Unique is the bond among members of a championship team
By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Few things can rival the bond that arises from the shared experiences of those who are part of a sports team, but at Royal Military College there was a perk that went with being a varsity athlete that students on other campuses wouldn’t necessarily appreciate.
“You don’t get out much from RMC,” Murray Ramsbottom said on the telephone from Victoria, “unless you’re on a representative team of some description.
“I don’t say it unkindly, but the opportunity to get away from the institution, and sample something other than institutional meals (was something to look forward to). The meals weren’t bad at RMC in the late fifties, but they weren’t great, and it was nice to get out on those occasions when we travelled for our away games.”
Ramsbottom was on the senior volleyball team while he was at RMC, but he was also a member of the football team that in 1959 won the Ottawa-St. Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship, a rare achievement for a small college competing in a league with Ottawa, Carleton, McMaster, Waterloo and the Ontario Agricultural College, now the University of Guelph.
“As I recall the student body was just a little over 400 when I attended,” he said. “You had to draw from that very modest number of gentleman cadets to form all of your teams. We were very fortunate, and well coached, I suggest, to be able to win the Ottawa-St. Lawrence (championship) with a very few individuals.
“It was quite an accomplishment.”
RMC finished third in what was known at the time as the Ontario Intercollegiate Football Conference, with a 4-3 record, beating Carleton twice, Waterloo and, in the final game of the season, the University of Ottawa, to finish as the top team among those from the Ottawa-St. Lawrence association.
“We came along at the end of the season,” Ramsbottom recalled of a team that won four of its last five games. “Things didn’t start too well, with a couple of losses, but under the firm hand of Hank Tamowski, our coach, things came together and by the end of the season the team was playing very well.”
Tamowski, a Royal Roads grad and an air force officer who was a squadron leader at RMC at the time, had played two years with the Ottawa Rough Riders in the middle 1950s. “He brought a lot of football expertise to the task at RMC and was able to pass that on to us with good results,” Ramsbottom said.
The Redmen won their last game that fall. Played in Ottawa, RMC prevailed 32-19, with Vince Steiner scoring three touchdowns, all on pass receptions. Russ Donaldson and John Vrana scored the other majors that day, with Vrana’s coming after an Ottawa kick was blocked at the Gee-Gees’ 45-yard line. George Kerr kicked two converts.
Bill McIntyre, who narrowly won the league scoring title that year over Steiner, scored all three Ottawa touchdowns.
A split end on offence and a corner linebacker on defence, Ramsbottom was in his fourth year at RMC.
“I wasn’t very big, 6-1 and 156 pounds, but in intercollegiate football in those days that wasn’t out of line,” he said. “There were a number of players on our own team who were even lighter than that. You had to make up in enthusiasm what you lacked in heft.”
Ramsbottom is modest about his role on the team. “I was not an outstanding football player by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “My memories are pretty well associated with some of the individuals who were.”
Among them was Steiner, a running back “par excellence” who was, Ramsbottom recalled, “a joy to play with,” as well as Dick Cobbold and some “stalwarts along the line:” Butch Miller, John Whitaker and Walt Cotie—“great individuals and excellent football players.”
“(Steiner) was full of enthusiasm, energetic and an outstanding running back,” Ramsbottom said, “strong and powerful but very elusive as well. It was great fun to block for him, because it didn’t matter which way you hit your block, Vince was able to get around it for good yardage. He was an outstanding player. I think he could have played pro.”
Ramsbottom came to RMC after being encouraged to do so by his sister.
“Bless her heart,” he said. “She was a graduate nurse from Kingston General Hospital and she had encountered RMC cadets during her three years there and she spoke very highly of the college. My parents were of modest means and the prospect of a scholarship with a university education under the Regular Officer Training Plan was attractive.”
Ramsbottom was born in Perth but raised in Rideau Ferry, a hamlet at the south end of Big Rideau Lake in eastern Ontario, where his father owned the general store. “I have happy memories of that part of the world as well.”
Ramsbottom studied engineering in his first two years at RMC and general science for the last two, before joining the RCAF as an aerospace engineer.
It was an exciting time to be in the field.
“My 35 years in the forces were very rewarding. I enjoyed those years tremendously, worked with a lot of wonderful people, travelled, was lucky enough to serve in Europe for almost five years,” said Ramsbottom, who spent a year at Royal Air Force Staff College in Bracknell, England, almost four years in Germany, at Baden-Soellingen and then with the 4th Allied Tractical Air Force (4 ATAF) allied tactical air force at Ramstein.
Ramsbottom recalled the final two assignments of his career as being particularly rewarding. After attending National Defence College in Kingston in 1981, he was posted to the CF18 project office to be part of the fighter-acquisition program, where he was Deputy Project Manager for three years and then promoted to serve as Project Manager.
“It came in on time, under budget, and met all operational requirements,” Ramsbottom recalls, proudly. “I got a lot of satisfaction out of that assignment. I was in the right place at the right time, I guess, but it really was a tremendous challenge and tremendously gratifying to bring a new fighter aircraft into the Royal Canadian Air Force.
“We only do that about every 35 years in the Canadian military environment and to be there and play a major role was extremely enjoyable.”
Ramsbottom rose to the rank of Brigadier General and he completed his career as the senior aerospace engineer in the Canadian Forces, taking early retirement in 1990.
“My memories go back to RMC, the friends that you make there,” he said. “The camaraderie of the football team carries right through your career, and the tremendous people that you work with, you work for, that support you in your tasks, have left me with a tremendously warm (feeling) and a great sense of satisfaction for my 35 years. It was good fun.”
Ramsbottom then worked in the aerospace private sector before retiring a second time in 2004. He and his wife settled in Edmonton to be close to their daughter and two grandchildren. They all moved to Victoria in 2007, where Ramsbottom served as president of the local Rotary Club as it celebrated its 100th anniversary there.
He remains an avid golfer.
“It can be a frustrating game,” he admits, “but at my stage of life I realize that I’m never going to be a good golfer, so you just go out to enjoy your friends, the quality of the course and the warmth and the sunshine, and if you happen to have a good golf game, that’s a bonus.”
Ramsbottom’s sister, Maxine Cohrs, and her husband, Norman, still live in Kingston, and Ramsbottom said he enjoys visiting the city where he went to school.
“We all have our great memories,” he said. “Rather than any outstanding contribution that I personally made to the team, my memories are of the camaraderie, the association we had among the players on the team, the friendships that we made, the opportunities to travel a little bit.
“I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the team spirit. I enjoyed the enthusiasm that Hank Tamowski was able to generate in our team; I enjoyed playing with outstanding individuals like Vince Steiner.
“It was special.”
Ed Note: Claude Scilley is a regular contributor to e-Veritas and has been reporting on athletics at RMC since 1972. You can follow his coverage of university sport on his blog