Wheeler had profound impact on local sports scene

Wallie Sears
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With the recent passing of old friend Laurie Wheeler came the end of an era – a time when young men rallied to create their own fun and games. That was long before cell phones, i-Pads, i-Pods, smart phones, e-readers, computers, and, yes, even television.

Sackville had its very own entries in regional baseball leagues and competed successfully in hockey. In addition there were local commercial or industrial leagues with local firms sponsoring entries with plenty of athletes to fill out the rosters.

Behind the scenes but having a major impact on the local sporting scene were the Wheeler brothers – John, Laurie and Bill. While Laurie struggled at times with a physical handicap – a damaged leg – he nevertheless refused to allow that to stop him. For a few years he actually donned the “tools of ignorance” – serving as catcher, but when Bill came along he demanded he take over and so turned over his mask, chest protector and mitt.

From that point on Bill, who passed a few short years ago, was the top receiver in the region. While small of stature, Bill could still hit consistently and was the “supreme pest” behind the plate. He later took one step back and did some umpiring.

But Laurie was always there – filling in for players who were forced to miss a game, taking collection at the games, handling the myriad of details required while providing encouragement and support for the athletes.

Until the final days of his 99-year life Laurie Wheeler was a fan of all sports. He was a man one could turn to for information and advice and he never forgot a favour or a good turn. As such he and Bill were Johnny-on-the-spot to nominate R. J. Bert Robertson to the Sackville Sports Wall of Fame. They never forgot that Bert was the lone man who kept the baseball light burning throughout the Second World War and managed to assemble a collection of returning veterans and a few youngsters to restart the game.

A third brother, John, was also a local booster who contributed a good deal to the local recreation scene long before politicians came to realize the value of a strong program. Among other involvements John became recognized as both a fair and talented baseball umpire as he and your columnist handled games throughout the Westmorland Senior League that featured entries from Moncton, Shediac and Port Elgin. John was understanding, but not an umpire to be tangled with and wasn’t averse to sending a player or two to the showers.

Perhaps he became best know as the manager of the powerful Sackville Eagles hockey team during the early 1950s. After your columnist was successful in locating a quartet of financial backers Wheeler came aboard and wasn’t long in making his mark. After the first few games he realized if Sackville was to be competitive he would have to do some scouting, recruiting and lineup juggling.

It is recalled how we recruited Eddy Booth, Clarence Melanson, Lou Cormier and Pete Gauvin on one such trip. But Wheeler was not satisfied and so continued his search, ultimately landing goalie Toughie Steeves from the Moncton Hawks.

As a result the Eagles disposed of Amherst and Memramcook to take the Central Hockey League championship in 1952 but the greatest impact was that they brought an exciting brand of hockey to Sackville, something that had been missing since the 1930s.

And so the Wheeler boys – all three who gave much more than they received – have left us. They were both competitors and supporters and during heir heyday ensured that young athletes had every opportunity to participate and fans had the chance to enjoy some fine baseball.

It’s unfortunate their legacies have not lived on but hey will never be forgotten.

 

Organizations: Westmorland Senior League, Central Hockey League

Geographic location: Moncton, Shediac, Port Elgin.John Memramcook

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  • Ray Wheeler
    July 02, 2014 - 07:55

    Wallie Sears: Thank you for so much for the article on the Wheeler boys. Those were different times for sure. I remember you being at the house many times. Today hardly anyone visits anymore we just don't seem to have the time to get to know one another like we used to. Family was always first with the wheeler brothers yet they found time to enjoy their sports. You were right about that being an era that we will not likely see again as the clock keeps ticking for all of us. Thank you again. Ray Wheeler

  • Julie Wheeler-Starkey
    June 27, 2014 - 09:04

    Thanks for the wonderful article Mr. Sears. By the time I was born, Grampy was 60 years old and I was unaware of his sporting legacy. Grampy Laurie's great-grandsons are active in hockey here in Minnesota so I'd like to think the sporting legacy does live on in all of us "kids". :)