Link to the Blue past

MIKE MIGUEZ -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

At 83, Jim Foubister can remember the humble beginnings of the Blue Bombers alumni association.

"One of our old time great Bomber football players, Ches McCance, was a real character. He partied and led the good life. When he passed away there were quite a few of us at his funeral and it was mentioned that the only time we see each other is when someone passes on. That's when the group started getting together."

Foubister, who played for the Bombers some 60 years ago, was already retired when the Winnipeg Blue Bomber Alumni was formed in the early '50s under the presidency of Dr. Bert Oja. He remains active in the association, as do hundreds of other players scattered across North America.

"The alumni originally started out on more of a social level," said Bud Irving, the second alumni president who took over in the late '50s.

"It was a way for all of us to keep in touch, see how everyone was doing and not lose touch with all the fellows with whom we played and those who played before and after us."

Today's Bomber alumni is an active, community-minded, charity-supporting group.

Trevor Kennerd, alumni president from 1999-02, estimates there are 800 to 900 Blue Bomber alumni in North America, close to 100 of which reside in Winnipeg.

The mandate of the Blue Bomber Alumni is to promote worthwhile causes in Manitoba, assist in the development of amateur football, and to preserve and enhance the heritage of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Canadian Football League.

The Rona Senior Bowl and the Casinos of Winnipeg Bomber Alumni Golf Tournament have been the alumni's two major events over the past number of years.

Other organized events include the 1991 Grey Cup alumni social, which created a base for the Bomber Alumni Scholarship Fund at the University of Manitoba, and the hugely successful Legends Breakfast at the 2006 Grey Cup.

All these events, and other minor ones, have enabled the Blue Bomber alumni to provide financial support to The Think First Foundation, the CNIB, the U of M Bisons, the Winnipeg Rifles, the Winnipeg High School Football League, Football Manitoba and Touchdown Manitoba.

The Rona Senior Bowl is the brainchild of alumnus James Murphy.

The game is open to midget and graduating high school football players.

It is the only game of its kind among the western Canadian CFL alumni organizations.

"It's a real collaborative effort from the football community, Winnipeg Rifles, Bomber and Bison players, midget and high school coaches, and our sponsors," said Kennerd, who has been heavily involved behind the scenes for eight years.

In addition to raising money for the Scholarship Fund and the Winnipeg Rifles, the game offers the players a chance to showcase their talents to the Bisons and Rifles football programs as well as visiting scouts.

The golf tournament, which started out as an alumni-only social function, was opened to the public and the corporate community in the mid '90s.

Today the money raised from the Casinos of Winnipeg Bomber Alumni Golf Tournament goes to amateur football and the Think First Foundation -- a charity for the prevention of head and spinal cord injuries which was founded by Bomber alumnus Dr. Norman Hill.

More than $75,000 has been donated to the foundation.

The inaugural, hugely successful Legends Breakfast was a co-operative project of the Grey Cup committee and the Bomber alumni.

More than 900 people attended the event, which featured such CFL legends as Ken Ploen, Russ Jackson, Ron Lancaster, Angelo Mosca, Tony Gabriel and Terry Evanshen, among others.

A new alumni idea, still in the planning stages, is a Banjo Bowl breakfast.

The event would include Bombers and Roughriders alumni.

In addition to raising charity funds, the alumni's humanitarian efforts over the years have included lending financial and emotional support to former Bombers Vince Phason, Tyrone Jones and Steve Rodehutskors.

Underneath the community spirit, charitable work and humanitarianism lies another far-reaching, equally important aspect of the group -- the link from the past to the present to the future of a storied, proud, CFL franchise.

"When you take a look at what's happened with the Bomber Legacy Dinner, it's becoming apparent that the Winnipeg Blue Bomber present-day players are taking a look at the history that's involved with this football club," said current alumni president Joe Poplawski.

"The flagship years of this team were the '50s and early '60s, where they won numerous Grey Cups and competed in a couple of others. Really that is the backbone of the Bomber alumni.

"When you take a look at it from a fan's perspective and also when you're a member of the Bomber alumni you look toward that group of players from the '50s who are still very strong in the community, and I think it just promotes the history of this Winnipeg football club."

Bob Toogood discovered another positive spinoff.

"It's also an opportunity for the fans, and I saw this at the Legends Breakfast, to relive those great moments that the athletes gave them, that sense of community and ownership of a great prize. You could see that when Kenny (Ploen) got up there. The fans love to relive that moment. That was a spinoff I didn't realize was so important to the fans."

"The truth is it's a chance for all of us to get together, have a few beers and tell each other how good we were," joked Kennerd, with a laugh.

"We get better with every year that goes by."

Dave Vankoughnett and Jason Dzikowicz join Poplawski, Toogood and coordinator Cathy Garski, as well as several members at large in rounding out the current alumni executive.

"Alumni members are appreciative of the opportunity of having been part of the community in Winnipeg and like to give back in terms of volunteering, coming out to various community events and signing autographs, or supporting charities," said Garski.

"All of the guys on the Bomber alumni do those things as volunteers themselves."


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