a "nice" story about growing up in the 60s-

Remembering Sonny Homer
2006-03-17 14:35:28
by Cono N. Spitale

Last week Canadian football fans of a certain age (alas, aging baby boomers like me) may have noted the passing away of former British Columbia football star and Trail-native, North Vancouver-schooled Lawrence "Sonny" Homer in
North Vancouver.

I read the just-too-small obituary notice in The Vancouver Sun sports pages and was mentally shipped back in time to Hamilton Ontario to the Monday morning after the November 1964 Grey Cup game. It is the Grade 10 history class at Cathedral Boys High School taught by one Frank Cosentino, a popular, local back-up quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

As nearly every one of the boys in the class already knew, less than 48 hours earlier at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium, the B.C. Lions had defeated the Tiger Cats 34-24 in the 52nd Grey Cup game.

Mr. Cosentino had made it clear from day one of his class that year that, despite who he was outside the classroom, there was to be no talking about football during his class - given the historical difficulty any teacher has in making an emotional connection with students, you'd think this an odd barrier to erect but such that it was. This edict made him unpopular in an era of rigid educational methods in the Canadian school system - and of course guaranteed that his history students, including me, would learn only as much world history from him that year as they felt necessary to pass the course.

It was on to this small local stage that a cocky young man named Dan M., the quarterback of the Cathedral junior football team, strutted into the class that morning wearing Sonny Homer's number 21 B.C. Lions' football jersey.
For proper perspective, readers should know this was a time before the public sale of jerseys to sports fans by teams. That huge white jersey with the black numbers and the orange arm trim was the most impressive sports "thing" I had ever seen in my short life. Now as anyone knows it is extremely difficult to silence a room full of 15-year-old boys before a class but the sight of this instantly did. The boys around Mr. M's seat, including me, were momentarily numbed but one managed to ask: "How did you get it?"

In the swaggering way that a sports star at a school carried himself, he cooly replied something about his family knowing one of the B.C. Lions' staff. Why he wanted to confront the teacher he never had time to say, to show a little individualism in the face of authority perhaps; at any rate his impromptu press conference was about to be interrupted.

In the midst of the fawning and gawking, walks the aforentioned Mr. Cosentino, at first no doubt thinking it was just another history class. He drops his briefcase down, looks up to address the class and before he could open his mouth, he, the professional quarterback, spots Mr. M., the amateur teenage one, wearing one of 'those' white jerseys - the ones with the orange trim he must have been thinking about every waking second since the Saturday contest in which his team had lost. What was he going to do next was the question on the mind of every young man in the class.

"Take it off and put it in the hall!" was all he said and the young quarterback shufflled off dejectedly and sheepishly returned moments later. The "old" quarterback/teacher had won this skirmish quickly and decisively and then proceeded to begin the boring history class the contents of which I, and certainly the others, didn't remember.

Though winning the battle, he lost the war because though we were fans of him and his team prior to this unexpected generational clash, we subsequently sided with the underdog Dan and the otherwise absent Mr. Homer.

After the class, what I do remember was taking mental note of the name Sonny Homer. He was a Canadian-born player overshadowed in the just completed Grey Cup game by the unforeseen heroics of an American teammate named Bill Munsey and the two big, well-known American stars on his team Joe Kapp and Willie Fleming. From then on when I saw Sonny Homer in a Lions game (he would play four more years before retiring in 1968), I would think about that one-act
drama in Hamilton.

About seven or eight years (and light years of social change) later, it is the eearly '70s and I am looking for a place to sit in a cafeteria at the University of Western Ontario. My eye catches Mr.C. sitting by himself. He is by then the football coach of the Western Mustangs and perhaps a prof in his spare time. There is an awkward moment when I think about sitting down next to him, we are afterall hometown acquaintances in a "foreign" place. Instead I looked straight ahead and sat at the other end of the big cafeteria, wondering if I could put a fine point on the "statement" I just made. Maybe it was just one of the Cathedral students' winning one over Goliath.

Shortly thereafter in the summer of '73, I arrive in Vancouver, start going to B.C. Lions games though still a Tiger Cat fan. A few years pass, loyalties to my hometown team start to erode and I adopt the long-retired Sonny Homer's old squad.

In the seeming blink of an eye, it is the first week of March in the year 2006 and a small item catches my eye last week in the local paper. "Funeral services are being held today to celebrate the life of Lawrence "Sonny" Homer a B.C. Lions Wall of Fame member..."

The funeral service was held at Holy Trinity Church in North Vancouver where I've lived for nearly 30 years - it is the same church I used to attend and where I stood on the altar a few steps from my sister Ida in the summer of'76 when she got married.

I never met Mr. Homer so I don't know if the above relationship is one or two degrees of separation. I do wish I had the chance of bumping into him in our adopted hometown just to tell him about the day the spirit of 'ol number 21 walked into my little Hamilton high school.

Thanks for that.

That was a good read :slight_smile:

I was at Cathedral when Frank Cosentino was there; he in great 12 and I in grade 9. Due to the gap in our ages, I never got to know Frank well, but I was more than aware that he had the potential to do some great things in and out of football. From what I did know of Frank, he was a nice, shy, strictly business kind of guy. It doesn’t surprise me that he wanted the BC lion jersey out of his history class. Knowing the way things worked at Cathedral in those days, and indeed, throughout the Separate School System, I would bet that before Frank actually took control of a class, he was read the riot act and in no uncertain terms, was told to do what he was good at…stick to business. You’re here to teach history, not talk football. I predict that he would have tossed out any reference to football in his history class, if only to keep his teaching job. Things have certainly changed, but that’s the way it was in the day.

As it happened, Frank was pretty good at both of these jobs. He enjoyed a lengthy career in the teaching profession and held his own on the gridiron, particularly when he was paired up with Joe Zuger. These two guys disproved the theory that you have to have a single team leader; a quarterback who would start the game and stay on the field come hell or high water. This was one of the best platooning systems I’ve ever seen in the Canadian game, even though it was uncommon and remains so to this day.

Don’t be too hard on Frank for, as I see it, following very strict orders and doing his job the only way he knew how; with fervour and determination.

He remains a great guy and a devout Ticat fan to this day.

My impression of Frank Cosentino

Frank became a student again three years
after he taught you in Grade 10, smokey.

He took his Phys. Ed. degree with me at Mc Master
to start down the road into university teaching.

As well as Frank being a CFL QB, we were
all many years younger than he was by then

and we were a bit awestruck having him in the course.

Not long into the school year that changed.

while we were waiting for our instructor, Frank unhooked the ropes
that hang from the ceiling on the mezzanine in the Burridge gym

He grabbed on tightly to one of those ropes, ran across the floor
lifted up into the air and flew 10 or 15 yards to land on a crash pad.

Pretty soon were were all doing it and one of the professors showed up.

Even though is was a dangerous activity to indulge in,

I think the professor didn't make a big deal of it
because he saw that Frank was the ringleader.

As a peer or near peer, Frank was an open and approachable guy.

Many of us were quite thrilled to be invited to a party at his house.

The rest of us, the non-married guys were not invited.

I can guess the reason why. A smart move.

P.S.

Back in the day, almost all teachers kept a distance
between themselves and their students, as I recall,

anything less was frowned upon by their superiors.

For the record, I too was one Frank's students at Cathedral and shared the classroom that fateful day... though my recollections and conclusions differ from those of my classmate now in BC... I found Frank proper and well versed in his subject/s. Canadian History, as taught at the time, was at best a dry subject and he managed to make a darned good job of it.

I submitted the story I found as a slice of life about the game of Canadian football -- two Canadian heroes, one from BC and one a Ticat, a Grey Cup game from long ago... The story showed the somewhat sophomoric and intense views of teenage kids, their egos and their passions....nothing more, nothing less.

I remember Frank had the awkward but necessary task of formally instructing us in the Facts of Life - Health Education- it was called--- and he did so with good taste, good judgement and good humour... though it was kind of hard to be toooo out of line when faced with a 6 ft 3, trim and fit quarterback with a Marine corps crew cut, a steely eyed stare and hands the size of catchers mitts..

He ran a class of tough street wise kids from the north end of Hamilton the way it should be conducted. With dignity and good judgement.. the same way that he acted out the passion of his life as a Ticat QB..

Frank Cosentino became a full professor with impeccable credentials and a great university coach at two schools. He is an expert on the history of the Canadian game of football and authored definitive works on that matter.

Frank Cosentino was and is a classy guy. Many years later when I was honoured to sit at a table with him at a charity event, he still, without prompting, remembered my name...

The steelmills made them tough, the City, the coaches and the team made them classy.

The day he was traded to Edmonton, the guys at Cathedral (those few who werent failing history because they were too caught up in themselves to know that school is about learning and not about ego) probably mouthed the words... Say it aint so, Frank.. say it aint so.

Frank Cosentino exemplified the Lombardi/ Green Bay work ethic... He was the symbol of an era...

I believe that it was homebrews like him and Zeno Karz, Tommy Grant, Ronny Howell, Pete Neumann and company that were the backbone and trademark of Ticat greatness.

:thup:

"smokeystover" (and other Hamilton football veterans ----- whether it's a former player or long time fan)

I think contributions to the discussion, like yours, are priceless.

thanks for sharing. :slight_smile:

What a wonderful thread, and such fantastic memories.

And I agree with smokeystover about the importance of those fabulous Canadian players in building the Ticat tradition over the years... many of them lesser known, not necessarily all stars.... the ones you mentioned and many more, like Gord Christian, Pete Giftopoulos, Rob Hitchcock, Cam Fraser, Mike Morreale, Dick Wesolowski, Carl Coulter, Rocky Di Pietro, Mike Philbrick, Dale Sanderson, Chet Miksza, and others.

and lest we forget ed turek, john michaluk, johnny metras and johnny manel .. among many others..

Nice read SS1. Seeing I come from the same era I could identify with everything. Most of the teachers back then thought most of us would never amount to anything. :slight_smile:
Now looking at the younger generation I'm starting to see things the same way. :wink:

What a great story. Thanks!!!

An Argo-Cat fan

Great story, great reads. I had the honour of having Frank Cosentino give a couple guest lectures at the Univ. of Western Ontario in Canadian sports history, a real treat to listen to this man talk so passionately about Canada and his knowledge was absolutely amazing. Fantastic to have learned of Sonny Homer here, thank-you.