Remembering Sonny Homer
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
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.