Triumph and tragedy: Remembering the gold-winning 1992 LCVI Spartans

'We lost a little of ourselves along the way'

By Lindsay Advocate

The 1992 Gold medal LCVI Spartans senior rugby team.

By Bruce Barrett

There has been much focus in the past decade on the importance of diet and exercise on overall health. However, the role social connectedness plays in longevity, brain health and wellness has joined the diet, daily exercise duo to form a triangle of well-being. One that places increasing importance on the value of family, friends, and social structures.

Last month I was at the induction ceremony for the Lindsay and area Sports Hall of Fame class of 2022. Among the inductees was the 1992 Gold medal LCVI Spartans Senior Rugby team. Thirty years ago, this group of young men reached the pinnacle of high school sport in this province, winning the Ontario Federation of Secondary Schools Athletic Association (OFSAA) championship in Toronto. My colleague, Ron Augustine, and I were the coaches on that team. Thirty years is a long time, and the occasion provided a wonderful opportunity to rekindle the memories and friendships that were forged so long ago. There were two other teams inducted that day, the inaugural girls’ Little Britain hockey team from the early seventies, and the Lindsay men’s hockey team from the early sixties. As I watched these former players interact with old teammates, family, and friends, it reinforced how important being connected is to the human condition. How seminal life’s early experiences are in shaping our social networks and supporting future outcomes.

In the late afternoon of June 4th, 1992, we returned home with the OFSAA trophy and gold medals in tow. The bus loading ramp at the Adelaide Street’s west entrance to LCVI was empty. It was before the shift to the semester system at LCVI, classes were over for the year and the exam schedule had already started. We didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time we would all be together. It’s funny how life’s small moments carry such weight when you reflect years later. We didn’t open the bus doors right away.

As our final piece of coaching, we congratulated the players, thanked them for their efforts, for all the fun we’d had along the way, but that as great as this moment was we urged them that this not be the highlight of their lives. That going forward we wanted this to be just one day in a long life of big accomplishments: marriages, partnerships, the raising of families, and the pursuit of career goals.

Thirty years later they have become healthcare professionals, small and large business owners, expert tradesmen, business managers, educators, financial advisors, IT consultants and heroic first responders. Today they are all approaching 50 and high school days are a distant memory in growing families and the pressures of life. But we lost a little of ourselves along the way too, and although we would regroup periodically over the next 30 years much would be in sadness, rather than joy.

The first, was a warm summer’s day. Just three years after OFSAA gold medals were placed around our neck. We were gathered with our medals to say farewell to our captain, Chad McDonald, who at 22 years old was killed in an automobile accident.

Chad was a larger-than-life character. On the field, he could make something out of nothing. Find a gap where none existed, create space for others with fast footwork and evasive skill. Off the field, his impish grin and the twinkle in his eyes were his signature, and his zest for life was infectious. Chad left his parents and family behind, and Christine and their two-year son Jake. The gold medal they had worked so hard to achieve suddenly lost its lustre that day, and in a united sign of respect, the players laid them to rest one by one on the coffin of their captain.

In 2002, the team reunited for a tenth anniversary. Some had their significant others and some had started their families. OFSAA officials heard about the celebration, were aware of the tragic loss of the captain in 1995, and agreed to send along replacement gold medals in a wonderful gesture. Careers were well underway, so too were families, but the opportunity to gather, share and rekindle memories was effortless as stories, smiles and laughter filled the occasion.

Thirteen months later, tragedy would again strike the team when Rob Stokes would lose his life in an automobile accident. Like Chad before him, Rob would leave his parents and family, his wife, Michelle, and their new born son Noah.

Rob was different from Chad. He was older at 29, and had started his career as a teacher, staff member and rugby coach at St. Thomas Aquinas.

As a player, he was quick and powerful, exploding through gaps and punishing opponents with ferocious tackles. Away from the field he was engaging, funny and always willing to help others. In the end however, the outcome was the same, and once again the team gathered in sadness. Same cemetery, final resting places only metres apart, and the new medals were laid to rest with Rob, just as the original ones had with Chad.

I’m not sure what the source of the old adage is that loss makes you stronger. I think loss just makes you immensely sad. Maybe it’s more appropriate to say that sadness lasts for as long as it takes for happy memories to outweigh the sadness. Mostly, I think sadness just resides in the background, always there. I like to think friends and memories are one of the best things that keep sadness in the background. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I got a call in the spring of 2012 from the rugby coach at Fenelon Falls to help coach his team while he was away playing in South America. The captain of this team was Jake Webster. The two-year-old son of our deceased captain Chad McDonald was now an 18-year-old senior at Fenelon Falls, and as dominant an athlete as his father. So it was to be, that for a month long period in the spring 2012, I had the pleasure of coaching Jake and his incredible teammates on a run to OFSAA.

Jake was bigger and more powerful than his dad had been, but when I closed my eyes and just listened to him carry on with his teammates, I could hear his dad’s voice. And when we practised, I could see the same shifty footwork that opened seams in the defence, the same grin, the same impish twinkle in his eyes. That June, 20 years after his father’s team captured OFSAA gold in Toronto, Jake took the coin toss at centre field at Mohawk Park in Hamilton for the gold medal game of the 2012 OFSAA Championship. His mom Christine, and his grandparents were in the stands, just as they had been in Toronto twenty years earlier. Everything was aligned to close the loop of father and son, and for Jake to chart his own path forward.

Unfortunately, not all stories end that way and after getting an early lead, the falcons fell behind and were awarded the OFSAA silver medal. No small feat. But for Jake, and for me, not the way it was supposed to play out.

In the years that followed Jake would surpass his father athletically and reach the height of the sport to play for his country. In time he would return to Woodville, begin his career as first responder, and immerse himself in life with his high school sweetheart, Maggie and their two little children.

That changed in December of 2020, when Jake left this world. He was 26 years old, left his wife and children, his mother and stepfather, siblings, and grandparents, and with the pandemic raging across the globe there was no chance to say goodbye, no chance for friends and memories.

Thirty years ago, the LCVI Spartans Senior Boys Rugby team captured the OFSAA gold medal.

The Hall of Fame committee gave us a happy reason to get together and celebrate life, and all it has to offer. The friends and memories that made us a championship team. The vivid voices and moments that come rushing back, when we are all their together.

It’s the single biggest reason to belong to something. It doesn’t have to be a sports team. It could be a club, a choir, a band, or an activity group.

It’s belonging that generates friends and memories, and even if some of the pieces are removed their place amongst friends and memories is forever archived. The source of funny stories, great moments, and many smiles.

When you spend a career in education you quickly learn that the future of a student cannot be predicted in how they behave or achieve at school. People blossom at different rates, gain experience at different rates, and find connectedness to learning at different rates. Like parents, you do your best to be there, to listen, and to guide them in hopes that some of it has a lasting, positive impact.

Thank you to the Hall of Fame for bestowing this honour on our team, and for allowing us the opportunity to celebrate, and share friends and memories.

17 Comments

  1. R Stokes says:

    Thank you Bruce for a wonderful article. Thanks to the Sports Hall of fame for honouring the team

  2. Pat&Bonnie McDonald says:

    Bruce: It goes without saying, we are blown away with your remembrance of our son Chad and Grandson, Jake and to an absolutely awesome Rob. Your intense writing made me cry so hard, I again thought my heart would break, but this time in a good way. Because somebody else saw them as we did. I will never forget your well put together summary of a fabulous group of young men, now all grown up. We desperately miss those who had a ‘life unfinished’ with so much potential.
    What a writeup.You made us proud. Thank you.
    Pat, Bonnie, James and Greg McDonald

  3. Paul Twohey says:

    Wonderful story thanks so much

  4. Paul O'Donnell says:

    Fantastic words Bruce. The accomplishments and bonds these men have are indescribable. Unfortunately, so are the tragedies. You and Augie put a thumbprint on these boys that helped shaped who they are now.

  5. Lisa Parsons says:

    Thank you Bruce.
    You are special in your own way. I thank you for sharing this story. I never knew Al of this history. So heartwarming. Beautiful
    Thank you

  6. Shirley Jellicoe ❣️ says:

    My thoughts are with you all ❤❤

  7. Meryka Currie says:

    Beautifully written Mr Barrett!! You made me smile, but you also brought tears to my eyes. Both wonderful memories and tragic ones… thanks for sharing.

    • Martin Kerstens says:

      This is without doubt the most moving story I have read . Bruce has penned a beautiful story of connectedness. Very important piece in life.

  8. Helen says:

    A lovely tribute by Coach Barrett. We are truly fortunate to have such caring educators and coaches in our lives and in the lives of our children. Thanks for sharing. Rob, Chad and Jake are often in our thoughts and we send love to their families.

  9. Alex Turnbull says:

    Thank you for this article Bruce.

    • Nancy says:

      I too knew Jake, at 17 when he came on a rugby school exchange in Cambridge England with Fraser Heathcote who had the honour of pulling on a Lindsay shirt with Jake. He was a fearsome rugby player and astounded his UK rugby team with his “running back” style. We loved him from the moment we met him and had the pleasure of meeting the MacDonals, the Websters and Maggie’s family on Fraser’s return exchange. The Spartan family made Jake so proud. I am so moved to hear the story of his father Chad and of Rob too. Thank you for this wonderful article and to Maggie for staying in touch.

  10. Ron Fanning says:

    Great Article Bruce. Thank you

  11. Jack Prins says:

    Amazing writing Bruce! It’s important to remember these people and to not forget the impact they have had on us!

  12. Christine M (Frewin) says:

    A wonderful article Mr Barrett that captured the heart of the team, their friendship and brotherhood, the highs and lows. I was so blessed to be Rob’s friend in school. Although I am across the country now, my heart was there in Lindsay reading this article and remembering this story of life.

  13. Tracy Hiddink says:

    Thank you for sharing this well written, heartfelt article. There are some very special educators, teachers and coaches that do more than just teach. Thank you Bruce for your dedication.

  14. Kathleen Brear says:

    What wonderful memories of Chad and his son Jake, both young men who lit up a room with their smiles and their fantastic personalities. Having known Bonnie and Pat McDonald for 48 years and Chad from a small boy, Jake from a baby, our lives have been enriched for knowing such amazing people.

  15. Paul McDonlad says:

    Thank you Bruce for such a wonderful tribute to these wonderful, dedicated, young men. They loved the game, life and their family unconditionally. They live in a lot of hearts and memories of many. Love Uncle Paul & Aunt Patty, and all the California family.❤️

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