Pictou Advocate sports

It was a privilege to have known him

Sports

There’s one heck of a void down in Antigonish.

A hockey star, rugby player, baseball talent, hall of fame inductee, compassionate physical education teacher, coach, referee and community worker recently left the playing grounds in the cathedral town for the last time.

Geno Scattolon’s death at age 91 brought the curtain down on a highly-respected man who lived his busy life with a smile almost always brightening his face. “Scat,” as he was lovingly known, was one of my favourite people for a very long time.

As noted in his obituary, he will be “remembered for the relationships he forged with others. His original personality and great sportsmanship have made him a host of friends.”

It was a privilege to have been one of those friends for over 60 years.

He was a proud Cape Bretoner from Dominion, but from his student days until his end, he never wanted to stray far from his beloved St. Francis Xavier University and his adopted community.

In sports, Scat was a leader, clearly illustrated by his popularity with his teammates and the fact he captained many of his teams, usually championship teams.

I first met him in the 1950s, initially when he played for outstanding St. FX hockey clubs in the APC Senior Hockey League, later getting to know him when he had stints with Foster Dickson’s New Glasgow Bombers, and the Stellarton Royals under Bobby Beaton and Leo Fahey.

For many of his playing days, he was an Antigonish Bulldog in both hockey and baseball leagues.

In summertime in the 1960s, when I was involved with the Stellarton Keiths in the Twilight Senior Baseball League, he was one of the most pleasant opposition players I knew.

The smile was always there.

Hockey, though, was really his number one sport and, above all the others, he was a key performer with the 1950-51 X-Men, considered to be one of the best university hockey clubs ever assembled in the Maritimes.

That was the year Scattolon and his mates won Nova Scotia and Maritime intercollegiate championships, were Nova Scotia and Maritime senior champions, and reached the Allan Cup semifinals at the national senior level. It was also the club that nearly became Canada’s hockey representatives at the 1952 Olympics.

With a brand new stadium in New Glasgow, with an old rink still the team’s base in Antigonish, some of the X-Men’s key playoff games were shifted to Pictou County.

A long time ago, I had a lengthy interview with Scattolon in the cathedral town. I came away with a deep understanding of how he became such a popular and admired athlete and human being. I love reflecting on some of the things he said.

How did he get into hockey?

“My first memory of hockey,” he told me then, was “going to church on Sunday morning for first mass, then going to the reservoir and spending the whole day at the pond, skating, skating and playing hockey. That’s where I got all my early skating, on the ponds, the dams and the reservoirs.”

He played on only one minor team — in the juvenile division — before arriving in Antigonish. That had been quite an experience.

“It wasn’t very organized either, and I’ll tell you something. One game we only had six sticks, we broke one and had to borrow one from the other team.”

I loved the response he gave me when I asked how he became a big scorer.

“I haven’t got a clue,” he replied.

But oh how he scored. He had a 31-goal season one university year. He was on the top 10 on X’s all-time lists for goals, assists and points. And as far as I can find out, he still owns a St. FX record after almost 70 years — scoring three goals in only 48 seconds.

His teams always won.

The 1950-51 powerhouse was just the beginning of amazing things.

The team’s history almost boggles the mind. From 1950 to 1963, they won the Nova Scotia intercollegiate championship 14 consecutive seasons. By then, they had won 37 times between 1906 and 1963.

But back to Scat.

He received his commerce degree from St. FX in 1951, a Masters in physical education at Springfield University in Massachusetts, then returned to get his education degree at X in 1955.

He taught physical education at the junior and senior levels at Antigonish’s St. Andrews High for 35 years. As well, he coached the school’s hockey, basketball, soccer, volleyball and track and field. Almost needless to add, he was popular with his students, their parents, the entire community.

Among his achievements, I remembered him best for what he did on the ice with the X-Men, playing on a line much of the time with brothers Eddie and Eugene Swartzack. They were a statistics-breaking machine.

Honours that followed for the team included induction into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in 1992.

As for baseball, the Antigonish club with Scattolon aboard in the 1960s was a consistent contender in the Twilight league that included Stellarton, Westville Miners, New Glasgow Bombers and North End Cardinals. Scat was almost always high up in the batting averages.

In my years as sports editor and columnist with the Herald, I usually drove to the cathedral town on Saturdays when football was on the menu there. Saturday after Saturday, autumn after autumn, I would run into Scattolon.

He was such a huge supporter of things Xaverian, it was unusual if he wasn’t in the stands or helping out wherever he could. And, yes, there was always the smile and the kind greeting.

The man is gone now, taking his smile with him, but needless to say, he won’t be forgotten for a very long time.

As another great Xaverian — Bill Kiely — wrote on Facebook last week, Scattolon “was a precious man. Loved everything.”

Indeed he did.