Celebrating Manitoba’s best Black athletes
February is Black History Month, so what better time to remember Black sports personalities who were pioneers or made a major impact in our province?
Let’s begin by going back more than a century to sprinter John (Army) Howard, a 2004 Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inductee. After winning the 100 and 200 metre races at the Canadian Olympic trials, Howard ran for his country at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. The next summer he was the Canadian champion in the 100- and 220-yard sprints. His grandson, Harry Jerome of North Vancouver, won bronze in the 100 metres at the 1964 Olympics and gold at the 1967 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg.
Piercy (Percy) Haynes was best known as a musician and the proprietor of Haynes Chicken Shack, a North End Winnipeg institution until the 1990s, but he also was an accomplished athlete. Haynes was the only Black player on the 1932 national champion Stellars basketball team, the city amateur welterweight boxing champion in 1933 and 1934, and one of the city’s top softball pitchers.
When Alf Lewsey joined the Winnipeg Monarchs in the 1950-51 season, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that he was the first Black man to play junior hockey in our province. A multi-sport athlete, Lewsey played high school football for St. John’s and junior baseball for Columbus Club. In November 1950, the leading African American newspaper Chicago Defender predicted a bright future for Lewsey and suggested that “he can be to hockey what Jackie Robinson was to organized baseball – the guy to break down the racial barriers.”
Lewsey’s nomadic hockey career with 15 different teams included playing in six provinces plus a season in Scotland and another in England. He also won an EHL championship in 1955-56 with the New Haven Blades.
Also on the hockey ice, Earl Grey Community Club product and Winnipeg Rangers junior Alton (Junior) White became the first Black player in the WHA when he played for the New York Raiders and the Los Angeles Sharks in the inaugural season of 1972-73. Winkler-born Ray Neufeld and Eldon (Pokey) Reddick were teammates on the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s.
The year 1950 was pivotal for Black athletes in Manitoba. Tom Casey and John Brown joined the Blue Bombers that season. After six Western all-star seasons, three as a running back and three as a defensive half, Casey earned a medical degree from the University of Manitoba. An all-star centre in both football and basketball, Brown, a two-time senior A basketball league MVP, is one of 12 Black players inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame. Marjorie Kelly and Joe Ogoms played for the U of M and Barry King for the U of W. The other eight played for Brandon University. Also in 1950, Charlie Brower helped Stellars win the Canadian junior basketball title. When the team repeated the next season, the overage player was an assistant coach.
The ManDak League, which began play in 1950 and operated until 1957, was called a haven for former Negro League baseball players. After Jackie Robinson entered organized baseball in 1946, other talented young Black players joined him, which began the demise of the Negro Leagues in the U.S.A. Older players came north to play in Winnipeg, Carman and Brandon.
A National Baseball HOF inductee in 1997, Willie Wells was the playing manager of the Winnipeg Buffaloes, who beat the Brandon Greys in the 1950 final. Wells, whose Negro Leagues career ran from 1924 to 1949, is considered by many the greatest Negro Leagues shortstop. Leon Day, who entered the Cooperstown HOF in 1995, pitched the Buffaloes to a 1-0, 17-inning victory in the final game. Future major leaguer Solly Drake of the Elmwood Giants was named the league’s all-star centrefielder.
Boxer Al Sparks moved to Winnipeg from the east coast in 1952 and after three bouts was Manitoba’s amateur light heavyweight boxing champion. He turned pro in 1958 and 10 years later won the Canadian light heavyweight title. Sparks soon lost it to Rene Durell but won it back later in the year and held the crown until 1973. He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports HOF in 1996.
T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport
Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org