For a team to be successful, in sport or in life, every member has a role to play, and everyone has to be respected.
That’s the idea behind Not Without My Teammates, a new children’s book created by East Kildonan’s Jeff McWhinney, the son of the late Grey Cup champion Glenn "Keeper" McWhinney.
"It’s not just a kids book, it’s not a coffee table book," McWhinney explained. "I want it to be an opportunity for parents and kids to talk. If we can get communication going, we can make change. One step, one breath at a time, one kid at a time. Maybe that kid catches the dream and runs with it."
Inspired by stories his father had told him over the years, and by his own experiences as "keeper" of the Grey Cup, McWhinney hopes the book will help open the eyes of both children and adults alike to celebrate our differences, and to look past race, ability, or religion to see everyone’s inherent value as a human being.
"I found out more about the teams in ‘52, ‘53, ‘54, ‘55, ‘56, learning more about racism and multiculturalism and the religious lines that were not being crossed," McWhinney said. "But these guys did it!"
Collecting stories of his father and his former teammates Cal Jones, Jackie Parker, and Normie Kwong along with the influence contemporary figures Dayna Spiring and Jed Roberts, McWhinney hopes to spread the message that every individual has value and that nobody should be discriminated against.
After coming up with the idea for the book, McWhinney teamed up with another Miles Macdonell Collegiate grad, Gwen Smid, to write the book.
"My history teachers, my English teachers would laugh at this," McWhinney joked. "This was like being a rookie. You’re listening to your coaches. I’m listening to Gwen. And Gwen had no clue about football, which was the best. She wrote the story with me, and she learned something, too."
With illustrations by Sheldon Dawson, and detailed biographies of each of the real life characters included in the story, McWhinney plans to gift 3,000 copies of the book, which is published RYCOM Solutions Group Inc. and printed by Friesens, to children from high risk schools across Canada.
"This is a gift to them to say, ‘You count’," McWhinney said. "I want them to be given the same gift that was given to my dad, whether it was with Jackie Parker, or Normie Kwong, his roommate, or Cal Jones."
The ability to get the book printed and in the hands of so many children, free of cost, came with partnerships McWhinney was able to forge with Click Before You Dig (an organization for which he acts as an ambassador), Fire Plan Pro, and Utility Safety Partners.
"The traction we’ve gotten so far, I really think we’re only in the first quarter with this," McWhinney said. "We’ll see what happens."
Plans are in the works to make the book available for purchase, with proceeds going to help fund the scholarship in Glenn McWhinney’s name. Currently, an annual scholarship is given to a graduating student from Miles Macdonell Collegiate.
"Miles Mac is where it all started, for Gwen and I," McWhinney said. "Ultimately, I’d love to see the buy in for a national scholarship, to give away in the host city of Grey Cup every year. It will travel, the Glen Keeper McWhinney perseverance award."
Visit notwithoutmyteammates.ca to learn more.
Sheldon Birnie is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112