2022 INDUCTEE- ERIC ABBOTT
The Winnipeg Tribune described Eric Abbott as "Winnipeg's staunchest lacrosse booster". Abbott made contributions as a player, coach, referee, and organizer.
Abbott's playing career started with the West End Memorial in 1935. Playing in the Juvenile division as a midget aged player, Abbott showed a natural ability to score goals- potting 1 to 2 goals a game. In 1939, Eric graduated to the West End Argos Senior team. Abbott played a number of years with the Argos, before playing 1 year with the Elmwood Pats Juniors. His scoring touch continued through out his career- playing for an Isaac Brock Old Timers team he scored 6 goals in an exhibition game against the Isaac Brock Midget team.
In the late '30's and early '40's Abbott moved into the officiating ranks to fill the need for referees throughout the city. In the 1934, The CLA moved the game of Field Lacrosse into the hockey rinks left vacant in summer. Playing under Field lacrosse rules in the much smaller hockey pens made the game quite rough and violent at times. As an official, Abbott had to step in on more than one occasion to break up fights amongst the players. In one dust up, an errant punch hit Eric in the face breaking his glasses. In this rough and tumble game, Abbott earned the admiration and respect of the players and coaches. In 1954, the CLA amended the Field Lacrosse rules to better fit the dimensions of the box, reducing much of the violence and aggression in the game. In 1955, the MLA placed further restrictions on slashing and cross checking to make the game safer and more enjoyable to watch. Abbott passed away in 1954, but he would have firmly approved the rules and their positive effects on the game.
As well as officiating, Abbott was active in the coaching from 1942 to 1950. Starting with the Isaac Brock Bantam team in 1942, Abbott's teams snagged the Bantam A championship a year later. From 1946 to 1949, Abbott coached Midget, Juvenile, and Junior, winning titles with the Isaac Brock Midgets (1947), Juveniles (1948), and Deer Lodge Juniors in 1950. In 1952, Abbott coached Deer Lodge to a Senior championship.
Ravaged by the effects of the Great Depression and World War II, sports including lacrosse, suffered greatly. Limited resources and leadership for grassroots sports dwindled and the number of youths playing sports declined rapidly. For lacrosse these effects were exacerbated by the Winnipeg School Division to end the Winnipeg School Lacrosse Leagues. Leadership by the school division and subsidies to reduce the cost of lacrosse sticks allowed lacrosse to grow from 1919 to 1929.
In 1944, Tom O'Brien and his group including Eric Abbott, Russell Ball, Richard Gavan, David Smith, Morris Mulvey, and Clarke Simpson all worked together to resurrect the game of lacrosse. This group met and formed the Greater Winnipeg Lacrosse Association (GWLA) with goal of fostering bantam, midget, and juvenile lacrosse. Abbott in the role of secretary took an active role in promoting lacrosse to the community centres across and around Winnipeg. With provision of lacrosse sticks and equipment, the GWLA was able to field teams at the following community centres: Isaac Brock, Kelvin, Sir John Franklin, West End, Orioles, Lord Roberts, Norwood, and teams from the North End (Excelsiors and Spartans). In the first year Kelvin won the juvenile championship, while Lord Roberts gained the midget title. In the bantam age group Isaac Brock captured the "A" crown, while Deer Lodge won the "B" division. The league grew to 20 teams in 1947 with new teams from the community centres; CUAC, St. Vital, and Fort Garry. As well Selkirk Manitoba entered two teams in the junior and bantam "B" divisions.
While revival slowed in the late 1940's and early 1950's, the effects of the GWLA was seen in two areas. First, players who started the game under the GWLA banner fuelled Manitoba's success in the Minto Cup in 1951, 1954, and 1955. Secondly, players graduating the junior ranks led to the formation of a four team senior loop in 1951.
Eric Abbott, as secretary, was at the forefront of this boom. He and Tom O'Brien visited community centres around Winnipeg promoting the game and then mentoring these new clubs as they started fledgling programs- all this while coaching at least one team a year and refereeing many GWLA age groups. Abbott's work ended in 1954 when he died suddenly- the day after attending a Manitoba Lacrosse Association meeting. Abbot was looking forward to coaching his Deer Lodge Junior team.
Abbott, when not involved with lacrosse, was a professional figure skater in carnivals across Manitoba. He was also a much sought after figure skating instructor.
To honour all his hard work, the MLA named the senior league championship trophy the Eric Abbott Memorial Trophy.