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ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Shirley Thomas, Equestrienne
The concept of a sportsman’s dinner wasn’t new when Lou LaBlond broached the subject with his Associated Canadian Travellers clubmates to get their blessing to start a dinner program.
LaBlond launched his sports promotion with the help of 16 amateur athletes the Eastview Lions Club and the Eastview Recreation Centre on Dec. 1st, 1953. Approximately 100 people paid five bucks to take in the night’s entertainment. ‘Tis said that from little acorns, big oaks will grow and that may well be true. But nobody in his right mind could have predicted the success that would come to the LaBlond venture.
This 33rd dinner will push the number of ACT individual trophies given out to well over the 1,000 mark. More than 700 athletes have been the recipients. Those figures do not include team plaques, and athlete of the year and sportsman of the year replicas. City figures since 1975 are 511 awards to 392 athletes.
Returning to the first program, a check of the guest list showed that 14 of the 16 were men, but that justice prevailed. A talented equestrienne Shirley Thomas, was selected athlete of the year.
Her youthful riding career began at the ripe old age of four and half a year later she had her most embarrassing experience. She fell off her horse directly in front of Princess Alice, wife of the wartime governor-general, the Earl of Athlone, during a Red Cross benefit show.
She was invited to join the Canadian equestrian team in 1952 and competed on the indoor circuit stopping at Madison Square Gardens, Harrisburg, Pa., and Toronto. She was the first female to post a victory at the Garden.
Thomas tried every discipline connected with riding during her career. She had five shows with the Canadian team overseas and was leading rider in two. Her major triumph was the Government of Ireland Trophy, a coveted award, open to all comers.
She decided she had had enough of competition in 1955. “I was at the top and that is where you should retire. I wanted to settle down and raise a family, which I did.”
The arrival of her family, son Chris and daughters Ruth and Laura, began a second career in horses, acquiring riding horses and getting back into competition. The next step was almost automatic, the thoroughbred racing business, a 24-hour per day occupation, says Thomas Prosser.
Now she says “the greatest and most enjoyable relaxation I have is going to the races, especially if I have a horse running. It makes the hard work and frustration worthwhile to see a horse you have raised from a baby go out and win.”
Among the other 15 on the first list of athletes — one that would set up a pattern common to the next 32, at least one athlete either with international experience or about to get international experience — were Beaver Boxing Club member Pinky Mitchell, football star and veteran curler Gord Perry, Tom Holmes from basketball via Solon Low’s Mormon Elders and Claude Richer, an able cross-country skier and paddler with the old Ottawa-New Edinburgh Canoe Club.
Baseball — Bill Skuce
Bowling — Lloyd (Murph) Chamberlain
Boxing — Pinky Mitchell
Basketball — Tom Holmes
Curling — Gord Perry
Equestrian — Shirley Thomas
Football — Gib Seguin
Hockey — Roger Fortin
Paddling — Pat Way
Rowing — John Cummings
Soccer — Karl Havelcik
Skiing — Claude Richer
Sailing — Dave Kirby
Track and field — Mark Molot
Tennis — J. J. Sarra-Bournet
Water Skiing — Jacqueline Gauthier
Curling veteran Gordon Perry was the last curler to win the Branch Jubilee single rink championship in both irons and granites… Perry’s also a member of five Halls of Fame, the Greater Ottawa, The Football, The Canadian, The Quebec and N.B…. Pat Way was on the front end and Art Williams was the back end of a winning junior double blade tandem for the Rideau Canoe Club… Way was later to fill the CCA commodore’s post… Lefty Bill Skuce Jr., came to the first banquet as the outstanding City Senior Baseball League pitcher… He also held the one-game scoring record in the Carleton high school basketball tournament… Gib Seguin, a member of Ottawa Seconds in the old Quebec Rugby Football Union, was the top gridder… He later turned to officiating in both professional and amateur ranks.