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Tonight, Fredericton will honour a relay team that stunned a nation more than half a century ago

Tonight, Fredericton will honour a relay team that stunned a nation more than half a century ago


IT MAY have been 52 years ago but Dr. Barry King, who practised medicine as a family physician in Rothesay for 40 years until his retirement four years ago, remembers it like it was yesterday.

The year was 1947 when teenagers Barry King, his twin brother John, Carl Howe and Bob Scott left Fredericton on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that took them to Edmonton, Alta., where they won the one-mile relay in the national junior track and field championships. Days later they would return to Fredericton as heroes.

Now, more than half a century later, they will relive those heady times tonight when they are inducted into the Fredericton Sports Wall of Fame. Also being inducted are builders Bob Kierstead of shooting and Dr. Doug Brewer of golf. They are automatic inductees because they already have been elected to the provincial sports shrine. Others gaining a place of prominence on the Wall include softball and volleyball standout Sonny Phillips and builders Tim Gillies and Bob Mabie of hockey. The reception starts at 6:30 p.m. and the dinner at 7:30 p.m. at the Sheraton. Tickets are $50 and are available at Mazucca’s, MacTavish For Sports, the Recreation Office at 15 Saunders St. or any member of Fredericton Sports Investments.

“I remember we went by train and how good the meals were,” said Dr. King, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday. “That always amazed me, how they could prepare meals in such a little galley.”

When the team touched down in Montreal, Dr. King remembers his coach, the late Johnny Vey, pumping his athletes with salt pills in preparation for the gruelling competitions that would unfold in the coming days. Salt pills were to counteract the loss of water through training. In later years, electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade took the place of salt pills.

“Those pills would almost burn a hole in your stomach,” Dr. King recalled with a laugh. “We were in danger of being violently sick. Looking back, all we needed was lots of pure water.”

Because they were on the train for three days, coach Vey also felt it was important to take advantage of every opportunity to remain loose.

“When the train would stop at each town, we would get off, warm up and jog a bit… try to get our sea legs. We were trying to keep in shape but we were embarrassed because people were looking at us funny. But it probably helped out in the long run.”

When the Fredericton foursome arrived in Edmonton, they were greeted by a former Olympian – Dr. King couldn’t put his finger on a name.

“We were pretty impressed with that,” he said “We were seeing the country. I don’t think any of us had travelled beyond Fredericton prior to that. This was a new experience for us. But we had credentials – it wasn’t like we weren’t good enough.”

Indeed. Dr. King had broken the Maritime intercollegiate record in the 100-yard dash with a clocking of 10.25 seconds and he added, “my brother wasn’t far behind.” Dr. King also held a high school record for the 440-yard dash in a time of 52 seconds. It should be remembered that he was competing on a cinder track, not the high-tech surfaces of today.

In Edmonton, they soon met a young runner from British Columbia. That same 17-year-old would go on to become the Prime Minister of Canada. His name, John Turner.

“I’ve met up with him a few times since then and we have talked about the track meet in Edmonton. Even back then he was very polished.’

Along with winning gold in the one-mile relay in a time of 41.8 seconds at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton, Barry King finished fourth in the 100-yard final and was second in his 440-yard heat before collapsing while in the lead just 10 yards from the finish line in the final.

“Some people say I feinted but I prefer the word collapsed,” he said, playing the scene back in his mind. “Back then we had to run in lanes and I had the outside lane. People later told me I had built up a pretty good lead but I had no idea. Then it was, boom, lights out. I knew I should have paced myself because people who collapse don’t win races.

“We were to race in the relay shortly after and they decided they were going to scratch us because of what happened to me but I said, ‘no, I’m ready.’ I was the anchor man but they moved me up to lead off. I wasn’t perhaps at my best but we led the entire race.

“It was an education. When we finished the meet we felt we could compete with anyone across Canada. We could have been better if we had more exposure to better competition.”

Because top-calibre coaching back in the 1940s was limited in New Brunswick, Dr. King relied on the preachings of Lloyd Percival who conducted Sports College of Canada on the radio every Saturday at noon.

“He was the one who had the training techniques on how to get fit. In fact, the Russians copied his manual for their training in hockey. I corresponded with him. I’d say, this is my problem and I would have to explain it. His main contribution was getting you in shape.

It was from Percival that the relay team adopted its training program in warming up before a big competition.

“We would go three miles, walking, running and a slow jog. It was 12 laps of the track. I remember because I used to count the darn things. He was ahead of his time when it came to of training techniques and he was well revered. He even offered me a chance to train in Toronto and a possible scholarship to University of Michigan. But I had other things on my mind. I needed money to pay my way in medicine. There was no hesitation on my part.”

Howe clearly remembers his training regimen during the glory years.

“I worked in a rock quarry for Diamond Construction, we were working on the Maugerville Road. Every night – I wouldn’t even go home and wash up – I would meet the boys and go over to Queen’s Square and train until about 9 o’clock. We did it all summer.”

The quartet returned home to Fredericton to a hero’s welcome, riding to City Hall from Union station in a mile-long procession and accompanied by the Chamber of Commerce Band.

Dressed in their scarlet blazers, the local heroes were presented with watches and cups. Among many dignitaries on hand were Premier John McNair and Fredericton deputy mayor Sam Lean.

The Canadian championship wouldn’t have become a reality if it hadn’t been for the dedication of Howe, who had lost his brother in a drowning accident just two weeks prior to the nationals.

“I remember it vividly,” said Dr. King, who still walks four miles a day and plays upwards of 40 games of golf each year. “We were very appreciative of Carl because there would have only been three of us, not enough for a relay team. We would have understood if he didn’t want to go but he said he wasn’t going to let the team down.”

Dr. King remembered the team as a close-knit quartet and sportsman-ship was high on their list of priorities.

“Sportsmanship is the thing that is missing in the modern era, as far as I’m concerned. Winning is everything these days. Well, you can win with class or you can win with the ‘we kicked butt’ attitude, which I don’t call class. That’s what has amazed me, the change in attitude. In our time, we were known as true sportsmen. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t cost you anything.”

King and company also had the generosity of Cedric Cooper, president of the Fredericton Chamber of 7 Commerce, who took it upon himself to raise the $1,600 for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“The people who donated were anonymous and now 52 years later I wonder why?” While the Edmonton meet was the group’s only national experience together, Dr. King will always remember it as his athletic career highlight.

The King brothers both went on to study medicine at McGill University in Montreal – the same school their father J.K. (Kenneth) King studied at and where he competed in track and field in 1910 when it was known as McDonald College. The King brothers became the first set of twins to graduate from McGill’s medical school.

Before their medical careers were launched, however, they became known as the first track stars in N.B. to use starting blocks in competition. Before that, competitors just dug their toes into the cinder track.

“We saw a picture of Mel Patton, the Olympic gold winner in 100 metres, using them so then my father got summoned to make starting blocks for us.

While Dr. Barry King is enjoying his fourth year of retirement, Dr. John King continues to practise medicine in Almonte, Ont., the birthplace of two rather significant Canadian sports figures – James Naismith, the man credited with inventing the game of basketball, and Tate McKenzie, the man responsible for designing the symbol that is the Olympic rings.

Dr. Barry King started his career as a family physician in Rothesay in 1957 but the King name would surface at least one more time in through track and field. His daughter, Jean, would compete provincially for Kennebecasis Valley High School in the late 1970s and collect a second-place showing in the 440-yard event. “She didn’t have to train the way I did. I tease her about that. But you can see her coming. She has the same loping, unique stride that I have.”

Folks in Fredericton will get another look at the “loping stride” when Dr. King and his teammates of 52 years ago make their way into to the spotlight one more time tonight.

“I sure am looking forward to this,” said Howe, who still loves thumbing through Telegraph Journal newspaper clippings on the championship, written mainly by Mac MacGowan. “We ran together from 1945 to 1948. We were great friends. Then the King boys went off to university and Bob went to Ontario. We’ve only gotten together one other time in 52 years since then and that was when Johnny Vey retired from the recreation department of the City of Fredericton.

“It’s going to be pretty special for the four of us to get together. It’s very exciting for me. I don’t know what the King boys look like. Bob Scott and I are still close but the four of us haven’t been together since 1977 when we got together for Johnny Vey’s retirement.

“We were very fortunate because we could look after anything in the Maritimes because we worked hard and had some natural ability. We might have been a little ahead of our time. I just thank the good Lord that I was lucky enough to be around when those boys were around and I thank the good Lord that we’re all still around.”

Telegraph Journal