On March 12th, it was announced that the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League had been sold and would be relocating to the much larger city of Hamilton for the start of the 2015-16 season.
I worked for the Bulls for a total of four seasons (2007/08 -2010/11) as the public address announcer in the Yardmen Arena. To date, it’s the longest tenured job I’ve ever had (albeit it was a seasonal and part-time job). Although I left Belleville years ago and am currently overseas, since hearing the news I’ve still spent a great deal of time thinking about the demise of the team and the four years I spent there.
The newspaper and radio stations in Belleville have been discussing this story non-stop since it broke. Everyone seems to have an opinion on who is to blame. I have my own thoughts on the matter and believe there are lessons to be learned from this sad story. Rather than rehashing the issues here in a typical blog post, I opt to simply write a poem about the team and its demise.
On a March afternoon, the shocking news broke:
The Belleville Bulls had gone up in smoke.
After thirty-four years of family, friendship and fun,
This was to be the team’s sad final run.
Decades ago, when the team joined the ‘O’
The business of junior didn’t resemble The Show.
Good men like the Doctor and Bob Dolan, too.
Helped bring a small club, up from tier two.
Mav and McSorley, Pang and Dunc,
The first season in Belleville hardly stunk.
The team was respectable and always competed,
A trip to the finals, was soon completed.
The big Yardmen ice was a place like no other,
The fans came and cheered, like they would for a brother.
As the millennium closed, the boys became kings,
Bringing the Friendly City, fresh championship rings.
But the good Doctor grew weary and looked to unload,
The team was for sale, the city was told.
Lord Simmonds of Uxbridge emerged from the West!
Insisting he knew how to run the team best.
Trust an outsider, oh, how the fans were suspicious!
Some of them claimed the Lord to be vicious.
The Yardmen was old, said the Lord to the Gavel
We need a new rink, before things start to unravel.
With distrust on all sides, a stalemate was reached,
Slowly but surely appeared more empty seats.
The music’s too loud! The coach is too boring!
We miss the days when the team was scoring!
The years passed and the losses mounted,
All who followed knew the Bulls days were counted.
Then came the noose, or should I say lasso,
the night Belleville voters elected Mayor Taso.
A decade of losses and a mayor spewing invective,
left stingy Lord Simmonds hurt and dejected.
Hamilton came calling with a tantalizing offer,
Which would help the good Lord, replete his own coffer.
Boom! The deal hit like a bolt of lightning,
leaving the city’s inhabitants grieving and fighting.
Three decades of memories and a deep love for the game,
weren’t enough to keep the Bulls’ address the same.
Struggling cities with sports teams take note,
it takes more than your love to keep a franchise afloat.
To keep your team rooted, these things are a must:
Great vision, conviction and a culture of trust.
These traits were not present, in a city called Friendly,
and now the old Yardmen will lie dark and empty.
Update: The Belleville Bulls have played their final game. I captured the audio of the final broadcast of Belleville Bulls hockey on CJBQ 800am radio. Fans of the now defunct team can listen to Jack Miller and Paul Svoboda call the action. The Barrie Colts defeated the Belleville Bulls 4-2 at Yardmen Arena to cap off a sweep of their first round playoff matchup and end the Bulls 34 year run in the Quinte region.