Back Row (left to right):
Don Sawicki, Roddy LeBlanc (manager), Greg Smith, Robert Kochan, Dave Bragnalo, William Nesbitt (coach), Rick Sandberg.
Middle Row (left to right):
George Kenno, David Hudyma, James Montroy, John Tafe, John Pimenow.
Bottom Row (left to right):
Alan Rawlyk, William Sutherland, William McEwan, Ron Busniuk.
The team was an all-star squad made up of players from an eight-team league sponsored by the Fort William Royal Canadian Legion branches. On Monday, August 17th, 1964 in Stoney Creek, Ontario, the Fort William National All-Stars defeated the team from Valleyfield, Quebec by a score of 14-2 to claim our first Canadian Senior Little League crown.
Two days later the team found themselves boarding a plane in Toronto for their trip to Louisville, Kentucky and the chance to be the first team to represent Canada at the Senior Little League World Series. Arriving late in the evening, the next morning they were issued their tournament uniforms bearing the name Canada. What a great moment that must have been! Their first game was played under the lights in the 20,000 seat State Fairground Stadium, against a team from Brenham, Texas.
Finishing out the first inning ahead 4-3, the team held the lead until their opponents added two unmatched runs in each of the 5th and 6th innings. Although outhitting the Texas team nine to eight, their 7-4 loss saw them out of the single game knock-out tournament, but having put in a strong showing against a tough team.
To say that the citizens of the Lakehead were proud of this team’s accomplishments would be an understatement. Prior to the days of Twitter and Facebook, it was quite an effort, and expense to send a message. That did not seem to matter to the over 500 supporters that added their names to a telegram that was sent to the players.
Upon their return home the team was greeted at the airport by over 1,000 cheering fans. They were then escorted through town in a motorcade that included convertibles and fire trucks. Cheered along the parade route, they arrived at the Fort William Gardens to a packed house.
The next day the team was treated to a meal at the Royal Edward Hotel, a civic banquet and a return engagement to the Gardens where they were introduced and presented with watches by the Legion. Following an autograph session a dance was held with Donny B and the Bonnevilles supplying the music.
So just how much did this hero’s welcome mean to these young sports stars? As one player stated, “it (the tournament play) was a real thrill, a real experience, but nothing compared to coming home’.
The members of the 1964 Fort William Nationals Senior Little League team included:
Dave Bragnalo - 3rd base
Ron Busniuk - catcher-pitcher
David Hudyma - short stop
George Kenno - pitcher
Robert Kochan - 2nd base
William McEwan - right field
James Montroy - second base
John Pimenow - outfield
Alan Rawlyk - catcher
Rick Sandberg - pitcher
Don Sawicki - pitcher
Greg Smith - first base
Bill Sutherland - left field
John Tafe - centre field
William Nesbitt - Coach
Roddy LeBlanc - Manager
Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, September 28, 1985