Eddie Wright At Home In Chatham Hall
There was my dad Don, the oldest of the three boys, his brothers Mel and Herb, and there was always a fourth playing and kicking around the driveway at 9 Degge Street, and that fourth was Eddie Wright. It’s interesting to talk with Eddie today, and to hear that after all the places he has lived and all he has accomplished in his life’s journey, his memories of Chatham are fresh and close to his heart.
“I always think of the Chatham years as the formidable years, playing heated battles of sports in the driveway on Degge St with your Dad and uncles. Your Dad was a big influence and taught me a lot about how to handle and carry myself as a person.”
“I still remember him, along with Joe Masuda, driving Herb and I to Boston the summer of our first year of University and thinking, why are we going through Montreal to get to Boston.” he laughed, continuing to tell the story of how my Dad took a detour to the World’s Fair in Montreal on the way to taking the boys to school.
“I remember we arrived in Boston and went to the famed Fenway Park for a double header right when we got there. Here we are in Fenway Park for the first time and I am sleeping in the seats from the incredibly long trip.” he said over the phone
Eddie grew up as a minority on the east side of Chatham in the 50’s and 60’s, learning and forming his foundation for his life ahead. The speedy and tenacious dynamo excelled in academics, hockey and baseball, and became the very first black player to play for the Chatham Maroons. Alongside my uncles, they formed the infamous “International line” in the early 60’s, and all three faced a lot of racism in the tough confines of local arenas all over southern Ontario.
“I remember the buildings we played in were tough and Essex and Detroit in particular really did all they could to try and get you off your game. It was whatever it takes to win, and the fans certainly threw the insults at me left right and center. The players on the ice were worse. I pretty much fought all throughout junior. It really was something else and I actually ended up with an ulcer in my last year from some of the stress of that time.”
Wright fought his battles and developed a tough skin in regards to racial insults and although hockey paved a nice path for Wright, he was also an excellent baseball player. Wright played on a team that won five OBA titles, while Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins was on the team of guys two years older. Wright had an some interesting stories about those baseball teams with Jenkins.
“Fergie was actually the third starter on that team. They were such a good team that he wasn’t the top pitcher, and he played a lot of first base. They had Dennis Roebuck and Eddie Myers ahead of him and it probably helped him in the long run because his arm didn’t get worn out in those years. It wasn’t until after Gene Dziadura started working with him that he started to excel.”
Fergie Jenkins a number three starter, now that is a team with some talent.
Wright did not pursue baseball in college because his focus was needed for hockey and academics in order to fulfill his life long dream of being a teacher. The program he was in was very difficult, particularly the science classes needed, so his baseball days stopped when he went to Boston University.
“The years playing at BU, those years were really a piece of cake compared to junior in terms of how I was accepted. Harvard was always tough on me of course and the Beanpot tournaments were legendary in terms of how competitive they were. Four teams in the battle for bragging rights in Boston and I think we won two out of three tournaments while I was there.”
Eddie played alongside Herb and Montreal native Serge Boily to form the UN line, and I always thought what a fascinating time in BU hockey history to have two Chatham boys on the team at one time. Blenheim native Mickey Gray also joined BU in Wright’s sophomore year, making it a trio of CK players, although the three never played on the same line.
Despite much success, Wright always had perspective and a keen focus on what was really important to him.
“I was more concentrated on the academic side of University because I always knew that my prospects of playing professional hockey were very limited, especially at five foot four inches tall. My dream was always to be a teacher so I had to make sure my priorities were straight.”
Wright went on to teach for 40-plus years at the State University of New York at Buffalo and was the first black head coach in university hockey history and the practice facility and gymnasium is now named in his honour.
Now retired, Wright lives in Tucson, Arizona and starts each day by walking 5 kilometers, despite a steel rod in his back that he had to have inserted after years of marathon running for deteriorated a disk in his back.
He will be attending the Chatham Kent Sports Hall induction ceremony in September, and I hope to catch up to him then.