Pictou Advocate sports

Those boys of Thorburn


There were a lot of pleasant summer evenings around the old ball field out in Thorburn in the mid-1960s. They were occasions that remain in our memory banks — even after all this time.

I’m thinking of 1963, ‘64 and ‘65, the years in which the Junior Mohawks captured the hearts of the Vale community while dominating junior softball across the Maritimes.

What a fantastic group of youngsters!

They were in their teenage years back then, so happy to be playing softball. But they combined their love of the sport with talent, true companionship and true team spirit. They knew that, with those attributes, they had an excellent opportunity to become champions.

I saw them up close.

Being asked to act as the team’s scorekeeper since I always attended games with a score book under my arm, I was given a seat at the end of the team’s bench. It was a location from which I saw the results unfold, inning by inning, game by game, win by win, year by year.

Mark my words — those young Mohawks were good.

If you’re old enough — in other words, senior citizens — you’ll remember how their three-year story proceeded.

Head coach Tommy Forsyth, assisted by Bobby MacDougall and Buddy MacDonald, found their players in rural communities across the eastern half of the county. Nobody really expected instant results. Yet those kids played like winners from their opening games.

It was a team effort, but like any sports roster, there had to be leaders. Those Mohawks had two great ones — Allan MacLaughlin from Greenwood and Gordie MacKinnon from Lismore. What was amazing with those two, they were the pitching stars and they were the batting stars.

MacKinnon once summed up his teammates to me with these words: “We became a very close-knit team. We became close friends.”

A perfect mix.

Three months after the team’s formation, those high school kids were the 1963 Maritime champions. Many of their games were lopsided as they romped against the strongest opponents in the region.

Same thing in 1964 and ‘65.

Gosh, how those youngsters were having fun. Their many supporters were having just as much fun observing the action.

Their highest awards? Induction into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame in 1999, and induction into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 2001.

How do those back-to-back-to-back titles rank with other Pictou County ball teams?

I’d say there are only two that could be considered in such a discussion — softball’s senior Trenton Scotias in the late 1950s and early ’60s, and baseball’s Stellarton Albions that captured three consecutive Halifax and District League championships in 1951-52-53.

Yes, those Mohawks were clearly a classy group.

Time has passed by. A lot of time. So let’s jump ahead to 2018 and what they’re doing later this week.

It’s 55 years since that Thorburn dynasty began. The teenagers who thrilled everyone around the Vale and the immediate region are now senior citizens. Most of them are into their 70s.

So what are they up to?

Those friendships created back in the 1960s have not waned. The guys continue to keep in touch.

A few of the Mohawks are gone now. The saddest passing — if we can or should compare such things — occurred when Forsyth, a star in his playing days before he turned to coaching, died just prior to the team’s induction into the provincial hall in Halifax. Assistant coach Bobby MacDougall and players Donnie Fraser, Francis Kyle and Johnny Kyle also passed away.

Most of the others are getting together this week.

The provincial hall of fame is holding its annual induction night at the Halifax Convention Centre. To mark 55 years since the Thorburn team was organized, Mohawks will be heading to the city for a get together, including attendance at the induction ceremonies.

MacLaughlin says those making the trip are Donnie Bowden, Billy MacKinnon, Art Forsyth, Mason Johnson, Ernie MacDonald, Hillard MacDonald, Buddy MacDonald, Sammy MacDougall, Robert MacEachern, Steve MacDonald, Gordie MacKinnon, Graham MacLean, Melvin Smith, manager Cyril MacLeod and MacLaughlin himself. A few are unable to attend, including Billy Munro, Philip Cameron, John Vance and Fred Brow.

Oh how those names bring back the past.

MacLaughlin says arrangements were approved by hall of fame head Bruce Rainnie. The Mohawks will visit the hall in the afternoon and hope to see the team’s memorabilia.

Says Allan, “We’re certainly having many memories from the glory days. Remembering our parents who spent countless hours raising money on behalf of the team. They were our team off the field. We all did our time at the card parties at the old train station in Thorburn. We remember the community and their efforts in support of us.”

He didn’t forget the fans.

“Numerous sacrifices were made on our behalf by the hundreds of fans who followed us. Our success was indeed a community effort.”

Over the years, especially since I began writing for the Advocate, I was fortunate to go back to the county several times to reminisce with former Mohawks.

They were wonderful chats.

Some time ago, I spent several hours with MacLaughlin, recalling the team’s three great seasons. It was a grand walk down memory lane for both of us.

He made one quote that afternoon that seems appropriate to repeat now.

“I’ve felt,” he said, “we’ve done something here that’s probably a little beyond what you consider normal. It was then that we realized we had done something that was pretty special.”

Later on, Gordie MacKinnon and I talked about the team’s successes.

“When you’re young,” he said, “I guess you perhaps don’t stop and realize the importance of playing together as a team like we were, and the camaraderie that we developed and so on. It means probably a lot more later in life than it did at the time.”

Right on, Gordie. Right on.