A legend passes
Former Brier champ, longtime coach, Ron Anton passes away
It is difficult enough to make a name for yourself in a sport, but from time to time there are those special people who manage to make their name on several levels.
That was Ron Anton. Recruited in his teens to play for legendary skip Hec Gervais, Anton went on to fashion an outstanding curling career in Alberta as a player, coach, innovator, administrator and, above all, a winner.
“Ron was an interesting guy,” said Warren Hansen, reflecting on the life of his former teammate and friend who passed away at age 82 on Saturday (Nov. 11) in Chilliwack, B.C. “He was a kind of quiet, sober guy. He had a dry sense of humour, so if you didn’t know him you’d think he was angry. But he wasn’t. He was very serious and very goal-driven. He was the best player I ever played with.”
Anton, who was born and raised in Medicine Hat, Alta., played in three Canadian Men’s Curling Championships as third for Gervais, winning two of them in 1961 and 1974. Anton was just 19 when he helped Gervais, second Ray Werner and lead Wally Ursuliak win the ’61 Brier in Calgary’s Stampede Corral. Anton set the record that still stands as the youngest player to win the Brier.
Anton stayed back in Canada to study for exams as the team went on to win the Scotch Cup world championship in Scotland, with Vic Raymer playing third.
“He was the only curler I know,” said Hansen, “who won a Canadian championship and didn’t go to the worlds.”
The same team returned to the Brier the following year but lost in a three-team playoff for the Tankard, won by Saskatchewan’s Ernie Richardson.
It wasn’t until 1974 that Anton (after a five-year spell skipping his own team) would return to the Brier with Gervais, this time with Hansen at second and Darrel Sutton at lead. The team won in London but was upset in the world championship in Bern, Switzerland, under harsh ice conditions.
Gervais got all the press because of his skill for such a mountain of a man, but Anton was a huge part of his success. Legendary sports scribe Jack Matheson once wrote that Anton was a tower of strength at third and Gervais leaned on him heavily, “which indicated Anton must have been the strongest third because when Hec leans against a building, it shifts.”
Gerry Peckham, former High Performance Director of Curling Canada, saw plenty of Anton playing against him in big cash bonspiels in British Columbia, and at the Brier, and says he was a formidable opponent.
“He had a level of intensity and focus that was beyond anything I had ever experienced and he had a skill set to back it up,” said Peckham. “He threw the rock as pure as you could throw it. And he was a tremendous sweeper.
He was an amazing all-round athlete.”
Anton’s rock-throwing ability came, in large part, by the way he developed his balanced delivery, turning his sliding foot to the left to allow his body to move in behind the rock — much like a tuck delivery.
“He was the first curler that I could recall who was able to slide perfectly balanced without using a broom,” said Hansen, who served as director of event operations for Curling Canada until 2015. “It took a bit of work because you needed a certain degree of flexibility in your ankle and hip.”
Anton was also the first curler who used a slider on his heel.
“He had a huge impact on how to deliver the stone,” said Hansen.
Anton, a high school teacher and principal, later became involved in the creation of a teaching system for instructors and coaches in Canada, which was the sport’s initial participation in the National Coaching Certification Program.
Anton was a first-class coach. In 1967 he guided Stan Trout’s Alberta team to the Canadian High School Boys Championship, and coached Alberta’s Cathy Shaw at the 1982 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Anton’s involvement in the game didn’t end there. He was a member of the five-person National Team Program Committee that determined Canada’s representatives at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary where curling was a demonstration sport. He was the men’s curling coach at those Games and spent a number of years as the National Team Leader of the Canadian men’s curling team.
“He was a real student of all aspect of the game,” said Peckham. “Not everyone would have seen all sides of what he brought to the sport of curling.”
Anton was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 1975.