Cougars football past and present
by Kelsey Hipkin
“Ground, set, HUT!” Since Mount Royal reached its university status, people might be thinking they’ll be hearing those words from a Mount Royal Cougar Football field near you.
If you were one of those people, think again.
Cougar Athletics events and communications coordinator Kyle Henry said that having a football team on campus isn’t in any future plans he’s heard of and he cited cost and facilities as being some of the biggest reasons why.
“Having 50 to 60 players per (football) team is probably, in terms of actual student athletes per team, is probably more than half our student athlete body right now.”
Henry also mentioned that if there were to be a men’s football team, Mount Royal would have to provide equal opportunity for a women’s team in a sport like rugby or field hockey.
“You can’t be that disproportionate in terms of having a team of 50 guys and then offering no equivalency to a female team,” he said.
There was a time when the Cougars, both men and women, donned the cleats and pads to hit the field. In the ’50s and ’60s, when Mount Royal was still a private church college, the school had a football team that played at the Mewata Stadium, which was once across from the Mewata Armoury on Eighth Avenue and Eleventh Street in 11th the city’s southwest.
“I think you can safely say that we had a really good football team in the late ’50s and ’60s,” said Pat Roome, director of Mount Royal archives.
Mount Royal’s director of alumni relations Randy Paquette said that there were some big names to come out of the Mount Royal program including CFL Hall of Famer and former Stamp Larry Robinson, and Stampeders’ executive vice president Stan Schwartz. Schwartz knows more than a little about football having spent the last 34 years with the McMahon Stadium and Calgary Stampeders’ organization.
Schwartz recalled his time with the Mount Royal team, coming to Calgary from Medicine Hat with fellow “farm boys” Daryl Kraft and Ed Ost. “It was quite an experience,” he said.
Schwartz played with the Cougars in 1963 and ’64. Donning the number 40 jersey, he headed to U of C in 1965, where he received a degree in physical education as well as his education diploma.
He told a story of how in 1963, the Cougars lost out in the finals to the Edmonton Huskies, missing their ticket to the National Championships that were being held in Calgary that year. Edmonton went on to win on the Cougars home turf.
He said that the team had a tight connection to the Calgary Stampeders at that time as well as another junior team, the Calgary Wranglers. Schwartz listed off several other Cougar football players who went on to national league play including former Stamp Joe Forzani, Alouette Barry Randall, Lutz Keller, who Schwartz described as an “outstanding football player” and even Toronto Maple Leaf Randy Murray.
The men’s team ended in 1965, the same year that the Cougarettes women’s football team joined the Cougar Athletic Department. The women’s team played an inter-squad game during the half-time of a Stampeders and Vancouver match up. The Mount Royal yearbook from that year reported “five minutes of [the] game received national television coverage.”
The reason the teams were disbanded isn’t entirely clear but Roome attributes the expenses it takes to maintain a team, Mount Royal’s transisition from a private institution to a public one and the overall shift of hockey becoming more popular than football in Canada at the time.
“I think what [Mount Royal] did was moved, as Canada did, from football, which was big in the ’50s, to Calgary starting to get its own hockey team and hockey just became huge here.”
She added that Mount Royal was doing very well with other teams winning championships, sports that didn’t cost as much as football.
“[Mount Royal] has won most of our awards for basketball, soccer, volleyball and badminton and those are cheap sports compared to football.”
Paquette said the idea of a team returning to the university would be great from both a school spirit and community standpoint.
“I’ve often thought that if you look at cities like Kitchener Waterloo for example, where they have, you know, two universities.
“Could you imagine a red and blue bowl University of Calgary versus Mount Royal each year? I think you’d fill McMahon stadium, you know you generate such a real strong community response.”
But he too added that cost would be a major factor in the return of football to MRU, “I think Calgary itself is a very strong community that supports football really well,” he said.
“I think there’s probably pretty strong community support for it but there’s some economic realities too.”
Schwartz was of the same opinion, he said it would be great if MRU had a football team again but he didn’t know if Calgary could support a Cougar team as well as the U of C Dinos football team.
He mentioned how tough it is to recruit enough players and that it’s expensive to maintain a team.
There’s always the potential for Mount Royal to have a football team but Henry said that’s something for the next 10 or 20 years with our current teams being the focus for now.
“Immediate plans I think would be to transition all the teams to CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) first and then once maybe we’re at that CIS level then re-evaluate at that time.”