A Battle For Sanity

The 1961 Withdrawal from the Ontario Hockey Association by the St. Michael’s Majors

in Boyhood Studies

ABSTRACT

This article examines the 1961 withdrawal by St. Michael’s College School’s hockey team from the semi-professional Canadian junior hockey league, the Ontario Hockey Association. The long-playing schedule, the heavy burden of the physical labor, and the emphasis on athletics over academics were all factors that led to the high school’s withdrawing of its team. St. Michael’s College’s experience was an early expression of concern about the exploitation of young athletes, concern that has now become increasingly shared publicly around the globe. The limited success of St. Michael’s College’s campaign for change lay in the difficulty of convincing society of this exploitation. The school’s withdrawal highlights the entrenched problem of institutions treating young male athletes as commodities.

In October 2014, several Canadian hockey players filed a $180 million class-action lawsuit against their former employer, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). The suit alleged that the most prestigious junior hockey league in the world deliberately exploited its teenage hockey players, demanding a commitment of sixty to seventy hours per week while paying them as little as thirty-five dollars per week for these efforts.1 Fundamentally, the players argued, the CHL did not recognize them as employees, and instead operated under the guise of amateurism to avoid compensation. The ensuing media attention pushed hockey to the fore of a contentious debate concerning the welfare of elite young athletes. This conversation is not limited to a single sport or country; the discussion about the labor of youth sports is international.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the US was aggressively defending its refusal to reimburse student-athletes beyond the traditional athletic scholarship.2 According to two journalists, student-athletes were fighting back in court for profits made off their jerseys and from the use of their likeness in video games. They were also arguing for the right to unionize, a clear step towards recognizing athletic labor.3 Despite the best efforts of the NCAA, in 2014 the nonprofit had to concede to the wishes of sixty-five teams from the Big-5 power conferences, paying an additional stipend to its student-athletes to cover the additional costs of attending university.4 The public outcry against the exploitation of student-athletes had finally forced their hand. Outside of North America, the European Union’s International Center for Ethics in Sports has made numerous attempts since its creation in 2009 to protect the physical and moral integrity of young athletes; it seeks to ensure that young elite athletes are not being taken advantage of economically, and are allowed to develop as normal teenagers. Since sport has become recognized as an international commodity consumed by eager fans worldwide, the treatment and welfare of young athletes is of increasingly global concern.

Although the public furore over the exploitation of young athletes has exploded in recent years, these concerns have long troubled Canadian junior hockey. The 2014 lawsuit against the CHL is a culmination of decades of quiet whispers that questioned the way young hockey players were being treated. The seasons were too long, the play too rough, and the players were left with little to fall back on in terms of education and experience when their dreams of becoming professional hockey players almost inevitably ended. One of the first instances to demonstrate the longevity of these concerns was the 1961 withdrawal of the St. Michael’s Majors hockey team from the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA, the junior development league that predated the CHL). The Majors quit the OHA suddenly, citing the season’s long schedule and demanding workload expected of its players as two main reasons for their decision. The OHA was the best way for a hockey player to make it to the National Hockey League (NHL), and St. Michael’s was not just a promising team that had a few good players—it was the most prolific program ever in its production of NHL players. Playing for St. Michael’s was as close to a sure thing to a future professional hockey career as a young Canadian boy could imagine. Their decision to withdraw from competition shocked the Canadian hockey world.

St. Michael’s College School, a Catholic high school located in Toronto, Ontario, initiated its hockey program in 1906, and from that date on provided an astounding 184 players to the NHL (Shea et al. 2006). Most of these players were signed from the school’s so-called big team, the St. Michael’s Majors, by the local NHL franchise, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Majors’ ages ranged from sixteen to twenty. St. Michael’s organized many varsity squads, but the Majors stood apart, competing in the OHA, Ontario’s junior development league which had strong ties to many NHL franchises. They were also inordinately successful, winning the league’s championship trophy, the Memorial Cup, four times before 1961, and one last time in 1961, the year the school removed the Majors from competition.

St. Michael’s hockey program was seemingly close to perfection, able to blend both athletics and academics almost flawlessly. However, the statement issued by the school’s principal explaining the decision to leave revealed that St. Michael’s viewed the OHA as an institution that simply did not have the best interests of the players at heart. St. Michael’s teachers had become increasingly concerned with its long, demanding playing schedule, the heavy physical burden placed on the shoulders of teenaged athletes, and the lack of concern shown by the OHA towards these issues. The school officials concluded that the OHA, as The Globe and Mail newspaper columnist Jack Marks5 put it, “militates against effective school work.” However, while the school’s withdrawal was controversial when it was first announced, it was soon disregarded. The OHA simply replaced the Majors with another willing franchise, the Montreal Junior Canadiens, and played the next season without any complications or interruptions. For the OHA, for hockey fans, and for young hockey players, little changed.

By examining St. Michael’s withdrawal from the OHA, it becomes clear that the issues making headlines today have a much longer past than is realized, or publicized. Most scholars who examine young athletic labor agree that in the 1950s, adult-organized elite sporting organizations for youth began to grow in popularity across North America. By the 1970s, sport sociologists and psychologists started to express concern about such programs in terms of how hard children and teenagers were working, how they were suffering from competitive stress and anxiety, and how they were being treated as adults, not as youths (Donnelly 1997; Coakley 1992). It was not until the 1990s, however, that the welfare of children and teenagers in competitive sports emerged as a public and widespread ethical issue (Weber 2009). This scholarship dates the recognition of exploitation in pre-professional sports to the 1970s, but the withdrawal of St. Michael’s represents a key moment in this conversation, which occurred almost a decade earlier. The actions taken by the school for the welfare of its student athletes, while an isolated incident for its time, demonstrates how concerns regarding overworked young athletes have long plagued the Canadian sport. Furthermore, the forgotten nature of St. Michael’s withdrawal highlights the fact that conversations about the issues plaguing the development of young athletes had little impact historically on the institutions that harvest these players. The problems raised by St. Michael’s administration have continued to the present day and the lethargic response to the school’s actions has remained unaltered.

Although the school withdrew from the OHA because of the unsatisfactory labor conditions of student-athletes, neither St. Michael’s administration nor the public labeled this exploitation. This term is often used now to describe the situation of elite athletes playing for development leagues like the CHL or the NCAA, but during the 1960s it was inconceivable that students could be exploited simply by playing hockey. Exploitation, when discussed in relation to athletic labor, is usually considered to be exclusively economic in nature. The economic exploitation of the athletes occurs when they generate more revenue than they are paid. The moral exploitation of athletes occurs when, for example, they are denied an education, restricted in their options outside of the current system, and are not allowed to be normal children or teenagers (Van Rheenen 2012). However, the idea of athletes being exploited for their athletic labor is complicated by a social understanding of sport as play, not work, and a widespread attitude that competitive sport is good for children and teenagers. St. Michael’s recognized both the economic and moral exploitation of the students, but it was ultimately the interference in their students’ education, brought on by the professional standards of the OHA, that forced St. Michael’s to withdraw.

The 1961 withdrawal demonstrates that St. Michael’s teachers and officials felt that the OHA was taking advantage of the dream that young boys had to play in the NHL in order to profit from their cheap labor. The language used by the school to justify its withdrawal makes clear that the relationship between the OHA, the NHL teams that sponsored the junior teams, and the young players was exploitative. It was not considered exploitative at the time, however, because St. Michael’s teachers were protesting against the working conditions of their students before the welfare of young athletes was of concern. Finally, the prevailing social attitudes that embraced hockey, and all sports, as fun-filled recreational activities, hid the increasingly professional nature of the OHA.

St. Michael’s: Hockey, Religion, Education

St. Michael’s operated within the farm system set in place by multiple NHL franchises in the 1920s. The Detroit Red Wings (then the Detroit Cougars) became the first team in the NHL to establish a farm system, and the Toronto Maple Leafs swiftly followed suit. In 1927, Conn Smythe, a Canadian businessman and ex-hockey player, bought the Maple Leafs franchise. Farm systems consisted of junior teams linked to a professional team whose role was to provide training, support, and experience for young players to prepare them for their professional career, usually with the professional team that sponsored the farm team. Players were signed to the junior teams using either an “A” form, which committed a player to a try-out for a team; a “B” form, which gave the team an option to sign a player in return for a bonus; or a “C” form, which committed a player’s professional rights, and could only be signed by an eighteen-year-old player or by the player’s parents (Smythe and Young 1981). From these early years, then, players were bound to their team, limited in their agency, and lacking options outside of hockey once signed to a form. A player could not move to another team without the permission of his coach; he could, however, be traded at any given time at the whim of the coach. Focusing on hockey, not education, increased a player’s chance of staying on the same junior team and being selected by an NHL franchise. The farm system used the popularity of the NHL to tie young talent to a system that benefitted their organizations greatly, while removing options and rights from the players.

Conn Smythe quickly set in place such a farm system with St. Michael’s. The school had an understanding with the NHL team whereby St. Michael’s would provide experience, training, and education for young players, the best of whom would remain under contract with the Maple Leafs. For years, the Maple Leafs annually paid the school an undisclosed amount, revealed in a 1954 letter from Conn Smythe to Principal Father Flanagan to be upwards of $10,000.6 This amount, plus the additional gate receipts paid to the school by Smythe, covered the yearly tuition, room, and board for the Majors.7 It also provided a stipend for books, on top of the player’s small allowance of roughly ten to 15 dollars per week (Wallner 1990). All Majors’ players attending St. Michael’s received the scholarships, and it seems that the scholarship was contingent upon the student’s grades. In 1947, for example, two Majors players were suspended for neglecting their schoolwork.8 While most NHL teams sponsored a single junior OHA team, the Maple Leafs had two—the St. Michael’s Majors and the Toronto Marlboros (Wallner 1990). The Marlboros, like all other OHA teams, and most other NHL sponsored teams, were not affiliated with a high school. Sponsoring both St. Michael’s and the Marlboros was advantageous to the Maple Leafs since it allowed the team to target players who were interested in furthering their education, as well as those who were focused solely on hockey.

St. Michael’s status as a Catholic high school allowed the school to use the promise of education and supervision to draw players to its teams, an advantage that other comparable OHA teams could not offer. Built in 1852, St. Michael’s swiftly developed into a leading parochial school that offered both elementary and secondary education to Catholic boys. The school was partly funded by the Basilian Fathers, the order of Catholic priests that had established St. Michael’s and who made up the main teaching body of the school in the 1960s. The provincial aid offered by the Fathers allowed the school to keep tuition low and offer scholarships to low-income families.9 Explicitly marketing its name and reputation as a recruitment tool, St. Michael’s offered the players an education and religious guidance in return for joining the hockey team. Jack Marks saw the educational lure of St. Michaels’s as having “an inordinate influence on attracting young potential pros into the Maple Leaf-sponsored amateur chain.” Marks reasoned that “the promise of a disciplined education has been a strong influence in talks with players’ parents … [attracting those] into a school where they can progress in their studies and through the St. Michael’s hockey setup.”10 Parents were assured that by sending their hockey-loving teenagers to St. Michael’s, they would not focus just on hockey—the players would also leave with a high school diploma from a highly regarded educational institution. St. Michael’s also encouraged rural Catholic families to send their children to board at the school where they would receive an education, play hockey with a premier team, and be watched over by the priests.

Jack Adams, who played for the Toronto St. Patricks, and later coached the Detroit Red Wings, claimed that this arrangement made nearly every Roman Catholic priest in Canada an unofficial scout for both St. Michael’s and the Toronto Maple Leafs.11 Smythe himself described the involvement of St. Michael’s as useful for his professional team, highlighting how the education guaranteed at St. Michael’s, coupled with the guidance of the priests, lured potential hockey super-stars to the school.

One attraction we had when going out to sign players of school age was the chance to offer them tuition at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, whose Junior teams were always powerful. We could go to parents in Winnipeg, Regina, Kirkland Lake, or wherever, and say, ‘Look, if your boy will come into our system, we’ll make sure he gets the best schooling he can handle.’

(Smythe and Young 1981)

Smythe actively used the academic prowess of the school as a recruitment tactic, and as the reputation and influence of St. Michael’s and the Maple Leafs spread, the size of the hockey program at the school increased. Frank Orr, reporter for the Toronto Star, agreed that St. Michael’s parochial nature convinced players to attend because “the thought of the protection of St. Mike’s and the necessity of good marks to qualify for the hockey team is a big factor.”12 St. Michael’s status as a respected Catholic high school not only eased the minds of worried parents, but also offered players an opportunity to attempt to balance hockey with education. The boys were simultaneously considered teenagers whose parents wanted a watchful eye over them, and semi-professional athletes who were actively working towards hockey careers. Fundamentally, however, the rigorous nature of the OHA and its perceived utility as a pathway to the NHL meant that the education of the players would almost inevitably come second to hockey.

Both a Student and an Athlete

While at the school, the hockey players were ostensibly treated the same as were all the other students. They were expected to attend classes on time, behave according to Catholic ideals, and perform well academically. Bob Schiller, who played for the Majors for the 1950–1951 and 1951–1952 hockey seasons, recalled his hectic schedule during his time at the school. “The days were divided between school classes, hockey, practice, travel for games, homework etc. I had good grades, but really had to study” (quoted in Shea et al. 2006: 96). Despite the school’s best efforts, however, the players were often distracted by the dual schedules. Casare Maniago, goaltender for the Majors for the 1957–1958 and 1958–1959 seasons, recalled the difficult learning environment. He explained, “Some teachers, most of them were priests at the time, were sympathetic if we played in Hamilton or St. Catharine’s and didn’t get home until two or two thirty in the morning. They might let us miss our first class. But there were some who didn’t like that at all” (quoted in Shea et al. 2006: 119). John Scandiffio, who played for the school’s Junior B team, the St. Michael’s Buzzers, for the 1962–1963 season, described how the OHA’s schedule meant playing “two games a week” with practices “two or three times a week” from October until April or June. Scandiffio clearly remembered the impact that this intense routine had not only upon his mental health, but also upon his education, recalling how during exam time, “the poor teacher would see me sweating and send me home…. So you can see the effect of the strenuous game on me and my focus.”13 The value of the education for each player seemed to rest on the individual’s shoulders, with mixed levels of support from teachers. The extended hours required to compete at the level of the OHA, despite the best efforts of the school, could not be avoided. The education of the players almost necessarily took a backseat during the long, travel-intensive season.

St. Michael’s teachers emphasized to their players that education was as important as hockey, but could not control the effort the students made. In most other cases, players in the OHA were actively encouraged to neglect their education and much else to focus on training towards the ultimate goal of becoming an NHL player. Renowned Canadian hockey player, Brian Conacher, recalled how he understood that “to pursue both hockey and education was almost impossible … [placing an] inevitable conflict for the boy’s time” (1963: 248). Ex-hockey players and coaches increasingly recognised that the length of the season, which reached over ninety games including playoffs, and the gruelling training schedule required to play competitively in the OHA were problematic for the welfare of young hockey players. Curly Davis, coach of the Toronto Dileos peewee team, asserted, “Minor hockey players are being burned out by the onerous schedules.”14 Players, once ensnared in the youth hockey system, found it impossible to disentangle themselves from the OHA’s web of expectations. The time and effort put into hockey reaped minimal rewards, taxed the players mentally, physically, and fiscally, and provided few options outside of a statistically improbable professional hockey career.

Conacher remembered how the owner of the Toronto Marlboros, for whom he competed as a junior, did not care about the team’s academic progress. He preferred his players to underperform academically since it demonstrated their focus upon hockey above all else (1963: 19). This attitude permeated the OHA, indicating an overt dismissal of education as a valuable resource. It also highlights the pressure placed on players to dedicate their life to hockey. Stafford Smythe, Conn Smythe’s son, accused the Ontario Board of Education in 1960 of “putting so much stress on education that the very existence of Junior A hockey was threatened.”15 Although education was used as an effective and appealing recruitment tool by Conn Smythe, the reality was that the OHA operated as a professional system that trained, promoted, and produced professional athletes, with little to no regard given to options other than a hockey career.

The Process of Withdrawing

By the late 1950s, the entire administration and faculty at St. Michael’s was increasingly critical of the system to which it belonged. The long hockey schedule interfered with the studies, grades, and attendance of the student-athletes, and had become intolerable to the school’s administration. During the 1960 season, Father David Bauer, the Majors’ coach, protested against playing games on Christmas Day, and when the team made the playoffs, he criticized the long and drawn-out playing schedule.16 Bauer wrote to Conn Smythe to complain of the heavy emphasis upon hockey above all else in the OHA, stating that “The 1961 season, I think we played ninety-eight games! At that level and at that pressure, if you really look over the history of it, it’s amazing the number of boys who did it and survived academically or came back at it from another route.”17 Meanwhile, there was little support amongst other teams for a change in the schedule since such change could decrease the profit margins of the league, and therefore of each team. Moreover, the dual nature of St. Michael’s as both a school and a haven for hockey training caused other sponsored teams to respond unfavourably to the advantage this gave both St. Michael’s and the Maple Leafs. Toronto Star reporter Gary Lautens wrote that St. Michael’s was unpopular in various hockey circles because of its “unique status,” as a parochial school.18 Since St. Michael’s was the only team amongst the eight League members to have a direct academic affiliation, there was little desire on the part of other teams to challenge the existing structure of the OHA. Instead, St. Michael’s became the lone team campaigning for a shortened season.

The school became an outcast in the OHA, sidelined for its attempts to challenge the system. Those in charge of St. Michael’s team, like Coach Father Bauer, felt the OHA took advantage of young players. In 1961 Bauer stated, “What the junior ‘A’ council doesn’t appreciate is there has been a tremendous revolution taking place in the academic world. I can’t see how any school in Canada could enter the OHA junior ‘A’ league as it is presently constituted.”19 The fundamental ethos of St. Michael’s focused on molding complete men who balanced both athletics and education. Honoring this mission statement became a greater challenge under the high-pressured, professionalized OHA system. Father William O’Brien, a teacher at the school during its turbulent withdrawal, expanded upon Father Bauer’s concerns. While he recognized the long history of hockey at St. Michael’s, he firmly believed that “these days, hockey is less of a sport and more of a business all the time … St. Michael’s is first, last, and always, a school for the education of young men. It is not a hockey factory, nor was it ever intended to be.”20 St. Michael’s administration made their feelings towards the OHA abundantly clear. They highlighted how the league manufactured professional hockey players, emphasizing how little attention was paid to those players who did not have the talents or means to reach the NHL.

The young players were expected to fulfil all training and practice requirements, with no acknowledgement from the OHA of the burden associated with balancing life as a student, athlete, and adolescent. The professional nature of the OHA was a contentious sticking point for teachers at St. Michael’s, with Coach Bauer writing to Smythe in 1960 to list the issues the school had with the OHA as “its growing professionalism, its long schedule and rough play which so often results in unfavorable publicity difficult for an educational institution to handle gracefully.”21 The school principal, Matthew Sheedy, forcefully agreed with Bauer. In his own letter to Smythe in 1961, Sheedy argued, “We feel that it is unjust however to ask a group of students to carry a full time academic load of studies and at the same time play hockey from November to May… It is a program comparable to that of our own Toronto Maple Leafs.”22 St. Michael’s students were not recognized by the OHA as professional players, nor were they compensated as such. However, the administration and teachers at the school realized that the intense training sessions, long schedule, and brutally rough games did, indeed, meet professional hockey player standards.

The full statement of withdrawal issued by St. Michael’s on Tuesday, 6 June 1961, built on the comments made in private, and explicitly voiced the problems that the school had with the current OHA system. The statement read, “The Junior ‘A’ program as it is now constituted, with its long and demanding schedule, with its lengthy and drawn-out playoff arrangements, militates against effective school work.” The statement went on to make clear how this system negatively affected their students, stating that “this sometimes results in failure in school or a lack of interest in academic achievements. Efforts to bring about change seem to have met with no success. We feel that we have no recourse but to withdraw from the Junior A program.”23 The school’s rising concern over the level and quality of education that hockey players were receiving, the antagonistic relationship between it and other league teams, and the blurring of the lines between junior and professional hockey contributed to its withdrawal from the OHA.

The Response

The students at St. Michael’s, however, differed in opinion. Hockey had a long tradition at the school. Students had constant tussles over which boarding house held the ice time at the open and under-cover ice rinks. They argued frequently with the boarding school heads concerning when, exactly, the students could leave dinner to head back out onto the ice in the frigid night air.24 When the Majors withdrew from the OHA, St. Michael’s students were dismayed. Paul Sinclair, an eighteen-year-old Junior B player felt that he could no longer stay at St. Michael’s following the Majors’ withdrawal, saying, “If they kept an A team next year I’d be coming back—now, I don’t know.” Teammate Kevin Burkett echoed Sinclair’s sentiments, bemoaning, “I came to St. Mike’s partly because of its Junior A standing.” Other students dismissed the teachers’ concerns over the quality of education that the hockey players were receiving. Mike Miville, a fourth-year student at St. Michael’s, argued that hockey could not possibly be dragging down the grades of the players, saying, “[W]e have a Honor Society here with two hundred members and four or five play for the Junior B team.”25 The statements made by the students suggest curious contradiction of the school officials’ claims regarding an unfair system.

The popularity of hockey in general, and the long history of the success of the Majors certainly contributed to the disappointment felt by the students. In addition to this sentiment, however, the students did not see a problem with the current arrangement with the OHA and dismissed the concerns of the faculty almost entirely. For these hockey-loving students, who had not yet experienced the grueling demands of the OHA, the dream of playing for the NHL fueled their belief that hockey rightfully came before education. Underlying the youthful faith in the current Junior system was the common sensibility that hockey was not work, but play. Hockey, and all sports for that manner, were for fun, and were not labor (Donnelly 1997), therefore the students could not be overworked. Combined, these two ideologies resisted the efforts made by the school to voice public concerns over the treatment of their Majors’ players.

In particular, the idea that hockey players were not laborers reverberated around the league following the withdrawal of St. Michael’s. Hap Emms, the coach and owner of the opposing Niagara Falls team, issued a statement following the departure of the Majors that placed the blame for St. Michael’s heavy schedule on the success of the school’s team. He felt that the OHA had done more than enough to attempt to appease the school’s grievances, explaining that “[St. Michael’s] main complaint is too many games. Yet they have gone on exhibition tours and went out west to play in the Memorial Cup. They played more games this year than any other team.”26 Emms was suggesting that it was the success of St. Michael’s that led to its protracted playing schedule, rather than any structural issues of the league. Players were not overworked by the league, but by the Majors’ own standards. Emms saw St. Michael’s as responsible for its own long schedule, eschewing any accountability from the OHA for the school’s issues with the structure and demands of the league. Furthermore, his comments reinforced how other teams in the league refused to acknowledge any problems with the current structure or organization of the OHA.

Conn Smythe was disappointed at the decision of St. Michael’s. He appreciated the advantages in having the school act as a farm team for the Maple Leafs and had championed the school as a bastion of tolerance and patience.27 To tempt the school to stay, Smythe offered the hockey program an increase from the $13,000 annual lump sum the Maple Leafs provided, to $20,000 if St. Michael’s stayed in the OHA.28 Smythe also personally implored Principal Sheedy to remain, acknowledging that although “there have been some stupid things done in amateur athletics,” he felt that the school had “allowed some of the sharper annoyances to blot out the larger picture in which your College has contributed more to Canada than any other College.” It would be, he concluded, “a sad thing to see an institution which has achieved something glorious, fold and leave such a void in the lives not only of the teenagers but in all Canadians who respect and honor good sportsmanship.”29 Of course, in addition to Smythe’s ringing endorsement of both the ideology and education of the school, the profit that the Maple Leafs made from the sponsorship of St. Michael’s certainly contributed to Smythe’s disappointment. For example, in the 1958 season, the thirty-five games that St. Michael’s played in the Maple Leaf Gardens, the arena Smythe owned and operated, constituted roughly 10 percent of the total profits for Smythe that year.30 Excluding the beneficial cheap labor provided by St. Michael’s as a sponsored farm team for the Maple Leafs, Smythe also profited off the spectacle of junior hockey. His interest, much like the other NHL clubs who sponsored OHA teams, was the status quo.

Conclusion

Although the school stood alone in its public attack on the league, the issues it identified were not limited to the players at St. Michael’s. The glaring absence of any support for St. Michael’s actions by other OHA teams, and indeed, the outright hostility displayed towards any suggestion of change in the structure of the league, indicated the low priority that the welfare of the players held. This attempt by the school to shield its students from the system in which they competed implied a real concern over the development of the players in the league. It saw junior hockey as part of an unhealthy system obsessed with the practice and play of hockey to the detriment of all other aspects of the student-athlete’s life. The withdrawal of St. Michael’s made clear structural issues with the OHA, and demonstrated the heavy emphasis on athletic success above all else. The growing importance of the OHA to the recruitment of NHL players allowed coaches and league officials to dictate their team’s every move, holding their young players’ dream of becoming NHL players hostage, and fostering the continuation of exploitative practices.

In Principal Sheedy’s letter to Conn Smythe explaining why St. Michael’s would be leaving the OHA, he wrote, “We feel that we are fighting a battle for sanity in sports. Does St. Michael’s stand alone in this battle for reasonableness? Only time will tell!”31 Only some fifty-five years later has a wider audience finally heard St. Michael’s plaintive cries. The issues that led to the withdrawal of the reigning champion of the OHA have become more pronounced and public as junior hockey has grown in size and wealth. However, the problems that St. Michael’s drew attention to with their withdrawal from the league have recently started to be addressed by the CHL.

The CHL Champions Program was established in 2011 to much public fanfare praising the new, educationally-focused direction of the CHL. The Champions Program ensures $10,000 to players for every year that they compete, able to be used at any Canadian university (Steadman 2016). Despite appearing to be a solid step forward in promoting education alongside hockey, the scholarships are contingent upon a number of factors. Junior players have only eighteen months to enroll in a college or university to claim the scholarship money—a window of time that many NHL hopefuls use to try other routes to a professional career. The shortfalls of the Champions Program, coupled with the CHL’s refusal to admit that the players are employees, suggests that while changes are being made, actual recognition of both the economic and moral exploitation of elite hockey players remains an unrealized goal. The 1961 withdrawal of St. Michael’s demonstrates how, even before the term exploitation was being used, profit was being made off the backs of young athletic talent. In fact, the exploitation of young athletes, a long-term and ongoing problem, is fundamentally linked to society’s inability to see athletes as laborers.

Notes
1

Donna Spencer 2014. “Lawsuit Filed against Canadian Hockey League over Financial Compensation.” The Globe and Mail, 20 October.

2

Marc Tracy and Ben Strauss. 2015. “Court Strikes Down Payments to College Athletes.” The New York Times, 20 September.

3

Joe Nocera and Ben Struass, 2016. “Fate of the Union: How Northwestern Football Union Nearly Came To Be.” Sports Illustrated, 29 February.

4

Sean Gregory. 2014. “Some College Athletes Will Now Get Paid—A Little.” Time, 7 August. 1961b. “St. Mike’s Withdraws From Junior A League.” Globe and Mail, 7 June.

5

7 June 1961.

6

Personal communication, 1954. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

7

St. Michael’s Junior “A” and “B” Hockey Clubs Payments Seasons 1959/60 and 1958/59/60 Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

8

“Irish Players Must Keep Up School Work.” The Globe and Mail, 21 January 1947.

9

St. Michael’s College School Archives. 1906. Toronto, Ontario.

10

Jack Marks. 1961a. “St. Michael’s to Quit Junior A Puck Loop.” The Globe and Mail, 05 May.

11

Milt Dunnell. 1986. “A Tradition Revived” St. Michael’s Buzzers 1986-87 O.H.A. Jr. “B.” St. Michael’s College School Archives, Toronto, ON.

12

Frank Orr. 1961. “Sports Scene: The Majors Threat is Serious.” Guleph Daily Mercury, 08 May.

13

Interview with Scandiffio, 2013.

14

“Attack Minor Hockey.” 1961. Hamilton Spectator, April 10.

15

James Vipond 1960. “Education Offside: Marlboros.” The Globe and Mail, 18 December.

16

Gordon Campbell. 1960. “Guelph Royals Now Unbeaten in 11 Starts.” Toronto Star, December 22, and 1961 “Slow Down Bauer Demands.” Toronto Star, 01 April.

17

Personal communication, 1961. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

18

Gary Lautens. 1961. “The Gab Bag.” Hamilton Spectator, 08 June.

19

Gordon Campbell. 1961b. “’Twas An Irish Swan Song’: St. Mikes Leave OHA Clutching the Memorial Cup.” Toronto Star, 06 May.

20

O’Brien, 1961. St. Michael’s College School Archives, Toronto, Ontario.

21

Personal communication, 1960. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

22

Personal communication, 1961. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

23

John Marks. 1961. St. Mike’s Withdraws from Junior A League. The Globe and Mail. 07 June.

24

Paul Glynn. 1961. St. Michael’s College School Archives. Toronto, Ontario.

25

“‘We Want Jr. A’ at St. Michaels” 1961. The Telegram, 07 June.

26

John Marks 1961. “St. Mike’s Withdraws From Junior A League.” The Globe and Mail, 7 June.

27

Personal communication, 1946. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

28

Personal communication, 1960. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

29

Personal communication, 1961. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

30

“Box Office Report RE Marlboros and St. Michael’s” 1961; Personal communication, 1959. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

31

Personal communication, 1961. Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

References

  • CoakleyJay. 1992. “Burnout among Adolescent Athletes: A Personal Failure or Social Problem?Sociology of Sport Journal 9: 271285.

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  • ConacherBrian. 1963. Hockey in Canada: The Way It Is. Toronto: Gateway Press Company Limited.

  • DonnellyPeter. 1997. “Child Labour, Sport Labour: Applying Child Labour Laws to Sport.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 32 (4): 389406.

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  • SheaKevin with Larry Colle and Paul Patskou. 2006. St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers. Bolton, ON: Fenn Publishing Company, Ltd.

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  • SmytheConne with Scott Young. 1981. The Memoirs of the Late Conn Smythe: If You Can’t Beat Them in the Alley. Toronto: McCelland and Stewart Limited.

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    • Export Citation
  • SteadmanAndrew. 2016. “Getting an Icy Reception: Do Canadian Hockey League Players Deserve to Be Paid?Willamette Sports Law Journal 13 (2): 3959.

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    • Export Citation
  • Van RheenenDerek. 2012. “Exploitation in College Sports: Race, Revenue, and Educational Reward.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48 (5): 550571.

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    • Export Citation
  • WeberRomana. 2009. “Protection of Children in Competitive Sport: Some Critical Questions for London 2012.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 44 (1): 5569.

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    • Export Citation
  • WallnerJohn. 1990. Athletics and Academics: St. Michael’s College Withdrawal from Ontario Hockey Association Junior A Competition. Master’s thesisCarleton University.

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    • Export Citation

Archives

Conn Smythe Collection. Papers. Archives of Ontario, York, Ontario.

St. Michael’s College School Archives, St. Michael’s College School, Toronto, Ontario.

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Contributor Notes

Alexandra Mountain is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Pittsburgh. She studies transnational sport history, with her dissertation focused upon the professionalization of developmental hockey leagues in Canada, the United States and Sweden. She would like to thank her advisor, Professor Rob Ruck, for his continued support. E-mail: ajm207@pitt.edu

Boyhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • CoakleyJay. 1992. “Burnout among Adolescent Athletes: A Personal Failure or Social Problem?Sociology of Sport Journal 9: 271285.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ConacherBrian. 1963. Hockey in Canada: The Way It Is. Toronto: Gateway Press Company Limited.

  • DonnellyPeter. 1997. “Child Labour, Sport Labour: Applying Child Labour Laws to Sport.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 32 (4): 389406.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SheaKevin with Larry Colle and Paul Patskou. 2006. St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers. Bolton, ON: Fenn Publishing Company, Ltd.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SmytheConne with Scott Young. 1981. The Memoirs of the Late Conn Smythe: If You Can’t Beat Them in the Alley. Toronto: McCelland and Stewart Limited.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • SteadmanAndrew. 2016. “Getting an Icy Reception: Do Canadian Hockey League Players Deserve to Be Paid?Willamette Sports Law Journal 13 (2): 3959.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van RheenenDerek. 2012. “Exploitation in College Sports: Race, Revenue, and Educational Reward.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 48 (5): 550571.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WeberRomana. 2009. “Protection of Children in Competitive Sport: Some Critical Questions for London 2012.” International Review for the Sociology of Sport 44 (1): 5569.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • WallnerJohn. 1990. Athletics and Academics: St. Michael’s College Withdrawal from Ontario Hockey Association Junior A Competition. Master’s thesisCarleton University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation