Zeno Karcz, the first linebacker to win the CFL’s Schenley Award for Most Outstanding Canadian, enjoyed an outstanding 11-year career in professional football with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. During his time in the league, he played in eight Grey Cups, winning three. In Windsor, Karcz is also remembered as an exceptional track and field athlete.
Karcz was born in Toronto on March 16, 1935.
From his high school days, Karcz was an outstanding athlete. He attended Patterson Collegiate Institute, where his football teams won the WSSA and WOSSA Championships in 1948 and ’51, plus a further WSSA title in 1952. He received individual plaudits for his strong play and was named First-Team All-City in 1951. He won Second-Team honours in 1952.
Karcz was also an accomplished basketball player. He played on WSSA and WOSSA Junior Basketball Champion teams in 1949 and ’51. The following year, he repeated the double championship season with the Senior team.
Karcz was a five-time undefeated WSSA shot put champion who won a hugely impressive total of 30 WSSA and WOSSA medals during his track and field career. At the WSSA level, he garnered 10 gold, 6 silver, and 1 bronze medal(s). He added eight gold, four silver, and one bronze medal(s) at WOSSA. For a time, Karcz held two WSSA shot put records and one WOSSA record.
Unusually for a shot putter, Karcz was also an excellent middle-distance runner. He was a three-time 880-yard champion at WSSA, and once set a record in the event. He also won a WOSSA overall individual title.
Karcz won a football scholarship to the University of Michigan on the back of his high school exploits plus a standout solitary season with the Windsor AKO Fratmen. With the Wolverines, Karcz played one year with the freshman team and a second year with the full varsity squad.
The Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats signed Karcz in 1956. He was 21 years old.
With Karcz in the lineup, the Tiger-Cats reached an incredible eight Grey Cup games in nine years, missing out only in 1960 between 1957 and ’65. Karcz’s team was victorious on three occasions: 1957, ’63, and ’65.
Karcz was first named an Eastern Conference All-Star in 1962. In 1965, the most successful year of his career, Karcz was named an Eastern Conference and Canadian All-Star Team en route to winning the Schenley Award as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian. He was the first linebacker ever to receive this honour.
After his CFL days, Karcz returned to Windsor, where he coached the Windsor AKO Juniors from 1967 to 1969. Karcz’s AKO team won the Ontario Title in 1969.