Wednesday, 01 February 2012 22:14

Sporting greats share memories at fundraising dinner

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By Matthew Liebenberg — This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Don Narcisse had some simple advice to the new Saskatchewan Roughriders coaching staff.

Still popular with fans after playing 219 games for the Roughriders from 1987 to 1999, Narcisse was the featured speaker along with former Montreal Canadiens player Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer at the 8th annual Field of Dreams sports dinner in Swift Current Jan. 28.

“They just need to win,” Narcisse said in response to a question from the audience.

He also had some advice to the players who will represent the team next season. Referring to statements from players that the coach did not motivate them during the 2011 season, he suggested it is time for players to stop complaining.

“They got to step up to the plate,” he said to great applause. “When you go to the bank to cash your own cheque the coach is not with you there. So it’s time for you to stand up.”

The Canadiens are experiencing a bumpy season. A change in coaching staff and controversy about the lack of French language skills by interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth has clouded the season. Cournoyer was quick to respond.

“If you think you have a problem with a coach here, what do you think of Montreal,” he asked. “I told them, ‘be patient. There’s got to be be another guy that speaks French.’”

On a more serious note, Cournoyer felt Cunneyworth was doing a good job. He said it is important to have good players as well as a good coach.

“Don’t quit on Montreal,” he said. “We’re going to come back.”

Both speakers are Hall of Famers, with Narcisse inducted into the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in 2010 and Cournoyer into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.

Narcisse spoke about how he got started in football and about his ups and downs in the game before joining the Roughriders. He started playing football as a seven-year-old boy in the streets of Port Arthur, Texas with the older neighbourhood children.

For health reasons his mother preferred that he rather played the trumpet, but he persevered.

With most of the other players taller and faster, he had to work hard.

“All these guys that were in front of me were talented,” he said. “But the one thing they didn’t do is they didn’t work hard and that’s what I did.”

Three Roughriders fans in the audience received a pleasant surprise when Narcisse called them up to the podium. He then presented one of his rings to each of them to put on their finger and to share with others at their table during the evening.

Tom Westbury received his Grey Cup ring. Will Hyswick was able to take Narcisse’s Plaza of Honour ring to his table and Sharon Hogg received his Hall of Fame ring. Narcisse said the Hall of Fame ring was very special, because his mother died only five days before he received it.

“This ring means so much to me because when I decided to come here, I moved on faith that the Saskatchewan fans was going to take care of me,” he mentioned.

Cournoyer, also spoke about his career progression and how fortunate he was to actually live his dream of playing for the Canadiens.

“The dream is not too bad when you dream to play hockey for the Montreal Canadiens and when you’re 19 years old you get a call to say you’re going to Detroit tomorrow.”

During his 16 seasons with the team he scored 428 goals and 435 assists. He averaged only 17 penalty minutes per season during his entire career.

“I learned a lot with the Montreal Canadiens,” he said. “I think the Montreal Canadiens showed me how to win.”

Another important lesson for him was that after the hard work to become a member of the team it took even more work to remain one.

“That’s when you become a winning team because you work harder to stay on the same team,” he said.

Now in its eighth year, the Field of Dreams sports dinner has become a popular event to raise funds for the Swift Current Indians and minor baseball in the city. The Field of Dreams committee was originally formed in 2004 to raise funds to pay for the installation of lights at Mitchell Field.

Since then money raised through the annual dinner has helped to pay for items such as a batting cage and uniforms. In 2011 funds were used to provide 520 new seats for the ball park.

Recent guest speakers at the event included Walter Gretzky and Mike Abou-Mechrek in 2011, Gerry Cheevers and Wes Cates in 2010, Chris Szarka and Daryl Sittler in 2009, Matt Dominguez and Dennis Hull in 2008 and Scott Schultz and Nancy Harvey in 2007.

Hector Wood, the chairperson of the Field of Dreams committee, said they sold around 340 tickets for this year’s event.

“That’s a full house,” he noted.

There was a live and silent auction at the event. Some of the notable amounts paid during the evening was $1,200 by Chuck Audette for a signed Canadiens jersey and $2,100 by Duane Smith for a number 80 Roughriders jersey.

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