Day At The Track

Tim Twaddle to St. Catharines sports shrine

04:38 AM 25 Nov 2017 NZDT
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Tim Twaddle, harness racing
Pictured from left are David Gorman, Diane Hilko, Mark Johnston, Tim Twaddle and Stan Ciesla accepting on behalf of his late brother, Hank Ciesla.

Members of the St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame’s 27th induction class had all bases covered, except the one that uses bases.

No, that was touched on, too. Before going on to be enshrined in five and, now, six sports halls of fame, Diane Hilko played softball in Manitoba as well as in her native St. Catharines.

Baseball was very much on Mark Johnston’s mind when he was 13 and had to make the difficult decision of one sport on which to focus his attention. Broad shouldered, Johnston could blaze a fastball across the plate but those same shoulders gave him a swimmer’s build.

He took the plunge.

To say the least, 14 national champions, a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, two bronze medals at the world swimming championships and advancing to the final at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics proved that baseball’s loss was swimming’s gain.

Johnston, 38, pointed out he was never alone in the pool. He was always supported by family, friends, teammates and coaches.

“Swimming is definitely a team sport,” said the Denis Morris Catholic High School Hall of Famer who now lives in Vancouver.

“You can’t achieve anything in life without a support group.”

He said one of his proudest memories was competing along with his brother at the Ontario Summer Games when the swimming events were held at Brock University.

“That’s a moment I will always remember.”

Dave Gorman also took swings at the plate, tearing around the bases for the Grantham Optimists while playing in the Ontario Hockey League with the St. Catharines Blackhawks.

Veteran St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley, one of the speakers at Thursday night’s induction ceremony at Meridian Centre, recalled being the Optimists’ first base coach at the time. He would hold up his hand signalling Gorman to stop, but the fleet-footed Gorman always kept going and going.

“When he got a hit out of the infield, he would be on second base,” Bradley said.

Gorman kept going and going in hockey, too. After leading OHL right wingers in scoring with 53 goals and 76 assists with the Blackhawks in 1973-74, Gorman went on to play six seasons in the World Hockey Association and briefly with the then Atlanta Flames in the National Hockey League.

Tim Twaddle was part of an entirely different team when he, like Gorman, made a living competing in sports. Twaddle, now 55 and living in Canonsburg, Pa., southwest of Pittsburgh, began gravitating toward the former Garden City Raceway.

“I did whatever I could do to be around a horse,” said Twaddle, who since suffering nerve damage in his hand has trained trotters.

Because Thursday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., Twaddle, at times choking back tears, touched on everything he was thankful for in his remarks, such as the support of family and friends.

“No. 1, I’m thankful there was a racetrack in this town called Garden City Raceway,” he said.

“The highs were extremely high, but there were a lot of lows, too.

“I would hit the ground a lot of times, and I didn’t bounce very good.

“I’m grateful for the Niagara Rehab Centre. I’m sure they don’t remember me, but I remember all of them very well.”

Now 58 and still very much involved in sports coaching boys basketball in Calgary, where she teaches high school, Hilko was being inducted for her achievements in basketball and track.

A two-time athlete of the year at the former Grantham High School and also Brock University, Hilko was a four-time conference all-star in basketball, when she wasn’t winning gold medals in discus.

No one achievement stands out above the rest in a lifetime of competing and coaching.

“I did so many things, and I loved everything I did that it’s hard to choose,” she said when asked if only one achievement could be on her plaque, what would it be.”

She won a national championship in 2001 as an assistant coach with the University of Regina women’s basketball team.

Gorman called getting to play professional hockey and representing Canada at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland was “living the dream.”

In his case, seeds for that dream were planted when he was growing up in Oshawa watching Bobby Orr playing for the Generals. He also remembered seeing Bobby Hull taking part in a parade and getting the Golden Jet’s autograph afterwards.

“That’s what I always imagined a hockey player would look like,” said Gorman, 62, who now lives in Niagara Falls.

In his very first game with the Blackhawks, he played with future hall of famer Marcel Dionne. With the Birmingham, Ala., Bulls in the WHA, he played with another future hall of famer, Frank Mahovlich, and against Hull as well as the legendary Gordie Howe.

Each member of the Class of 2017 made a name for himself or herself on the national and international stage, but St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle’s constituency aide, Zach Dadson, pointed out the roots all go back to St. Catharines.

“Even our biggest national stars are hometown heroes somewhere,” he said bringing greetings from Bittle.

St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik thanked the inductees for representing the community well as they competed in their respective sports.

“You brought pride to our community through your sport,” he said. “Today’s honourees are part of who we are.”

Hank Cielsa, who won a Memorial Cup with the St. Catharines Teepees in 1954 and played four years in the NHL, was inducted posthumously.

Induction of the Class of 2017 brings to 168 the number of people enshrined since the St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame was established in 1990. It was founded to recognize the accomplishments of athletes and builders who have either made a significant contribution to sports at the community level or who have gone on to enjoy success provincially, nationally as well as internationally.

By Bernd Franke, Postmedia News

Reprinted with permission of The St Catharines Standard

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