W.O.A.A. - Western Ontario Athletic Association

W.O.A.A. - Western Ontario Athletic Association was the idea of one man that grew to successfully promote sports in western Ontario.

In the late 1930s and 1940s sports became more and more popular. As this popularity grew, there was a fear in some part so of the province that many leagues might ignore the smaller communities when it came to designating franchises. In order to provide the structure necessary to sustain the game of hockey in this part of western Ontario one man decided to use his stature in the community to promote and develop a hockey association which would help maintain the game in the communities of the area.

"Doc" Cruickshank: Driving Force Behind the W.O.A.A.

In an attempt to prevent this fear from becoming a reality, in 1942 the Western Ontario Athletic Association was formed. The driving force behind the organization was the late W.T. "Doc" Cruickshank. He was the owner and general manager of CKNX radio in Wingham. Cruickshank underwrote the cost of forming the W.O.A.A. To ensure that the league had a focal point in which to play many of their games, the Wingham Arena was leased for five years.

It was Cruickshank's belief "that a strong organization was needed" to bring all the small communities together instead of operating "independent or outlaw" leagues. It was his ultimate goal that the W.O.A.A. would affiliate with provincial hockey, baseball and softball organizations.  

The first executive of the W.O.A.A. consisted of: Honourary Presidents: Harley Crawford, Wingham; William Mitchell, Kincardine; Ralph Campbell Grant, Walkerton; Otto Dick, Seaforth; Judge Costello, Goderich; George Smith, Lucknow; John Hann, M.P.P.' Wingham; W.T. Cruickshank, Wingham; Dr. Riddell, Palmerston. The President was "Tory" Gregg, Wingham. The rest of the executive included: "Mac" Pratt, Listowel, 1st Vice-President; "Tubby" Schmalz, Walkerton, 2nd Vice-President; Jean Tervit, Secretary, Wingham; and Alfred Lockridge, Treasurer, Wingham.

The efforts of the first executive saw seven midget teams playing hockey in league play in the area. During the summer 60 teams were playing baseball and softball under the auspices of the W.O.A.A. Within two years the ball teams had almost doubled to 109 and there were 2,180 players who had signed W.O.A.A. certificates!

The W.O.A.A.'s second hockey season found 65 teams competing at the Bantam, Midget, Juvenile and Intermediate levels. The winners of all categories, except the Intermediates, participated in the O.M.H.A. provincial play downs.

While the impetus to form the W.O.A.A. came from Cruickshank the operation of the association and perhaps even its growth is a tribute to the efforts of one man, "Tory" Gregg. He was a Paisley native who had played professional hockey. He worked for Coleman Packing of London after his retirement from playing hockey. He had continued his association with the sport by refereeing hockey in the Western Ontario region. The connections he made as a referee in the many towns of the area would serve him well in his days as the President of the W.O.A.A.

At the end of its first ten years of operations, in 1952, the W.O.A.A. had become affiliated with the O.H.A., the O.M.H.A. in hockey, the O.B.A. in baseball and the O.A.S.A. in softball. In the same year Gregg retired from his sports reporting job at CKNX radio and became the Business Manager and Secretary of the W.O.A.A.

Although we honour our hockey players and sometimes our coaches, tribute should also be paid to the men like "Doc" Cruickshank and "Tory" Gregg. Due to their "behind the scenes" efforts the opportunity to excel at hockey was given to many hundreds, if not thousands of Western Ontario youngsters. Too often it is the superstars of professional sports who receive the attention and adulation and not the hockey heroes who perform on the ice and in the background to bring us "Hockey Night in Canada" seven days a week in local arenas of Grey and Bruce counties, and throughout the country.

A version of this article first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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W.O.A.A. - Western Ontario Athletic Association was the idea of one man that grew to successfully promote sports in western Ontario.

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