Robert “Knobby” Knudsen was an administrator, coach, and philanthropist who was passionately involved with the local sports community for most of his life. As a member, consultant, founder, and/or fundraiser, he was associated with the Greater Windsor Baseball Council, AKO, Mic Mac, Club 240, Choristers, WAA, Windsor Chiefs, Windsor Minor Hockey Association, and South Windsor Baseball.
Knudsen was born in Windsor on October 7, 1930.
A fine athlete in his youth, Kundsen played football and basketball for Assumption High School. An offensive and defensive end, he won back-to-back WSSA and WOSSA football titles.
Outside of school, Knudsen played for the Windsor AKO Juniors in the Ontario Rugby Football League in 1950 and ’51. An end, kicker, and converts specialist, he helped the Fratmen to a League Championship and an appearance in the Ontario Finals. In 1952, the Toronto Argonauts approached him with a contract that promised to pay him $200 per game if he dressed and $75 if he didn’t. The Saskatchewan Roughriders brought Knudsen to a Rookie Camp in Hamilton, and his performance earned him an invitation to the club’s main camp in Regina. Ultimately, Knudsen refused both teams; he was already making $300 per week working at Kelsey Wheel Auto Parts Plant.
In 1952 and ’53, Knudsen played for the Windsor Rockets in the Senior ORFU as an offensive and defensive end, kicker, punter, and converts specialist.
Knudsen also played basketball. In the 1950s, Knudsen played basketball with Lyle’s Campus Shop, an unidentified Windsor team in the Great Lakes Naval Training League, and teams from Wayne State and Albion College. He played against the Harlem Globetrotters. In 1958, he won the Ontario Church Intermediate Basketball Championship with Windsor Sacred Heart.
Knudsen coached Windsor AKO in the Mic Mac Junior Baseball League from 1952 to ’92. His team memorably won nine consecutive titles in the 1960s.
In 1955, Knudsen cofounded the Mic Mac Class “0” Baseball League with Father Ronald Cullen. At the time, there was no place for kids over 16 years of age to continue playing after the Mic Mac Junior League. In its inaugural season, the league comprised Eggleston Customs Brokers (which Knudsen coached), Assumption, and Tecumseh. The teams organized exhibition games with Detroit clubs for more competition.
Knudsen founded and became the first President of the AKO Minor Football League in 1965. He served as President for seven years, during which time he designed the league’s rules and regulations. The league’s other founding members were Ron Barbaro, Mal Hodges, George Wortley, and John Forrest.
The following year, Knudsen began his association with the Windsor Minor Hockey Association (WMHA) when he became the organization’s Treasurer. In later years, he also served the WMHA as Vice President, League Convener, and Tournament Chairman. He sat on the Association’s board of directors, worked tirelessly as a fundraiser, coordinated coaching clinics, and directed tours for WMHA teams travelling to Czechoslovakia and Russia.
A prominent WMHA fundraiser, Knudsen initiated car washes, bingos, and skate-a-thons and was instrumental in obtaining “Wintario” government grants. He started the annual Coaches’ Night Banquet and the Kids Christmas Party, for which he played Santa Claus. The latter event became so successful that it was able invite Big Brothers and involve other Christmas charities. In 2001, 700 kids attended.
Knudsen was named President of the AKO Fraternity in 1973. In 1976, he became the AKO representative for the Goodfellows organization. In this role, he assembled groups to volunteers to sell papers on street corners and contact business owners for donations. Since 1976, AKO has collected more than a quarter-million dollars for the Goodfellows, including $50,000 in 2004.
The Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame may indeed owe its existence to Knudsen. In the late 1970s, he convened a meeting at Roseland Golf Course with Frank Wansbrough, Frank Hodges, Jimmy Hogan, and Siro Martinello, where he brought forth the idea of a dedicated hall of fame for local teams – but not individual players – that had distinguished themselves. The group realized that the project would need to cover many sports and individuals, which would be a daunting task. They decided to sit on the idea and not pursue it further at that time.
In 1979, others became aware of Knudsen’s proposal, and a “steering committee” assembled. It included Knudsen, Ken Fathers, Reverend Charles Armstrong, Diantha Dowdell, Frank Hodges, Bill Miles, Dick Moriarty, Bill Rogin, Tony Techko, Sis Thomson, and Chairman Andy Paulick. In 1981, two years after the committee’s initial meeting, 100 supporters cast ballots to choose the Hall’s first seven inductees.
In 1983, Knudsen cofounded the Siro Martinello Bursary Fund, which provides annual scholarships for students either entering the University of Windsor or St. Clair College. As of 2005, the associated Siro Martinello Memorial Golf Tournament has disbursed over $150,000 to 120 worthy recipients.
Knudsen founded the Greater Windsor Baseball Council (GWBC) in 1987 to resolve several issues in area baseball. At the time, teams from AKO, Mic Mac, Riverside, South Windsor, WAA, and Essex County Leagues were spending thousands of dollars to attend out-of-town Ontario Playdowns tournaments, even though they were often competing against each other. Knudsen realized it would be more economical to form an association that allowed local teams to contest Ontario Playdowns in Windsor. Furthermore, there were no regional restrictions in Essex County baseball prior to the GWBC; players were able at the time to choose to play for any team in the county. As a result, some teams had difficulty attracting enough players to field a team.
“Knobby” was the first President of the GWBC. He continued to serve in that capacity at the time of his induction. The Council’s founding members were AKO, Mic Mac, WAA, Riverside, and Windsor South. Today, each associated club contributes several thousand dollars annually to fund various expenses associated with league, tournament, provincial, and national competitions. In 2002, the GWBC paid approximated $50,000 to fund travel, equipment, officials’ fees, diamond rentals, lighting, and other necessities.
The GWBC also led to the foundation of the Windsor Selects organization. With the onset of the program, players could try out for Selects teams to compete for provincial and national titles. Critically, players who failed to make the cut could still play in local house leagues, including Mic Mac and Sun Parlour; they were not deprived of the opportunity to continue to play youth baseball.
In 1997, Knudsen was a founding member of the Circle of 7, a local charitable organization with no ties to sport. The other members were Ed Agnew, John Ferguson, Keith White, Don Wiley, Tommy Williams, and Rob Agnew. The seven men continue to organize and administer events to raise funds for local charities and worthy individuals. The Circle of 7 has raised over one million dollars to date.
In 2003, Knudsen became Founder and President of the Skate for Kids program, which raised donations to assist the Lions Club with a project to fund a roof at the Lanspeary Park Outdoor Rink. The successful campaign was also directed to offer kids free one-hour skating every day the Lanspeary rink is open.
Knudsen was selected as Windsor Kinsmen Sportsman-of-the-Year in 1971. He received the 1974 M. Harrison Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to sports in Windsor. In 1986, he was the Windsor Hockey Referees Association Man-of-the- Year and the World Junior Baseball Championships MVP for his contributions to amateur baseball. In 2000, Knudsen received a City of Windsor Award for his accomplishments and dedication to minor sports and youth activities. September 20 of that year was designated “Knobby Knudsen Day.”
Robert Knudsen passed away on November 29, 2011.