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November 16, 2019 November 16, 2019

Sports community loses two gems

Posted on September 4, 2019 by Dave Sulz

Two of the Lethbridge sports community’s most beloved people passed away recently.
I had known Ken Kotkas and Florence Senda for most of my 40-plus years at the Lethbridge Herald, and though I hadn’t seen either of them for a number of years, they held a special place in my heart.
I originally met Ken during my early years on the sports beat, back when he was managing the Lethbridge Lakers of the Southern Alberta Junior Baseball League. If memory serves me correctly, I believe his son Kerwin was a catcher with the team then, around 1977. Sadly, Kerwin passed away several years ago.
The first word that came to mind when I thought of Ken was “gentleman.” He was, quite simply, a fine man and I always enjoyed my contact with him, first with baseball and later when he helped bring professional basketball to Lethbridge in the form of the Alberta Dusters of the Continental Basketball League. He was also a dedicated supporter of the Lethbridge Elks baseball program.
An avid outdoorsman and an outstanding marksman, Ken served as president of the Lethbridge Trap Club for a time, too.
Florence Senda, the wife of longtime Lethbridge Judo Club coach Yosh Senda, was a warm, wonderful lady who was also a strong supporter of the local judo scene. She was the one who introduced me to sushi many years ago at a judo tournament held in Lethbridge. I can’t say I was that crazy about the sushi, but I always enjoyed Florence. A member of the Lethbridge Sports Hall of Fame, she had a heart for people and for giving back to her community.
I was surprised, and inspired, to learn that she had continued to practise judo right up to her passing at the age of 93. Amazing woman.
She, like Ken, will be very much missed.
• • •
I’ve always been a fan of sports statistics, though I must admit this trend toward complex analytics is a bit too much. But basic sports stats have always held a fascination for me ever since I was a kid and learned that a .300 batting average meant a hitter was really good, and a 40-goal scorer in hockey or a 1,000-yard runner in football was something special.
Well, I recently found a new website that is all about sports statistics, and it includes stats from Lethbridge teams in hockey, baseball and basketball from years gone by. For example, you can find all the rosters and scoring stats from the Dusters basketball team I mentioned earlier, for both seasons the team existed in the early 1980s.
You’ll also find hockey stats not just for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, but going back to the days of the Lethbridge Broncos, too.
Those who remember pro baseball in Lethbridge might be delighted to learn that all the former Lethbridge teams are on the site — the Lethbridge Expos, Dodgers, Mounties and Diamondbacks. There’s even a section about the old Lethbridge Miners of the Western Canada League from 1907 to 1910.
The site is called statscrew.com. If you’re as nuts about stats as I am, you might enjoying checking it out.
• • •
As a fan of the National Football League’s Colts going back to their days in Baltimore (ever since I read “The Johnny Unitas Story” in Grade 5), I was hugely disappointed by Andrew Luck’s decision to retire at the age of 29.
The star quarterback had endured a series of injuries during his short career and was facing yet another rehab process as this new season approached. He decided his health was more important than football and opted to call it quits as a player.
What particularly bothered me was the reaction of some so-called fans, who had the nerve to boo him as he stood on the sidelines during a home exhibition game. Luck had planned to announce his retirement after the game, but the news leaked out and some spectators with nachos for brains took out their frustration on this man who had literally bled for the team for six seasons.
Fortunately, many former and current players, along with athletes from other sports, were quick to defend Luck against the critics. They know what it’s like to sacrifice in order to play sports at the highest level. They know the physical and mental toll a game like football takes on its participants, and the hardships of battling back from injury.
The armchair quarterbacks know nothing about what it’s like to wear the cleats and endure the punishment of a game in which “every play is a car crach,” as noted by columnist Rich Manieri.
Sports Illustrated ran an article in 2001 about former football players and the physical infirmities that are part of their retirement years. My hero, Johnny U, could barely use his right hand. Former star running back Earl Campbell could only walk short distances because of his battered legs. Former defensive end Bill Stanfill, then just 54, had to use a walker.
Fans should be thankful they had the opportunity to enjoy watching Luck for six short but sensational seasons. He gave his all to a sport that in return gave him, among other injuries, a lacerated kidney and a shoulder so badly damaged that he missed all of 2017 recuperating. Sure, he was extremely well paid for his work, but there was a steep price, as there is for all those who step onto the gridiron.
I look forward to listening to Luck in the broadcast booth, which I’m sure will be in his future. There, he will still be able to use his amazing football acuity to entertain fans. And he won’t be risking further injury so, hopefully, he won’t have to endure a pain-filled retirement.

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