Colleagues tell me the annual Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Athletes of the Year Awards Dinner was the only one of its kind where athletes, teams and individuals are duly honoured. I can't argue the fact. Yes, there are hall-of-fame functions throughout Canada, but Manitoba has those, too.
Back in 1955, eight local sport journalists decided to follow a Toronto group's lead and start an association. This local group included Winnipeg Free Press sports editor Maurice Smith as the first president, secretary Bob Moir from the Free Press and later CBC radio/TV, CKY TV's Stewart MacPherson, CKAC/CBC/CTV/CJOB personality Cactus Jack Wells, Al Vickery from The Canadian Press and the Winnipeg Tribune's Johnny Buss and photographer Hugh Allan.
“It was just a get-together thing,” said the late Jack Matheson of the Winnipeg Tribune about the initial purpose of the association. “We'd get together three or four times a year over a beer. We didn't have much to discuss, except for shop talk.”
In 1956, the association decide to hold a dinner and honour Manitoba's athletes of the year.
The first dinner was held at the Assiniboine Hotel, and was male only. Since then, the MSSA has broken bread at the Charleswood Motor Hotel, the Paddock, the Viscount Gort, the Winnipeg Inn, the Marlborough Hotel, the Delta Hotel and the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
Winnipeg's Billy Mosienko, the Chicago Black Hawks hockey star, was the first winner of the Ches McChance Trophy. The McCance Trophy was put forth by the St. Andrews Basketball Club. In addition to playing football for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, McCance was an outstanding basketball player.
In 1967, the MSSA initiated a male and female athlete of the year with the Errick Willis Trophy going to the female winner. Wheelchair sports star Irene Miller was the first recipient of the Willis Trophy, named for the former Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba.
In 1985, the Maurice Smith Memorial Trophy, in honour of the late sports editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, was presented for the first time to the Bob Ursel curling team.
Both the McCance and the Willis trophies were retired following the 1985 presentations with new MSSA trophies now up for competition.
Add the Cactus Jack Wells Memorial Impact Award, the Dallis Beck Good Guy/Good Gal Award in 1991 (named for the late Free Press and Tribune sports writer), the Media Roll of Honour in 1986, the Jack Matheson Memorial Award in 2003, the Ron Meyers Memorial Award in 2011 (Meyers was a long-time Tribune freelance reporter and MSSA secretary-treasurer for countless years) and the awards list is complete.
– Ed Dearden is a retired Winnipeg Tribune assistant sports editor and CJOB Radio freelancer