Contributed by John Forrest (Orillia, ON)
HIS NAME WAS FRANK DANBY, but to me he will always be The Coach.
The Coach took on the task of forming a new hockey team, out of a group teenagers, most of whom were cast-offs cut from other teams. We had a wide range of talent and personalities, some very good players and a lot of others who wanted to be. Our practice time was brutal; Saturday Mornings, at 5:30 a.m. We whined. But, although in his sixties, The Coach was always first on the ice. Some of us arrived straight from Friday night parties; but no one even considered skipping out on The Coach.
I can still feel the frigid air grabbing my lungs, while we skated our warm-up circuits. As we ran our drills the heat would rise from our heads, forming vaporous halos in the freezing air above. Gliding bent at the waist, sucking wind, we sprang back into action at the blast of his whistle. Every Saturday, The Coach was there, teaching and guiding. He honed and made the most of what skills we possessed and he set an example for us in his attitude toward hockey. For him, winning wasn’t everything; how you played the game was!
I can still see him behind the bench; tall, gaunt, stooped slightly at the shoulders, fedora pushed slightly up on his forehead. He rarely yelled and never belittled.
The Coach didn’t demand respect; he commanded it! You knew, if you played his way; hard, clean and smart and gave it all every time, the wins would come. Two years in a row we made the playoffs. Both years injury forced me to watch in frustration as the Championship was denied us. Some might have cut me or called it quits, but not The Coach. He made us believe in ourselves; maybe next year?
Next year came. We never lost again. Two years, undefeated over 70 games, two League Pennants, two Toronto Township Titles and a Metro Toronto Championship. Nobody beat The Coach’s team, ever again.
We couldn’t have known then the pride he felt, but I understand now. Pride, not just in winning; but in moulding a bunch of boys into a team of young men. The Coach taught us more than hockey skills; he taught us skills for life.
Grantland Rice wrote “When the one great scorer comes, to mark against your name; it matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game.”
Well the one great scorer came, to mark against The Coach’s name. For those who knew him there is no doubt how that score-sheet reads.
The name Frank Danby has been penciled in along side thousands of other unsung heroes; women and men who have influenced the lives of millions of young people; leaving a lasting legacy and a treasury of cherished memories with those they touched.