride and dedication to survive that have never left him.
All the best to a good guy.