Two revious columns outlined how local high school football teams, the Riverside Rams and the St. Mary Marauders, brought home Provincial Championships. In this column I will turn my attention to the ‘Blackbirds,’ later renamed the ‘Prince Albert Opti-Mrs.’, who brought Provincial Girls’ Softball Championships to Prince Albert in: 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1971.
Wow!! If that was not a dynasty – what is?
But, what happened to 1969? In a hard fought battle the Prince Albert girls lost out in the Provincial final to all stars gathered from several teams in Saskatoon.
Yes, those Prince Albert girls established an amazing dynasty. One major ingredient that led them to such dominance was coach Al Olson, a demanding, caring boss, who gave countless hours to his girls and the sport he loved. Of course Al was not alone in his dedication to the girls. Al’s wife Audrey, manager Ev Ellison and his wife Joyce, along with countless parents added to the mix that created this phenomenal team.
I learned about the team in a discussion with Lorraine Brassard as she and I got talking about provincial sports champions. Lorraine volunteers at the Prince Albert Historical Museum in the Archives. I was at the Archives researching the football teams mentioned at the start of this column.
Lorraine’s maiden name is Akers. She was an eight year old member of the team at its inception in 1963. (Sorry Lorraine for giving away your age.) Four other girls were with Lorraine throughout all those years of dominance: Debbie Ellison, Natalie Mudry, Nancy Olson, and Marlene Smith. (Oh oh, now five of you will be out to get me.)
What a ride it must have been for those five and all the other teammates who joined them over the years.
And speaking of rides, Lorraine well remembers their trip to the Provincial final in 1964 in Bengough, Saskatchewan – a distance of 490 kilometres (305 miles). Five of the eight and nine year olds sat side by side on the back seat of the car in which Lorraine rode. They were excited and scared, but despite the long tiring trip they came out Champions.
They were a group of noisy, happy, girls on the way home. But fatigue overcame excitement. Three of the girls in Lorraine’s car fell asleep scrunched up in the back seat; the other two were curled up on the rear floorboards.
There were many other such trips for the girls. One other, however, proved to be not only demanding but also very educational.
In 1972, the Opti-Mrs. travelled to Moose Jaw for the first Saskatchewan Summer Games. The girls were now, according to Lorraine, a mature group of sophisticated seventeen and eighteen year olds.
Entering their hotel, which was located on River Street in Moose Jaw, the girls’ eyes grew wide as they encountered a number of young ladies very decked out in revealing attire and sporting heavy make up. The Prince Albert coaches and chaperones were aghast. The accommodations added to the atmosphere – beds supported on large coffee cans along with a shared washroom at the end of the hallway. The coaches stayed up all night patrolling the hallways of the hotel. The next day the girls were moved to tents in the back yard of a Dot and Les Despins. Dot was Al Olson’s sister. Lorraine remembers a lot of giggling as the girls, tucked away in the tents, discussed the previous day’s experience.
They still lived up to expectations by winning their share of their games at that first Summer Games.
Finding teams to play back in Prince Albert was not always easy. The girls often had to play in boys’ leagues. Lorraine recalls one boys’ team scoffing very verbally about having to play, “A bunch of Girls!!” After a sound defeat, the boys were very quiet about voicing any further opinions.
“We had a very powerful team. One of our pitchers, Debbie Ellison, often struck out more than 20 batters in a game,” Lorraine pointed out.
Al and the other coaches taught and drilled the girls in the fine points of the game. They made them a team – a team both on and off the field – a team that brought Prince Albert championships and recognition – a team that was truly a DYNASTY.
Thank you Opti-Mrs. (Blackbirds). May you have many well deserved memories.
Those memories are available for all to recall, as the team was inducted into the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
A most deserving accolade – for real champions!