Quest for history

Glenn Maddock drove from San Diego to the Canadian prairies to find some history about his football...

Glenn Maddock drove from San Diego to the Canadian prairies to find some history about his football coach grandfather. (submitted photo)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:06 AM ET

Sometimes if history isn't recorded, it can be lost forever. That's what Glenn Maddock was worried about.

A 42-year-old resident of San Diego, Maddock knew there was a story about his grandfather. And he knew it had something to do with two football teams on the Canadian prairie.

So 10 days ago Maddock got into his Nissan Maxima and pointed it north, for two places he'd never been: Saskatchewan and Manitoba. At the other end of the road, he hoped to find answers about a man he never met. A man named Fred Ritter.

The man in the photograph in his hands.

"That was the only picture I ever had of him," Maddock said. "That's all I had to go on."

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Maddock had heard a few stories about his grandfather when he was a kid, stories his mother would tell about her dad. How there were often football players at the house, at 223 Winchester, in Winnipeg. How they'd go to this huge park nearby to practice. And how on game days you'd best stay away from granddad, because he got pretty wound up.

But Joan Ritter, born here and in her eighties now, isn't telling those stories any more. The onslaught of Alzheimer's is robbing her of her memory. Of the house, of Assinboine Park -- and of her father.

"Everybody in the family is concerned this history is going to be lost," Maddock, the youngest of six, said. "My mother can't tell the stories any more. I'm the only one who has the time to track down the history. I felt it was kind of on my shoulders. If I don't dig it up, nobody was going to dig it up."

So Maddock, a recruiter for a telecommunications company in San Diego, planned an archeological trip for his summer vacation.

"It's more than a vacation," he explained. "I'm on a history quest."

Over the past week, Maddock has dug through provincial archives here and in Regina, through microfiche of old newspapers, through books chronicling the history of the Roughriders and Blue Bombers.

Sun Media caught up to him at the Millennium Library, where he'd unearthed more photographs and articles.

"I've learned more in the last three days than I knew in the first 40 years of my life about this man," Maddock said.

Not the least of which is this: Ritter has the unique distinction of being the first head coach in the histories of both franchises, the Roughriders and the Winnipegs, as the Bombers used to be known.

And would you believe he also sowed the earliest seeds of a rivalry that's going on 77 years, one that would eventually lead to the annual Labour Day Weekend Classic and, more recently, the Banjo Bowl?

You see, even in those days, you don't build a championship team in one province, as Ritter did as a player/coach in Saskatchewan from 1910-1915, then resurface with your next-door neighbour years later, without stirring some feelings.

A product of Princeton University, Ritter had made quite an impact in Regina, even elected city alderman before returning to his native New Jersey in 1915. Five years later he returned to Canada, this time in Winnipeg, where he coached juvenile and university rugby until the franchise that would become the Blue Bombers was born as part of the Manitoba Rugby Football Union in 1930.

"The books in Saskatchewan say part of what fuelled the rivalry is that their old coach was in Winnipeg," Maddock said. "He was a hero in Regina, and now he's coaching the enemy."

Ritter's stint with the Winnipegs lasted just one season. The team went 0-4 and he returned to coaching the juveniles.

Maybe that's why he's a relative unknown in Bomber headquarters.

In Regina, though, Maddock received a hero's welcome when he arrived last week, meeting current Riders coach Kent Austin and team president Jim Hopson and taking part in the coin toss as the "alumni of the game" for a pre-season contest.

"I didn't know they were going to do all that," he said. "They're getting ready for their 100th anniversary (in 2010). That's what got them so interested."

What originally got Maddock interested was a simple curiosity about his grandfather.

Now he almost sounds like a fan of the grassroots CFL.

"There's a tremendous history here, and it's not just a history of the team, but a history of the fans," he said. "It's just a passion for them. I don't always see that in the States, with teams moving all the time. You don't have that same continuity, where people are born and raised with their team."

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Maddock left Winnipeg yesterday, pointing his bug-spattered Nissan south. Accompanying him, a whole new appreciation for his grandfather and the role he played in the birth of two franchises that have survived the test of time.

Soon his entire extended family will know, too, as Maddock plans to post everything he's learned on a website.

So the memory of Fred Ritter will live on, after all. Maybe even in the mind of his only living child.

You see, Maddock found several more photographs that he copied and plans to bring back to his mother.

"The most important thing was to find pictures of her dad," he said. "When you have Alzheimer's, sometimes seeing a picture helps you remember. That will be very exciting for her."


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