Next up in our Sault Legends column is the 1972 Sault Ste. Marie Steelers.
I had the help of Frank Sarlo, the president of the team that year, to do this column. His contribution of articles is greatly appreciated.
The story starts off like this: “In 1972, I was a young lawyer that had returned home to practice. Len Monico and I were approached by a group of young men, who had played high school football and had no place to play. They asked us if we could assist,” said Sarlo.
From there, they made an application to the Northern Football Conference for a franchise. “Len and I attended the League’s meeting and made a presentation for entry. We were successful,” said Sarlo.
Sarlo took president of the team and Len Monico would become the head coach. Reno Barban and Derek Orr were to assist him. And Rudy Starzomski was the trainer.
“We formed an executive committee that organized all off-field activities. Brian Grasser, John Ryan, Ed Pierce and Jessie Pierce were avid supporters. The Pierce’s donated a set of uniforms, were at all games and all post-game parties,” said Sarlo.
They had player tryouts during the week and on Saturdays, they would have tryouts for cheerleaders.
“Nobody was paid – we were all volunteers. In fact, each of the players paid $38 for insurance in case of injury. I remained as president for three years and then handed the reins over to Russ Scott, a chartered accountant, who acted for the team,” said Sarlo.
The next job was to raise money for the 40 uniforms and equipment for the players.
“In those days the $4,000 plus was a lot of money. We decided that we would divide the total cost by 40 and attempt to find sponsors,” said Sarlo.
“Len and I walked Queen Street asking businesses to contribute $106.40 each for 1 set of uniforms and equipment. We would promote the businesses of those that contributed. With the help of some of the players, we were able to raise the whole amount.”
They then negotiated with the City for the use of the Queen Elizabeth Field (now Rocky Dipietro Field) for a share of the revenues from the home games (70 % for the City and 30% for the team).
“Once the City saw the size of the crowd the first game, the split was re-negotiated more in our favour,” said Sarlo.
With the assistance of the media, they were able to generate a great deal of publicity in The Sault Daily Star and on radio and television. The games were even broadcasted on radio.
“We generated so much publicity that we attracted between 2,500 and 3,500 fans to each of our home games.”
The share of the gate would help provide some of the funds necessary for travel and insurance. However, to raise the balance of the monies necessary, they would hold post game celebrations at one of the halls. These would normally attract about 350 people.
The team was made up of players: Les Picolo, Keith Hilstrom, Brad Jourdin, John Pinches, Carmen Gassi, John Mason, Peter Longarini, Derek Orr, Steve Whalen, Don Mei, Lionel Simonini, Nick Lesysher, Ron Morin, George Bell, Jim Elliot, Vern Milosovich, Jim McLean, Ray Diotte, Rick Turpin, Gord Triplett, Bob Moyle, Tom Twornzanyski, Peter MacPhail, Mark Connolly, Jack O’Neill, Bob Travaglini, Dick Wooton, Lynn McCoy, Mauro Damignani, David Wysynski, Mac Headrick, Bob Brownlee, Dave Shand, Keith McMillan, Jack Anderson, Val Nose, Neil Duguay, Bob Misner, Paul Wysynski, Steve Miskiw, Bruce Martelini and Harold Holtom.
So there they were, their first season in the league and what do they do: grad the Northern Football Championship, defeating the Sudbury Spartans in two game total-point-series of 30-8.
Next? They were scheduled to meet the Rugby Football League champions, the London Lords.
“We would then have home field advantage for the Ontario title. We would be playing the London Lords, an affiliate with the Toronto Argonauts or at least had a number of players who were owned by them,” said Sarlo.
“Their quarterback, Tony Pisander had been the starter for the Citadel. We were able to add Peter Kotyk and Barry Magill to our lineup from Laurentian and Sudbury respectively. Charterways owned the London Lords. Their management had heads as big as the company. Len and I were invited onto John Campbell’s half-hour sports show with two management officials from the Lords. They came on the air with big cigars and displayed their arrogance. They thought they had come all this way just to collect the trophy. Their arrogance was enough for Len to arouse his team to new heights.”
In a great upset, the Steelers took the Lords 28-7.
“They didn’t score until the dying minutes of the game. I was on the sidelines at our bench and the sounds of the hits were electric. One of the Lords’ players coming off the field made this comment – Boy they hit hard up here,” said Sarlo.
The Sault fans in the second half were chanting London Bridge is Falling Down…
Stay tuned for more on the 1972 Sault Steelers.
This column will appear weekly to celebrate our local legends. Some of them may not make it to the pros but they do in our hearts.