By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator

“The ball is set to the middle, and smash… point for Canada!”

“He’s at the 30, the 20, the 10… touchdown, Blue Bombers!”

“The ball is thrown deep, and ohhh, what a sensational catch.”

“Blink, and you will miss him at the finish line – that’s how fast he is, folks!”

These are some of the phrases you may have heard come from commentators’ mouths when describing some of the best moments of Wanda Guenette, Willard Reaves , James Murphy, and John “Army” Howard. 

This February we are showcasing black athletes who have left their mark on sports in our province. The group listed above are just some of the many past, present, and future athletes who have made or will make a lasting impact on our sports heritage. 



The Past

In the early 1900s, black athletes were barred from playing in professional sports leagues, including Major League Baseball and The Basketball Association of America/National Basketball League (merged to form NBA), and very few were allowed to play in the NFL.

John Army Howard is a Manitoba Sports Hall of Famer from that era of sports and was an exceptional track runner. Between 1912 and 1915,  he dominated the Canadian sprint scene, representing Canada at the Olympics in Stockholm Sweden in 1912. 

The following year at the Canadian Outdoor Championships, he took home the gold medal in both the 100 and 220 yard dash events. Aside from sports, he worked as a porter for the Canadian National Railway and ranched in the Riding Mountains. 

In the 1960s and early 70s, Al Sparks exploded onto the boxing scene. It took awhile, however before he got his big shot, in 1968 he beat Les Borden of Montreal to become the Canadian Light Heavyweight Champion. 

He would successfully defend that title numerous times over a five-year span. After retiring, Al settled down in Winnipeg, coaching the sweet science to young boxers at a local gym. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996.


The Present

Recently, we’ve inducted exceptionally talented athletes who have left their mark on our history. 

One that comes to mind was a trailblazer in volleyball. She represented Team Canada at the 1996 Olympics and was a key member that helped Canada win their first-ever Olympic match. 

Her name is Wanda Guenette, and she played volleyball for over 20 years, many of those professionally. She also competed on the sand, where she won three World Masters Games gold medals with her partner Laura Inward. Still keeping busy coaching, Wanda was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.



The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been really good as of late, but we should never forget about the dominant Blue Bombers teams of the 80s. 

One man who was exceptionally skilled and a key member of the 80s Grey Cup winning teams is James Murphy. A talented wide receiver, James carved out an eight-year career with the team, winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award in 1986, after he collected a total of 1746 yards.

He then went on to star in the 1988 Grey Cup game, where he was named the MVP. After retiring, James continued to live in Winnipeg, opening a fish market and working for the Manitoba Builders Association. He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.


The Future

There are many more black athletes with success stories like this who have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, including Tom Casey, Leo Lewis, Willard Reaves, and Charles Baksh, among others. 

And our future sure looks bright. There are many who have already ascended to stardom in their respective sports, and are likely to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the coming years.

Desiree Scott is a powerhouse in women’s soccer, already amassing two Olympic bronze medals and one gold! 

Israel Idonije picked up the sport of football late, but that didn’t stop him from climbing the ranks to the NFL, where he was a starting defensive end for the Chicago Bears. 

And current Blue Bombers’ local stars Andrew Harris and Nic Demski are making a big impact locally and on a national level in the CFL. 

These tails of triumph can be attributed to the perseverance and dedication these athletes put into their craft. Our hope is that they will continue to inspire a new generation who will one day be inducted into our Hall, to carry on our rich tradition of exceptional sports heritage.