Mayor de­fends town’s self­pro­claimed ti­tle as sports cap­i­tal


When en­ter­ing the small, unas­sum­ing town of Har­bour Grace via Jamie’s Way, mo­torists are greeted with an eye-catch­ing, over­sized bill­board.

A first-time visi­tor would be hard­pressed not to slow down and take a closer look.

The jumbo sign fea­tures a photo of hockey player Danny Cleary, proudly hoist­ing the Stan­ley Cup over his head, and gold medal­ist Jamie Korab throw­ing a stone dur­ing the curl­ing competition at the 2006 Win­ter Olympic Games.

A mes­sage on the top of the sign reads: “ WEL­COME TO HAR­BOUR GRACE.”

But it’s the mes­sage on the bot­tom that re­ally catches your at­ten­tion.

It reads: “ HOME OF CHAM­PI­ONS. SPORTS CAP­I­TAL OF NEW­FOUND­LAND AND LABRADOR.” Self-pro­claimed It is a bold procla­ma­tion for a town of barely 3,000 peo­ple (ac­cord­ing to the 2006 cen­sus), but even more brash when you con­sider the town awarded the ti­tle to it­self.

“ It’s a great way to cel­e­brate our ac­com­plish­ments,” Mayor Don Coombs says of the sign, which he says has been a big hit with lo­cals and vis­i­tors.

“ It’s great. Peo­ple go out and get their pho­tos with the sign.”

The sign was erected sev­eral years ago, not long af­ter Cleary, a na­tive of River­head, Har­bour Grace, and the Detroit Red Wings, sent the whole prov­ince into a Stan­ley Cup frenzy. Cleary was the first New­found­lan­der to ever bring home the leg­endary tro­phy.

Coombs says the ti­tle is ac­cu­rate, and rep­re­sents more than just a gold medal and Stan­ley Cup. He says it cel- ebrates a long, proud his­tory of sport, and he doesn’t think any other town in New­found­land and Labrador could make a sim­i­lar claim.

“Our re­gatta is the sec­ond old­est sport­ing event in North Amer­ica,” he says. “ We’ve had suc­cess­ful ath­letes in ev­ery­thing, not just tra­di­tional sports.”

Coombs cites Me­lanie Haire as an ex­am­ple. In 2006, she won a sil­ver medal at the world karate cham­pi­onships in Den­mark. Anna Robin­son, a com­pet­i­tive swim­mer, is cur­rently a Rhodes scholar in Eng­land, due in part to her com­mit­ment to the sport.

Har­bour Grace ath­letes have also taken home a num­ber of re­gional and pro­vin­cial awards in soc­cer and ten­nis.

If you look even far­ther back in time, it’s clear many sports are part of Har­bour Grace’s his­tory.

John Shan­non Munn, born in Har­bour Grace in 1880, has been de­scribed as the “ best crick­eter in the his­tory of New­found­land” by cricket his­to­ri­ans. The five Wil­liams brothers were well-known row­ers in the prov­ince, and dom­i­nated the Har­bour Grace re­gatta through­out the 1960s.

In the mod­ern era, the town’s fa­cil­i­ties have at­tracted ma­jor sport­ing events. It co-hosted the 1992 pro­vin­cial sum­mer games with Car­bon­ear,

Jamie Pike belted three home runs July 11 dur­ing a wild 19-18 win for Rock Hard Con­struc­tion over Butt’s Esso in Car­bon­ear men’s slo-pitch ac­tion.

The Rock Hard win fol­lowed an ear­lier 1711 loss to West Side Charles in Game 1.

Pike fin­ished with four hits against Butt’s, while Trevor Smith reached base on all five of his at-bats. Ryan Dean also had four hits, while Gord King and Jody Doyle had two hits each.

Jody Doyle tossed the win for Rock Hard, while Ger­ard Grif­fin suf­fered the loss. and is set to co-host the games with Car­bon­ear again in 2012.

And soc­cer con­tin­ues to be a pop­u­lar sport in the town.

Not all agree

It’s un­de­ni­able that Har­bour Grace has a notable sports his­tory. But, does that make it the “ Sports Cap­i­tal of New­found­land”?

Sports his­to­rian Dee Mur­phy, au­thor of “ Our Sports: The Games and Ath­letes of New­found­land and Labrador,”thinks it’s a bit more com­pli­cated.

“In fair­ness to Har­bour Grace, they have a long sports his­tory,” Dee says. “(Coombs) is en­ti­tled to call the town what­ever he wants, but I wouldn’t call it the sports cap­i­tal of New­found­land.”

In his book, Mur­phy lists a num­ber of towns he con­sid­ers to have promi­nence in pro­vin­cial sports. In his opin­ion, Bell Is­land is the hockey cap­i­tal of the prov­ince, St. Lawrence is the soc­cer cap­i­tal and Cor­ner brook is the base­ball cap­i­tal.

His pair­ings go on, but Har­bour Grace is not in­cluded any­where on the list.

“ The big­gest thing they have there is the re­gatta,” he says. “ The CeeBees are good, but they get a lot of play­ers from places like Car­bon­ear and other towns.”

When asked which town might be wor­thy of the “sports cap­i­tal” la­bel,

Den­nis King with three hits, in­clud­ing a home run, in a los­ing cause. Andrew Butt and Cory Clarke also went deep for Butt’s, Chad Parsons had three hits, and Ryan Parsons, Blair Parsons, Jeff Parsons, Chris Parsons, Shane Lambert and Luke Ho­gan had two hits apiece.

West Side Char­lies 17, Rock Hard Con­struc­tion 11

In the first game played on July 11, Tim Brake and Alf Bourne both had big nights for West Side Char­lies. Both reached base five times. Mur­phy could not name one.

“Of course, St. John’s has the most fa­mous ath­letes, but that’s be­cause of pop­u­la­tion. Re­cre­ation-wise, Mount Pearl is way ahead of ev­ery­one for fa­cil­i­ties, but I can’t think of any town that I would call the sports cap­i­tal of New­found­land.”

Signs of down­turn

Re­cently, some say Har­bour Grace’s sports promi­nence has been slip­ping.

The once vaunted CeeBees’ se­nior mens’ hockey team has gone down to de­feat for the past three con­sec­u­tive years in the Herder Me­mo­rial Tro­phy fi­nal, which is sym­bolic of se­nior hockey sur­premacy in the prov­ince.

And in re­cent years, the Blue­berry Har­vest Run has been strug­gling due to a lack of vol­un­teers.

What’s more, it’s also no longer the only town in New­found­land and Labrador with a Stan­ley Cup cham­pion. Michael Ry­der of Bon­av­ista won the tro­phy ear­lier this year with the Bos­ton Bru­ins.

An­other Bon­av­ista na­tive, Adam Pardy, is also an NHLer, and in­ter­na­tional rugby star Rod Snow was born in the town.

Lloyd Stagg, who man­ages Cabot Sta­dium in Bon­av­ista, says Har­bour Grace should watch out.

“ I would have no prob­lem what­so­ever call­ing Bon­av­ista the sports cap­i­tal of New­found­land,” he says.

Walt Davis, a sports en­thu­si­ast from Grand Falls-Wind­sor, says he has no prob­lem with Har­bour Grace’s self-pro­claimed ti­tle.

“ I don’t blame them,” he says. “ When we get a player in the NHL, we’ll put up a sign, too.”

Coombs is not wor­ried about Bon­av­ista, or any other town.

“No one can touch it,” he as­serts.

Grant Tobin had four hits. Paul O’Leary and Sam White had three hits each, and John Jac­ques had two hits.

Sam White tossed the win on the pitch­ing mound for the win­ners, while Jody Doyle suf­fered the pitch­ing loss.

Top bat­ters for the loser were Ryan Dean, David King and Bradley Har­ris, with three hits each. Trevor Smith and Randy Moores had two hits each.

Don Coombs is the mayor of Har­bour Grace, the self-pro­claimed sports cap­i­tal of New­found­land and Labrador.

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