From the exciting turn into the 19th century thousands of new families and individuals were steadily moving into our Ponoka town and county to pursue a new life and vigorously establish their new homes, farms, business, and much needed support structure.
Times, tasks, and challenges would often be very hard and tough over those years, but these hardy souls would always manage to somehow prevail, as well as find some time to celebrate their efforts of work and achievements by getting together with their neighbours and friends from near and far to take part all sorts of sports and social activities, a grand tradition that has carried on to this day.
A long and colourful history
So much has been written over the years in our history books about the long-standing and traditional grand rivalry and camaraderie that has always been created among countless sports teams over decades of great games, good sports, free spirits and friendships, and keen fans throughout the thriving new districts from in and around the town and county of Ponoka and further afield.
As far back as the early 1900s boys and girls and adults of all ages enjoyed the fun sports of basketball, softball, baseball, curling, hockey, soccer, and all the rest on early make-shift outdoor rinks and playing fields, and later in wooden arenas, curling rinks, and schools in our urban and rural areas and beyond. Many of these very active year-round events, mostly on the weekends, were hosted along with a family picnic, rodeo, fair, or tournament, and also might include a wind-up dance and games and races for the kids, all blessed with hundreds of avid and excited spectators. Over the years those avid players and fans got to the game in so many unique ways, including wagons pulled by horses or tractors, on horseback, by car, hitched a ride with the neighbours, or all piled into the back of an old truck.
Crestomere district was an early sports dynasty
Out in the country west of Ponoka in the year 1925 there was an energetic group of girls known as the Bismarck Basketball team, who played games against the Sharphead gals and others. Members of the team included: Verle Friestad, Olivia Kirk, Mary/Mildred, and Olive Thompson, and Lily Archibald.
In the early 1930s a student Minister, Mr. Fred Young of the Dakota Mission Field coached a softball team of young ladies who included: Velma Bresee, Leone/Phyllis and Mildred Hoar, Jane McDowell, Helen and Mary Tiltgen, Zella DeAtley, and Blanche Lee. These Dakota Red Wings travelled far and wide, playing against teams from Asker, Grand Meadow, Twin Creek, Wetaskiwin, and Leduc, would win the prestigious Ponoka Ladies Softball Tournament in 1932, and then repeated the following year when Reverend John Copp was the coach. In the first years of the Dakota district and other settlements west of Ponoka the sports lovers were able to cheer for a very skilled baseball team made up of players from Ferrybank, Dakota, Lundgren, and Glenfalloch, including the likes of Walt Larson, Jack Lee, Bill Hall, Marcus Crandall, Earl Clark, Scott Courser, George Larson, and John Leidenius, and were followed by many others over the years. Countless delightful tales are told of this gala early ‘baseball era’, which included great days spent at Pigeon Lake playing baseball in the Farm League against Brooksona, Sharphead, Chesterwold, and Twin Creek, as well as spirited games of soccer against the talented Indian teams. After the game three of the players also managed to call on three young ladies from the Sanquist family, while following a Saturday baseball tournament at Calmar one of the lads had to dash home and find a barber because he was getting married the next day, but not much more was said about all the frolics and antics that occurred after the game was over.
In 1961 a Crestomere ball team made up of the grandsons and other descendants of those ‘early originals’ played in a league with Rimbey, Bluffton, and Lavesta, and included Frank Lewis, Fred Broska, Jack/Hugh/Ralph/Eddie/Lloyd/ and Merle Lee, Earl/George/and Wayne Stewart, Jim Turner, Henry Fleck, and George Allison, and were coached by Carl Lee and Orville DeAtley. A few years later Dakota would get their own ball diamond at the Curling Rink, and a Junior Baseball team led by coach Hugh Lee would feature Teddy Lewis, Frank Lewis, Daryll Bresee, Dale and Gordon Stewart, Tom Hoar, Bob Tiltgen, Eddie and Lloyd Lee, and Ron McDowell; with a later spin-off in 1969 of a 14 and under boy’s team.
Up until 1937 many of the young men and a few ladies from the districts got together to play a spirited game of ‘pick-up hockey’ on Sunday’s on the ice at Deuel’s/Stewart’s/ and Kucker Lake, and the rink at Clarence McLeod’s against teams from Willesdengreen, Hobbema, Grand Meadow, and Usona, but not before they all got together and cleared the snow off the ice first. In 1961-62 Crestomere put together a team to play in the rough and tough Farm Hockey League in the Ponoka Arena every Monday night, and those skaters included: Earl and Wayne Stewart, Hugh and Jack Lee, Frank Lewis, Myron Friestad, Ron McDowell, Dennis Hartman, Elmer Prediger, Gordon Ashton, Arnold Leimert, Frank Cissell, Lawrence Kazakoff, Ken Davies, and Ralph Lee. Over the years several generations of sons would also get the great opportunity of playing in the Ponoka Minor Hockey programs in town over the years and this grand and proud tradition of all sports will certainly never be forgotten, and must always be encouraged to carry on long into the future of the Town and County of Ponoka.