It’s Homecoming in Brandon this weekend and the university is adding to its growing wall of honour for athletes and builders as part of the festivities.
The Dick and Verda McDonald Sports Wall of Fame, itself just a year old, will grow with the enshrinement of eight athletes and three teams at Homecoming Weekend in the Wheat City.
- Sandra Hamilton Athlete, Women’s Basketball (1990-93)
- David Dominique Athlete, Men’s Basketball (1986-89)
- Larry Rodenbush Athlete, Football/Men’s Basketball (1968-74)
- Bob Simmons Athlete, Football/Men’s Basketball/Track and Field (1955-60)
- Shannon Larkins Community Leader, Women’s Basketball (1987-92)
- Jerry Hemmings Builder, Men’s Basketball (1974-2014)
- Doug Steeves Builder, Football/Men’s Hockey/Administration (1967-95)
- George Birger Builder, Men’s Basketball/Women’s Basketball/Men’s Hockey/Administration (1978-87)
- Men’s Basketball CIAU National Championship teams (1987-89)
The wall of fame was granted its home in the new Healthy Living Centre and named in honour of a pair of Brandon boosters who are eminently worthy of having their names attached to such a high honour. Dick McDonald passed away last month and that was a shaking bit of news for anyone who’d ever had the pleasure of dealing with him. McDonald was one of the most loyal and committed supporters of BU athletics, a diehard basketball backer who regularly accompanied the teams to Halifax for what used to be regular national championship tournament appearances. His courtside seat was always occupied at the old BU Gym and he never turned down a chance to talk sports with the locals. He was a tremendously kind, unfailingly genuine man whose presence around games at BU will be sorely missed. This weekend will be much different without him there.
Yes the last name of one of the inductees is the same as mine. My sister played for BU for five seasons starting in the late 80s after being recruited out of Kelvin in 1987. Her time there happened to coincide with the finest years of the Bobcats men’s basketball team, though on-court success for the BU women was few and far between. Still, she is part of the last Brandon women’s basketball team to be ranked in the national top 10 — when the Cats were No. 10 for a couple of weeks following an upset of powerful Manitoba that still stands as one of the best wins in program history.
Tangentially then, because of my sister’s history at the school, I’ve had loose connections to BU and Brandon for parts of three decades. I grew up as an impressionable young hoops fanatic kid watching those great BU men’s teams, while bragging that my sibling played university ball. I wore BU practice jerseys in my own school gym; rocked anything she’d hand me down with a Bobcat on it through the halls of River Heights Junior High and Kelvin; and was surely always linked to Brandon by my teammates who’d shake their head at my Brandon loyalties.
When I later cut my teeth as a full-time sports reporter there from 2003-2011, covering the Bobcats, it was always a bit surreal to me that I was covering the teams I was watching when I was 12 years old.
Brandon being a tight-knit community, and it’s sporting community even more so, you easily foster relationships with the people who have spent much of their lives building the foundations of sport in the community. Whether it’s BU or the Brandon Wheat Kings, there is a discernible lineage from one generation to the next and the names listed above represent that.
I can say great things about each of the people in that list that I encountered over the years. I never met Mr. Birger or Mr. Simmons, but everyone else in that list I have some personal recollection.
Sandra Hamilton was the best female basketball player I’ve ever watched in person. And I’ve watched a lot of basketball. She shied away from no one and, to this day, I wonder what on earth she was doing in Brandon, Manitoba. You could make a case for her being the top five pound-for-pound athletes to ever suit up at Brandon.
David Dominque was a special type of basketball player who, truthfully, had no business playing in Canada based on his skill level. A Division I talent, Dominique came to Brandon through some unbecoming circumstances, but boy could he play. A physical freak, as far as CIAU basketball was concerned. And watching those Brandon teams that won three national championships in a row was some of the most joy I’ve ever had watching the game I love the most. Watching them was what really, really hooked me on the game.
Larry Rodenbush was teaching at Vincent Massey High School by the time I got to Brandon. He raised a family there with kids who were each as likeable and kind as he is. He was one of the first contacts I had when I began reporting in Brandon and instantly became one of my favourites.
I’ve never met anyone who absorbs basketball like Jerry Hemmings. He has his detractors, but even they will acknowledge the longtime head coach who lead BU to four national championships was among the hardest workers and best Xs and Os coaches in Canada. Every chance he had to be around the game, he took it. And he’s a big reason why anyone had ever heard of Brandon University in the 80s and 90s.
Doug Steeves was just a beautiful human being. A gracious, giving and committed man who was the face of football in Brandon for decades — the patriarch of all three high school programs in the city, and the man who was on the sideline of every game he could be at until his final days.
Finally, my sister was to me the hardest working player on the floor at all times. I played every sport I could growing up, but it was basketball I clung to largely because of her. From the moments dribbling a ball in the basement with her cajoling me to work on my left hand, to back-lane one-on-ones to getting invites to practice with her high school team, I fell in love with the sport at an early age and now, as I look at one of her young daughters growing up with a twinkle in her eye for the sport, I can’t wait to see the passion grow in her the way it did in me.
There’s no doubt she”ll have the right teacher.
Congratulations to all the inductees. See you soon, Brandon.