Kentville author expands scope across Annapolis Valley in book




SaltWire Network


A long-time Kentville sports author says he hopes it resonates with readers of his latest book what a rich sporting history the Annapolis Valley has. Burton Russell also hopes readers find a story or two they enjoy and perhaps discover some personal connections. Having recently turned 87, Russell has just released his 14th book, Annapolis Valley Sports. While his 13th focused on the sporting history of the Kentville area, Russell expands his scope across the Annapolis Valley in his latest offering, including communities between Windsor and Digby. Russell now resides at Kings Riverside Court. He is in a wheelchair, having lost his lower right leg to diabetes. Russell said this was something that came on quite suddenly a few years ago. It took him some time to recover from the surgery and the shock of no longer being able to play golf. “Little did I think that first year that I’d be writing two books in two years,” the selfpublished author said. As pointed out by the writer of the preface, J. Robert Harris, the book could be considered in many ways to be “a culmination of three-quarters of a century of ‘keeping score’ of Annapolis Valley sports.” It’s also a reflection of Russell’s encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. Annapolis Valley Sports spans a century but includes many stories of athletes who competed in recent years. For that reason, Russell said his latest book may be of more interest to younger readers than any of the others he has written. He said he is very impressed by the quality of today’s Valley athletes and their accomplishments. Printed by etc. Press Ltd., Annapolis Valley Sports includes a section at the end devoted to photos, many in colour. The book is 434 pages, but Russell said it would have taken countless more to present a complete history of the region’s sporting past. He said there are so many divisions in sports today that it would be almost impossible to include them all, so he focused mainly on the senior level of play. The book centres mainly around hockey and baseball, although Russell said it touches on a broad cross-section of other sports, including golf, curling, softball, fastball, boxing, track and field, bowling, lawn bowling and more. Russell, who taught school for 35 years and coached interscholastic sports teams, looks back on historic sporting accomplishments by teams and individuals at several Valley schools. He said he concentrated a lot on Kings County Academy (K.C.A.), where he taught for 25 years, in some of his more recent books. This time, he includes more stories from Cornwallis District High and Central Kings, where he also taught. Before Christmas, people visited Russell to purchase copies of his new book and get them signed. Many were former students. Shortly after Christmas, Russell hopes to get Annapolis Valley Sports into local stores, including R.D. Chisholm Ltd. in Kentville. IGNITING A PASSION For Russell, it was the experience of seeing his first senior level playoff baseball game between the Truro Bearcats and Kentville Wildcats of the Halifax and District (H&D) baseball league in 1946 that ignited a lifetime passion. Truro won the late-August game 14-0. Russell said that, as an 11-year-old, it was Truro’s performance that captured his imagination and the Bearcats, not the Wildcats, became his team. “There were these legends like Hum Joseph and Johnny Clark and Skit Ferguson… well, they became my lifetime idols,” Russell said. His all-time favourite was Clark, who hailed from Westville. Playing for eight seasons, Clark had the most runs scored and most stolen bases over the 14-year history of the league. Russell said the league, which in everything but name was semi-professional, put about 30 players into the major leagues. He said it isn’t very likely that a small town such as Kentville would ever see this level of baseball again. Russell said he eventually became a major fan of the Kentville Wildcats, but not until his heroes retired. A DAILY ROUTINE It was also in 1946 that Russell began a daily routine that continues to this day, one that has served him well in researching his books: taking clippings from newspapers and saving them in scrapbooks. Russell said he’s now filling scrapbooks faster than ever. Russell said that as soon as he has an idea for a book, he starts working on it the next day and doesn’t stop until the project is completed. It took him more than four months to write Annapolis Valley Sports. “Every day, it would be between four and five hours,” Russell said. “I find that is the way that I have to go at it.” Although he’s doesn’t have a specific idea for his 15th book yet, health permitting, Russell has no plans to stop writing. He said he’s made many great friends over his half-century of authoring sports history books, and he enjoys going with them “down memory lane.” RELIVING THE MEMORIES In the curling section of Annapolis Valley Sports, Russell relives the experience of interviewing Don Oyler on a stormy evening in 1978. Oyler’s undefeated team from the Glooscap Curling Club won the Canadian Brier in 1951. “I’m always quite proud of that story,” Russell said. “I think I was one of the few people to get such a complete story from the skip.” He has also selected stories highlighting some of the greatest sporting feats from the various Valley towns. This includes stories from the Valley Senior Hockey League, which featured local teams that had “tremendous followers” for many years following the Second World War. Russell said he would never forget February 1950, “when Acadia’s young freshman Connie MacNeil makes hockey history by scoring three goals in six seconds against the Wildcats, who were loaded with imports from across the Maritimes.” LEAGUE STATISTICIAN For three decades, Russell served as official statistician for the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League. In 1985, the Kentville Wildcats won the national senior baseball championship in what Russell described as “a miraculous late-game comeback” against Ontario. Russell said he liked to keep track of things “the old fashion way” and recalls “desperately trying to get the stats completed, thinking Ontario had won.” “Looking back, I don’t know how I survived it,” Russell said.