The birth of one of Canada’s best known and most respected Youth Sports Organizations took place seventy-two years ago, in 1929, when seven young students at Windsor Walkerville Technical School (later W. D. Lowe High School), formed a Fraternity. The “Magnificent Seven” were Norm Hull, the group’s first President, Bill Begley, Ron Truscott, Jay Love, Ivan Stokes, Jim Fairhurst, and Jack McMillan. The name of the club was selected by one of their teachers, Mr. Siers. It translates to mean “The first and last”.
The Fraternity started out sponsoring school, and community dances at the Prince Edward Hotel Ballroom and Lakeview Golf Club, and other fundraising events to support charities, such as the Blind Institute. Their first home was a house they rented on Victoria Ave, between Park and London streets. From there they rented the top floor of the C. H. Smith Department Store to conduct their meetings, then moved to the Walkerville Land & Power Building at Kildare and Wyandotte. That was followed by a move to the Air Force Club huts at Ouellette and Tecumseh, where they remained for many years. Through the ensuing years they have conducted their meetings at such places as the Othmar Grotto Club, Norton Palmer Hotel, Windsor Press Club, Windsor Yacht Club, Top Hat Supper Club, Teutonia Club, Drop-In Tavern, Caboto Club, and the current home at AKO Park. Many of the members were sports enthusiasts, and they organized their own softball team that was very successful in the local Fraternity League in the late 1930’s, with such players as Jimmy Farmer, Mark Wood. Harry Heydon, Harold Jackson, Bill Hudson, and George Mackay. In 1935 the Fraternity became incorporated and obtained a Provincial Charter under issue of letters patent by the Provincial Secretary. With the outbreak of World War 2, members started joining all three services causing the club to become temporarily inactive for three years.
AKO is not just a sports organization, it is also well-known for charity work in raising funds for local charities, such as the Goodfellows, assisting with the packing, delivery of gift boxes, and the selling of newspapers, and the Institute for the Blind. AKO members have worked diligently in carrying out an ambitious programme of fund-raising for development of the sixteen acre AKO Community Park (in 1953 it was renamed from Rossini Park). They have installed fencing, ball diamonds, backstops, lighted football field, a filtered pool, 100 ft. toboggan hill, and playground equipment. In 1961 they constructed Windsor’s first Community Centre, the $350,000 AKO Community Centre Building, dedicating it to the five members (Herbert Baker, James Cross, Jack Peck, Louis Reaume, Frank Winegarden Jr.) who lost their lives in World War 2. They also have a Clubhouse at the Park, with Meeting Lounge, dressing room and offices for the football players and staff. In 1968, AKO was honored by the Recreation Association of Canada, receiving their highest recognition for youth leadership, monetary contributions, and provisions of better recreational opportunities for the citizens of Windsor.
The first effort by AKO in sponsorship of recreational activities occurred in 1946, with Junior Football (Pete Sinclair was the member in charge of the Football Committee). Ian Allison was the coach of that first AKO team, their record was 5-2-1, competing against teams from Chatham, London, Woodstock, and Assumption College. The team roster listed such names as Piper, Ross, Brown, Thompson, Zimbalotte, Sahagian, Marcocchio, Monroe, Ducharme, Laliberte, Pyke, LaSorda, Smith, Curgin, Battagello, Richmond, Langlois, Lecoursiera, Dawson, Dominato, Temsey, Borski, Richman, Hamb. With the exception of 1971,72,73, the AKO Fratmen have fielded a team in the Ontario Jr. League, winning three CANADIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS (1952, 54, 99) and making it to the finals in 1990 & 1996. AKO players who have gone on to prominence in the Canadian Football League are, Schenley Award Winners as Top Canadians, Tommy Grant (CFL Hall of Famer) and Zeno Karcz; Rookies of the Year Bobby Dawson, Ed Mularchyk, Luke Daneliuk; CFL All-Star and Hall of Famer Whit Tucker (his introduction to football was as a 12-year old in the AKO Pee Wee League); Jim Copeland, Bill and Doug Mitchell. In 1957 the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL began their few years of sponsoring the AKO Football Team with a yearly donation of $2000, thus making all AKO players bound to Ottawa. Many outstanding Head Coaches have guided the football team to provincial and national recognition, Johnny Murray (1947-49), Al Newman (1950-63), Ray Ryan & George Arnott (1964-66), Zeno Karcz (1967-69), Dennis Leach & Dave Mollard (1970), Gerry Philp (1974-78), Godfrey Janisse (1979-80), Ted Laurendeau (1981-82), Mike Morencie (1983-95), John Bloomfield (1996-2001). In addition to the AKO team that competes in the Ontario Football Conference, the Frat, commencing in 2001, now sponsors a second football team that competes in the Great Lakes Junior Football League.
In 1947 AKO introduced sponsorship of Junior Men’s Basketball under coach Frank Wansbrough. “Wansy” would coach until 1960, winning Canadian Championships in 1948 & 1960. The Fratmen would go on to capture Canadian Titles in 1970 under coach Doug Cowan, and seven consecutive titles (1974-79) under the co-coaching of Randy and Sam Sasso. That dominance by AKO, seven of the nine titles in the decade of the 70’s, was responsible for the demise of the Canadian Amateur Basketball Association’s Jr. Championships in 1979, as all the other provinces opted to withdraw from further participation.That move led to the establishment of Provincial Teams competitions for the Canadian Title.
In the late 1940’s AKO organized a short-lived Boxing Club, that trained under the Grandstand at Jackson Park. In 1952 AKO organized Canada’s first Minor Football League, a Pee Wee League, that still exists today.The initiator of this programme was John Forrest. In 1953, AKO began their annual sponsorship of a baseball team in the Mic Mac Jr. League, under coach “Knobby” Knudsen. That year they also sponsored seven athletes to represent Windsor at the Canadian Junior Track Championships in Winnipeg, as well as sponsoring a Juvenile Lacrosse Team coached by Frank Mousseau.
In 1959 AKO offered a Baseball Clinic with the Detroit Tigers Billy Hoeft and Vic Wertz as instructors.
From 1960-77 AKO’s very successfull fund-raising venture WORLDORAMA was staged at the Cleary International Centre, featuring speakers showing films of their travels throughout the world. In 1971 AKO began sponsorship of a team in Windsor Minor Hockey, and in 1976 they introduced Girls Volleyball. In 1975 the Annual AKO Junior Boys Golf Tournament made its debut, and today it has expanded to consist of Bantam, Junior, and Juvenile competitions for boys, Junior and Juvenile events for girls.
The Frat is to be admired. They have brought much honour and distinction to Windsor, and will continue to do so. AKO is one of the great and lasting works of prominent, caring men of Windsor. The athletes who have worn the gold and black colours have paid it all back by rising to nation-wide repute, on and away from playing fields. The Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame salutes and honours AKO. They are the salt of this city, and their monuments will live beyond us all.