PDT Staff Writer
The Canadian Football League is celebrating its 1ooth anniversary, and one of the milestones it is celebrating as a part of its rich history is the life of Chuck Ealey, the league’s first African-American quarterback to win the Grey Cup, which is Canada’s equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl.
Ealey returned to his roots Wednesday for the filming of a documentary about the league’s history. His roots are at Portsmouth’s Notre Dame High School, where he rolled off 27 consecutive victories, followed by 35 consecutive wins in a three-year span (1969-1971) at Division-1 Toledo, an NCAA record that still stands, and where he also won three Tangerine Bowls, being named most valuable player for all three of those victories. He then played for the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL, and won the Grey cup.
“They (CFL) are doing a series of eight historical periods of documentaries in regards to things that happened in the Canadian Football League,” Ealey said, surrounded by cameras, a boom mike, and a video director. “My story being the first African-American quarterback to win the Grey Cup Championship, and where I came from became one of the historical stories that they wanted to build on.”
But before Ealey was a winner in college and a winner in the pros, he was a winner at Notre Dame. From 1964 to 1967, Ealey played under Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ed Miller. In 1967, Notre Dame captured a state championship. So it was with fond memories that he strolled the Notre Dame halls Wednesday afternoon.
The camera was rolling as Ealey walked up the aisle of the Notre Dame High School chapel and explained to his daughter, Jael Ealey Richardson, the routine the Titans followed before a Saturday night game.
“Being a Catholic school and a church we were quite involved with our church and what was happening,” Ealey said. “So as we began to focus on things, we recognized that, and it’s hard to recognize it, but you understand the difference between just being moral and being spiritual and having the things involved in your life that just go beyond the things that you do on the physical side. So it was that avenue that sort of set the precedence of where I am now with my family, and what we believe in spiritual matters. It all kind of started from this faith.”
Ealey also spoke of his education at Notre Dame High School.
“It was great here (Notre Dame), when you win that many games in a row,” Ealey said. “The one thing I do remember is the educational process and the discipline that I learned, not only from football, but from the classroom. I wasn’t what you would call a great student, but I was disciplined enough to make sure that things happened and go through, and this school was very good and instrumental in keeping me in those disciplines.”
Richardson walked next to her father as he took her on a tour of the school where he never lost a game.
“My daughter is here because she has written a book to be published in September,” Ealey said. “It’s done in regards to her viewpoint of my life in comparison to hers, and the story that happened that she learned about over the years. It’s a good thing that she is here, so she is reliving part of those things that she has already got in the book. It’s part of the things that we are covering again because of the event that is happening in the Canadian Football League.”
Richardson said the book is called “The Stone Thrower” and is a memoir about her father.
“It explores not only what he accomplished in Portsmouth and Toledo, but how he ended up in Canada, and what that story has meant to my life as a black Canadian, and what I have learned about my black history in America.”
Richardson said the book will be available Sept. 9 from Thomas Allen Publishers.
At the age of 30, Richardson traveled with her father for the first time to Portsmouth for his 40th high school reunion. Knowing very little about her father’s past, Richardson was searching for a story behind her father’s move from the projects in Portsmouth to Canada’s professional football league in the early 1970s. At the railroad tracks where her father first learned to throw with stones, Richardson begins an unexpected journey into her family’s past, dealing with issues such as her father’s experiences growing up during the Civil Rights era, and her own life growing up as a young black woman in Canada.
“We’re filming here, then we go to Toledo, then back into Canada with the story,” Ealey said.
Ealey also spoke Wednesday at Bealuh Baptist Church in Portsmouth.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.