Bruce Huff (left) as a member of the Dresden Legionnaires, 1953 Ontario Juvenile champions, and (right) as he is today, about to be inducted into the London, Ont. Sports Hall of Fame.
My old friend and one-time baseball battery mate, Bruce Huff, is about to be honored for his lifelong dedication to sports. In November he will be inducted into the prestigious London Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of his contribution as a modern era sports "builder and founder" in the Forest City.
"It just goes to show you that if you stick around long enough, eventually you'll get recognized," joked Bruce in discussing his upcoming induction. And stick around he has, 55 years of involvement in sports to be exact. He has not only written about sports all his life, he has played them and at 74 years young he continues to be active as a player and organizer of old timers slow pitch softball and hockey in the City of London.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, They just don't make 'em like Bruce Huff any more!
But let's back up a bit to get to know the real "Huffer" that I grew up with. We came from the very grass roots of sports in the 1940s, playing baseball in back yards and hockey on a patch of ice in a corn field adjacent to his home on the outskirts of Dresden. We would train for high school track and field competition on the horse racing track at the Dresden Fair Grounds and experiment with boxing in a friend's barn. I am convinced that it is from these humble beginnings that Bruce developed his special interest in small town sports and the unheralded athletes and coaches behind the scenes.
Bruce was my catcher all through midget, juvenile and junior baseball in Dresden and I credit him, four years my senior, for his steadying influence on me. We had little in the way of coaching in those days and Bruce was a true student of the game. At about 16 or 17 years of age, he began reporting on local sports for the hometown newspaper, the Dresden Times, and that was enough introduction to launch a career in sports writing.
The thing that has impressed me most about Bruce over the years is that generally he left big name sports to other writers, opting instead to direct his "Off the Cuff" newspaper column to lesser known local athletes, teams and leagues. He was "the guy on the desk" at the Chatham News, the London Free Press and the Toronto Sun through five decades and to this day he has not stopped writing -- and playing.
Since retirement in April of 1994 he has continued as a freelance writer and has amassed an almost super human record of playing and coaching in more than 1,500 oldtimer hockey games including winning gold with London Huff' N Puff in the Snoopy World tournament in Santa Rosa, CA, being player-coach of a successful tour of Scotland, and being captain of his team in the recent World Cup in Quebec City. His hockey team will be playing an 80-game schedule this season, plus a number of tournaments. He is also player-manager of an elite senior slo-pitch softball team that plays across North America each summer. He has also been cited in the Who's Who of Canadian Sport.
Bear in mind that I'm writing here about someone who has lived three quarters of a century. Most guys half his age couldn't keep up with his pace, I know I couldn't.
Away from the computer keyboard, the ice rink and ball diamond, Bruce is the founding chairman of the London Sports Hall of Fame committee, the first chairman of the London Oldtimers Sports Association, a charter member of the London Sports Council, co-ordinator of the Grandstand Display project at Labatt Park, director of the Intercounty Baseball League hall of fame committee and the person responsible for bringing the hall to London as a permanent site.
He is a member of the Canadian Oldtimers Hockey Hall of Fame, the Dresden Sports Hall of Fame, the Ontario Legends of Fastball and has been honored as a London Hockey Man of Distinction as well as being London's Sportsperson of the year in 2003.
The most amazing part of all this is the fact that Bruce's wife Carolyn (nee Deline of Dresden) has hung in with him all the way. Now there's a 55-year endurance record worthy of its own hall of fame. I often tease Bruce by saying "give my sympathy to Carolyn"...I don't know if he appreciates my sense of humor.
Any way Bruce, sincerest congratulations to you -- and Carolyn -- on a wonderful career and life. I don't know how either one of you has done it. You're made out of special stuff, Huff!
Now here's a kicker for you. The Huff's oldest son, Kelly, recently ended a long tenure with Loblaws to join the Staples Business Depot chain as Vice-President of Real Estate and Construction. My oldest daughter, Debbie, also works at Staples head office in Richmond Hill and the two of them met a couple of weeks ago to discuss their dads. Even more coincidental, my son-in-law Joe Rocha is in the construction, design business and one of his major clients is the Staples corporation and a guy named Kelly Huff. Small world!