Dale McMann knows how to play hardball in a softball world.
Born in 1953 in Alberta, McMann lived in Prince George from 1978 to 2006, serving in many high-profile positions. But it was his love of all things diamond, and his willingness to serve at every level, which earned him respect not just in the city and region, but across the country and internationally.
Just 25 at the time, McMann was named regional coordinator for Softball B.C. in 1979, and little did he know the path that would lead to. By 1986, he was serving as president of Softball B.C. and during his four-year term he led many aggressive initiatives, including the establishment of Softball City in the Lower Mainland, working closely with good friend Glen Todd on that project.
In 1990, McMann was elected president of Softball Canada, and kept that position for 11 years. The national body found its way back to financial stability while experiencing strong growth during that period, and that was accomplished while McMann was also serving the International Softball Federation as vice-president/North America – a post he held for an incredible 16 years (1993-2009). While handling those posts, he was integral in the planning and decision-making for World Championship and Olympic competitions. His input was crucial as the ISF established its headquarters in Florida.
Proving days are longer than 24 hours in his world, McMann also found time to serve as a minor ball coach in Prince George, in both softball and baseball.
McMann’s impact on the Prince George sporting scene, and his reach from this locale into the highest levels of international softball, make him a deserving inductee into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame.
When he was in the field, balls would regularly bounce off his glove. When he was at the plate, he'd usually make contact with the air and not much else.
But for countless kids in Prince George, and the city's entire Aboriginal community, Ghostkeeper's lack of prowess as a participant proved to be a blessing. Instead of playing sports, he focused his attention on organizing and coaching. In doing so, he became a sporting leader in northern B.C. and helped forge unbreakable bonds among his people.
Ghostkeeper was born in Grouard, Sask., on Dec. 10, 1938. As a youngster, he had a passion for sports but his playing career was sidelined by his game-day woes and by work commitments. By the age of 12, he already had a job at a lumber mill and, by 14, was doing construction.
When he was in his late teens, Ghostkeeper moved to Prince George. Once here, he soon realized recreational opportunities for the city's Aboriginal residents were limited and made it his mission to change things for the better.
In the 1960s, Ghostkeeper founded a native fastball tournament, one that has grown into an integral part of the local sports scene. Since its inception, it has been held every July long weekend. And the gathering isn't just about ball, it's a chance for Aboriginal people and families from across Western Canada to gather under the banner of sports.
Ghostkeeper also helped build the Spruce City Men's Fastball Association and assembled several men's teams that traveled across the province and country and played the game at a high level. Many players from that generation had kids of their own who took up fastball, and those kids ended up being the foundation of the Prince George River Kings program. In their day, the River Kings were a national powerhouse and may go down in history as the greatest Aboriginal fastball team ever.
As well as boosting the sport of fastball from an organizational standpoint, Ghostkeeper served as a coach and manager at the Canadian Native Fastball Championships and North American Aboriginal Fastball Championships.
While fastball was a true love, Ghostkeeper also founded a baseball league in the Hart Highway area of the city. The league grew from 25 teams, to 32, to 42 and was open to boys and girls, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.
Ghostkeeper didn't rest in the winter months. Instead, he threw himself into hockey. He founded the United Native Nations youth hockey tournament, which became an annual event and attracted players and families from around the region and province. And, each year, he took teams to Saskatchewan to skate in the Western Canadian Minor Aboriginal Hockey Championships, where he served as a coach and volunteer.
Ghostkeeper also did everything he could to make sport accessible for young people. He was manager of the Prince George Multicultural Recreation Society, which helped take away financial barriers for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth who wanted to get onto the field or ice.
For his contributions, Ghostkeeper was recognized with a City of Prince George Recreation Award of Merit in 1986. In 1994, he was presented with a Community Leadership Award from the Prince George Native Friendship Centre.
In 2012, Ghostkeeper passed away after a battle with cancer. But, he left behind a legacy in the number of lives he influenced in a positive way.
"Good things can happen when you give kids a chance," he once said.
It is with great pride that the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame welcomes Ghostkeeper in the coach and builder category.
Claffey spotted the advertisement, which said the Prince George Lumbermen were looking for players. He quickly packed up his belongings and hopped on the train. When he got here, he had $10 in his pocket and an unquenchable thirst for the game.
All these years later, he still can't get enough of it.
Claffey, on the verge of his 82nd birthday, is Prince George's version of Mr. Hockey. He has been a player, coach, administrator and an official – both on the ice and off. For his decades of involvement, he is being welcomed into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame.
As a player, Claffey was a forward for the senior Lumbermen from 1953 to 1956 and remained with the club the following season when it became known as the Mohawks. He stayed in a Mohawks uniform until the end of the 1968 Cariboo Hockey League season and finished his competitive career the following year with the Houston Luckies.
Claffey was far from done, however. Instead of hanging up his blades, he moved on to recreational hockey and, much later, to the oldtimer ranks. He found himself back in a Mohawks jersey – oldtimer style – in 1970 and kept playing until the end of 2006. Claffey then patrolled the ice with the Prince George Oldtimers and finally retired from the game in 2008. His Prince George playing career stretched a remarkable 55 years.
Outside of Prince George, Claffey found time to play in tournaments for the Victoria Oldstylers and Traditionals (starting at age 60). At age 71, he moved up to the 70-and-over category. In the year 2000, he was inducted into the Canadian Adult Recreational Hockey Association Hall of Fame.
During his decades of play, Claffey also served the game in other capacities. He coached a Prince George RCMP team from 1970 to 1975 and led the squad (which also featured players from Vanderhoof, Mackenzie and Fort Nelson) to a Canadian title in his final year. At the national tournament, held in Regina, the team beat Alberta 2-1 in the final.
As an administrator, Claffey was vice commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League from 1991 to 1996 and was treasurer of the Mohawks Oldtimers for almost 20 years (1987 to 2006).
Then there were Claffey's duties as an official. For 35 years, he refereed all levels of hockey – from minor to junior to senior. During that time, for eight years, he also put on referee clinics so he could pass along his knowledge to up-and-coming refs.
Off the ice, Claffey has worked in the visitor's penalty box for both the Prince George Spruce Kings (35 years to date) and Prince George Cougars (22 years to date). In 2012, the Cougars recognized him for reaching the 500-game milestone as an off-ice official. Then, in 2014, the Cats honoured him for 20 years of service.
When big events came to Prince George, Claffey was also there to help. He volunteered as coordinator of off-ice officials during the 2001 Air Canada Cup national midget championship tournament and filled the same role at the 2007 Royal Bank Cup national junior A championship.
As a pioneer player, but also as a coach, administrator and official, Claffey has skated into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame.
His community is certainly thankful he saw that newspaper ad.
Fabbro first moved to the city with his young family in the 1970s to start his career as a school teacher. In his spare time, he could often be found at Spruce City Stadium on the corner of Carney Street and Massey Drive.
As a fastball player (a third baseman) in the 1980s, Fabbro noticed the stadium was in poor shape and realized fans and players deserved a better park. He joined the executive of the Spruce City Men's Fastball Association, first as a director, and found funding for a roof over the bleachers (which he installed himself) and arranged to have extra bleachers in the warm-up area for the players, which he also installed himself.
Fabbro soon ascended into the role of president, where his dreams of showcasing Prince George at the provincial, national and international level came true. With the help of Dave Milne, he arranged to have lights installed at the park and convinced the board to purchase crushed red brick from Alberta for the infield. As a result of the acquisition, the Prince George minor boys, minor girls and ladies softball associations followed suit, resulting in those leagues hosting zone, district and provincial softball playdowns and tournaments. In 1995, thanks to Fabbro's determination and dedication and the renovated park, Prince George and Spruce City Stadium hosted the week-long Canadian junior men's championship.
Fabbro's playing career is one that spanned 20 years. It included winning the provincial senior B and Western Canadian titles in 1977 with the Navy Ensigns from Prince George. He could also be found behind the plate as an umpire at diamonds across Prince George, where he mentored both officials and young players alike.
Fabbro coached and managed junior A fastball teams and guided the Prince George Black Bears to a silver medal at the 2006 Canadian Senior Men's championship in Prince George. He also coached the River Kings all-native fastball team for several years, a team that represented Prince George and the province at numerous international events.
Fabbro has been recognized for his contribution to the game with numerous accolades. In 1988, he received the Government of Canada Certificate of Merit for Contribution to Community. In 1989, he received the Senior Service Award for his dedication to fastball in B.C. That was followed by the City of Prince George Award of Merit in Recreation in 1990.
Without the thousands of hours of volunteer work by Fabbro, those who nominated him for induction into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame say they would never have had the chance to play at such high levels, create lasting memories and learn to appreciate the game that Fabbro himself enjoyed so much.
In fact, they added, if Yankee Stadium "was the house that Ruth built," then Spruce City Stadium is the house that Nino built.
As a long-time parent, volunteer, builder and administrator with Nechako Little League, including a 19-year span as president – a time during which Prince George played host to the 1996 Canadian Little League Championship – Foster changed the history of baseball in the community.
Her involvement started with Nechako Little League as a parent, team mom and concession worker in the late 1970s. From there, she served on the executive in several different capacities until she took on the president's role during the 1987-88 season.
Foster was the front-runner in organizing and promoting the Challenger Baseball League in 1993 for disabled people, no matter their age. The league was created for those from the entire Prince George area to enjoy. Foster made sure that a team from the other division was on hand to help all the baseball players for every game to ensure the athletes had fun and were successful.
Foster's next task was likely her biggest achievement. She motivated a 400-plus membership to commit to hosting the Canadian Little League Championship in August 1996. The league agreed to a $10,000 bond just to apply to host the championship. Prior to 1996, the tournament – featuring six teams from across Canada – had never been held very far north of the 49th parallel. It was unheard of to travel too far north.
With a successful bid in hand, Foster got the entire league involved, overseeing hundreds of volunteers who looked after field improvements, communications and advertising, billets, fundraising, concessions, transportation, the player's banquet, 50-50 draws, scorekeepers and umpires, and opening and closing ceremonies. Volunteers refurbished the host diamond, Joe Martin Field, to comply with the standards of the Canadian tournament rules. Foster's work and that of Nechako Little League paid off, and when B.C.'s Kennedy-Surrey shut out Toronto High Park 5-0 in the final, the Canadian Little League Championship proved to be a grand slam for the host city.
At the Prince George Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards later in the year, the Canadian Little League Championship won the Community Booster Award.
But with the success of the championship, Foster wasn't about to play it safe. She set her sights on building a new park for Little Leaguers as the enrolment numbers outgrew park usage.
That park is now known as Volunteer Park.
The property in the Hart the league coveted was a small forest on Crown land. Foster applied for a Crown lease, got all the permits, and called on a great group of volunteers – the Martin family. The Martins not only volunteered their heavy-duty equipment to fall the trees and take them to sale, they donated the money back to Nechako Little League. The park included a four-diamond complex, and a clubhouse was built to accommodate everything necessary for the upkeep of the diamonds.
Foster also simultaneously served as a director for District 4 Little League, a director on the B.C. provincial league board, as well as a director on the board of Canada National Little League in Ottawa, Ont.
Cliff Hucul took the most unlikely of rides – he steered his way from some of Canada’s most northern outposts, all the way to the Indianapolis 500, the most prestigious auto race in the world.
Hucul, a Prince George resident since 1967, qualified for the Indianapolis 500 three times in his career. He made his first appearance at the Indy in 1977 and was back at the famed Brickyard in 1978 and 1979. The year he made his Indy debut, he became just the third Canadian in history to drive in the race, first held in 1911.
For Hucul though, it all started at the age of 14 in Grande Prairie, Alta., when he took his first laps in a stock car owned by his dad, Emil. The youngster became a regular on a circuit that made stops in places like Beaverlodge, Hythe, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
Hucul arrived in Prince George when he was 21. In his free time, he drove an open-wheel car in the Prince George Auto Racing Association’s B-modified class. The next season, he moved to the A-modified division.
After three seasons as a PGARA driver, Hucul convinced local car owner Ed Patterson to let him slide behind the wheel of his sprint car and that opened the door for Hucul to race on the Canadian American Modified Racing Association (CAMRA) series, which visited tracks in four western states and featured drivers like future Indy 500 champion Tom Sneva (1983) and brother Jerry Sneva.
Hucul later bought a rear-engine car from Tom Sneva and used it to set a PGARA lap record of 13.64 seconds in 1975. In the fall of 1976, Hucul – with help from his family and local sponsor Central Interior Power – purchased a rear-engine ride dubbed “the Batmobile,” a car that Johnny Rutherford had piloted to an Indianapolis 500 championship months earlier. That $60,000 investment allowed Hucul to jump to the USAC Championship Car circuit (also known as Indy car). He made his series debut on March 6, 1977 on the Ontario Motor Speedway in California and finished 12th out of 26 cars.
Hucul was soon ready for the month-long qualifying process to get into the Indy 500. The first step was to pass his rookie driver’s test to prove he could handle the speeds, which topped 200 mph. He passed, and eventually claimed the 27th qualifying spot for a 33-car field. Qualifying was a remarkable feat considering Hucul had to overcome the adversity presented by a low budget, three blown engines and the fact there were 110 drivers vying for inclusion in the race.
The 1977 Indy 500 happened on May 29. And, with a live audience of 350,000 people and millions more watching on television screens around the world, Hucul was ready to roll. From his 27th-place starting position, he weaved his way up to 12th by the 82nd lap of the scheduled 200. That’s when disaster struck – something broke in the rear end of the car, it stalled, and rolled to a complete stop. Had he been able to finish the race, Hucul saw a top-five result as realistic. He had to settle for 22nd while the legendary A.J. Foyt celebrated what would be his fourth and final Indy 500 championship.
For the 1978 Indianapolis 500, Hucul and his pit crew fought an uphill battle against mechanical issues and he clinched his spot in the race in the final hour of the final day of qualifying. He started 27th on the grid but his Indy 500 experience lasted just four laps (broken oil line) and he finished 33rd.
In 1979, Hucul was enjoying a successful season and came into the Indy 500 second to Foyt in the points standings. He qualified 18th for the Indy, but, once again, didn’t have good fortune on his side. With 22 laps in the books, his engine dropped a valve and he was forced to accept a 29th-place finish.
During his time as an Indy car driver, from 1977 to 1981, Hucul made 24 starts and posted eight top-10 finishes. His best finish was a fourth-place at Texas World Speedway in 1979.
For Brian Martinson, running is a way of life.
As a runner and a coach, Martinson walks the talk. He practices what he preaches.
Martinson has been running track since he was in high school and, throughout the years, he has competed at track and field meets. While continuing to compete, he took up coaching track and cross-country runners in 1984 and, since then, he has helped develop young athletes for more than 30 years. Martinson not only trains with the runners, he coaches them too.
Martinson coaches track at Prince George Secondary School and also with the Prince George Track and Field Club guiding the middle distance runners. His contribution to the sport also extends beyond the competitive field as he joined the executive with the Prince George Track and Field Club more than a decade ago and became president in 2009 after Tom Masich stepped down.
Martinson has organized the high school zone track meet for the past 15 years and was one of the key organizers of the 2012 provincial cross-country championships, viewed as one of the best provincial championships ever staged.
Aside from his involvement with the track and field club and with high school sports, Martinson was also president and race director for the Prince George Road Runners for several years.
At most track meets in Prince George, Martinson can be found organizing the meet and working the finish-line cameras and meet results.
As a runner himself, Martinson has found success competing locally, provincially, nationally and internationally.
He won the Prince George Iceman race in 1988, posting a personal-best time of 2:05:35.
At the B.C. Cross-Country Championships, he won the masters division eight-kilometre race in 2012 with a time of 33:50. He followed that up in 2013 with a third-place finish time of 32:18.
In a four-year span between 2010 and 2013, he was on the podium all four times at the Goodlife Royal Victoria 8K in the 50-plus age group. In 2010, he was third, clocking a time of 31:32; in 2011, he finished second with a time of 31:15; in 2012, he was third with a time of 31:48; and in 2013 he was second with a time of 32:18.
At the Canadian Cross-Country Championships, Martinson posted a sixth-place finish in the masters category in 2005 and earned seventh place in 2012.
At the Canadian Masters Track and Field Championships, he clocked a time of 2:29.09 in the 800-metre race to finish fifth and won the bronze medal in the 1,500m with a time of 5:11.65.
At the 2005 World Masters Games in Edmonton, Martinson finished fifth in the 8,000m cross-country race with a time of 31:46. He was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase with a time of 11:12.01 and finished ninth in the 1,500m with a time of 4:43.94.
At the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Spokane, Wash., Martinson posted ninth-place finishes in the 1,500m and 800m races.
At the 2010 World Indoor Championships in Kamloops, Martinson was 11th in the 1,500m with a time of 5:01.07; sixth in the 3,000m with a time of 10:41.63; and eighth in the 8,000m with a time of 29:19.80.
From Prince George to Rio de Janeiro to Beijing and all points in between, dribbling a ball has taken Elisha Williams across Canada and around the world.
Williams enjoyed a stellar basketball career, representing her city, province and country. The foundation of her success was built in Prince George.
After an outstanding stand-up basketball high school career at Duchess Park Secondary, Williams earned a full athletics scholarship to play the game at the NCAA Division 1 level at San Jose State University. When multiple knee injuries playing stand-up basketball resulted in her leaving the game, she thought her dreams of representing Canada at the international level were dashed. She returned home to Canada to study at the University of Alberta and the University of Northern British Columbia.
In 2005, Williams was recruited to play wheelchair basketball by fellow athletes. B.C. coach Pat Harris, inducted into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, was instrumental in getting Williams hooked on the wheelchair game.
Williams was classified in 2007 to play on her local club teams and later joined the Canadian Women’s Espoir program. In 2007, she was an alternate with the Canadian team that won the silver medal at the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Williams finally realized her dream of representing Canada at the international level in basketball.
Between 2007 and 2013, Williams excelled playing for Canada’s senior women’s wheelchair basketball team, helping Team Canada win seven medals in international competition and earn a sixth-place finish at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, England.
In 2010, Team Canada rolled to the bronze medal at the world championships in Birmingham, England; won gold at the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, England; and earned the bronze medal at the Osaka Cup in Japan.
In 2009, the Canadians won the bronze medal at the Osaka Cup, following a gold medal at the Good Luck Beijing Invitational tournament in 2008 in Beijing, China.
Williams retired from the national team in 2013.
At the U.S. collegiate wheelchair basketball level, Williams enrolled at the University of Alabama on an athletic scholarship and helped the women’s team to the national intercollegiate championship in 2011 and to silver medals in 2012 and 2013. She was named to the 2011 Women’s College Wheelchair Basketball All-Freshman team.
Williams took over as Alabama’s head coach in 2014 and led the Crimson Tide to its fourth national title in 2015.
In between playing and coaching, Williams found time to complete four university degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education from San Jose State University (where she was a two-time Academic All-Star); a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from the University of Alberta; a Masters degree in Disability Management from UNBC; and a PhD in Exercise Physiology from the University of Alabama.
Her awards off the basketball court are impressive. She received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 and the British Columbia Premier’s Award in 2008, given to athletes who, through their commitment to hard work and excellence, have left their mark on the province.