There was no darkness present on Fergie Jenkins Field this past weekend amidst the 30 descendants who came together to play in the Chatham Coloured All-Stars “Field of Honour” game.
In 1934, on the verge of becoming the first all-Black team in Canada to win a Provincial baseball title, the Chatham Coloured All-Stars were leading 3-2 when umpires called the game on account of darkness, despite the sun still sitting high in the sky. The All-Stars would win the following day, but as Wilfred “Boomer” Harding, star of the team, stated years later, the only darkness present on the field that day was the colour of their skin.
Saturday’s game also ended with a 3-2 score, the sun shining, and the Black and Indigenous descendants of this famous team recognizing both the significance of this score, and the ability to play in honour of their families on a field free of racism and discrimination.
“So much gratitude for my ancestors,” said Rebecca Smyth (Prince) who represented Hyle and Stanton Robbins in the game, “for breaking barriers in becoming the first Black team to win an Ontario Baseball Association title. I certainly have taken my love for the game for granted. I am forever thankful to be able to play the game of baseball that I love so much, and feel privileged that there will no longer be a game called on the account of ‘darkness.’”
According to Blake Harding, the son of “Boomer” Harding, and nephew of Len and Andy Harding, who were all members of the All-Stars, Saturday’s game, which also aimed to gain support for the Chatham team to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, couldn’t have gone better.
“The turnout was fantastic,” he said. “It’s great for my dad, his brothers, and all the families connected to the All-Stars to get this recognition, especially at this time in our history.”
A monument honouring the 1934 team was also unveiled prior to the game. It is to remain on permanent display at Fergie Jenkins Field in Chatham.
Now, the 30 players who took part, the family members on hand, the hundreds of fans who were in attendance, and organizers will wait for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to make their decision this fall regarding the fate of the All-Stars’ legacy.
As Sebastian Jackson, who represented Ferguson Jenkins Sr. in the game, said, the day, this story, and those involved were filled with emotion, and will anxiously be awaiting the Hall of Fame’s decision.
“You could feel the emotions and history as families from both teams would meet and talk during the game and learn about each other and even met some distant family members,” said Jackson. “I’m overcome with emotions, truly. The whole day was the best day I have been a part of and we’ll be waiting for the call to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.”
- The story of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars will appear in Ian Kennedy’s upcoming book, “On Account of Darkness: Shining Light on Race and Sport.” Published by Tidewater Press, it will be available in 2022 everywhere you get your books.