Talks with Hawks: Episode 32 – Roan Kane

     Roan Kane played WR for the Golden Hawks from 1970 to 1973 under the legendary Dave ‘Tuffy’ Knight. Kane and Stacey Coray (Talks with Hawks Episode 7) became the first black players to wear the purple and gold, making them the ‘Jackie Robinsons’ of Laurier football history. Kane was a member of the 1972 provincial championship team, Eastern Championship team and the National Runner-up team. Kane graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. Now residing just outside of New York City, Kane was recently kind enough talk to me in a recent phone interview.

Dave Morrissey: Tell me how you got started playing football.

Roan Kane: Well, I was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1949. My mother moved to Canada in search of a better life for herself and family. In late August 1958, my brother and I boarded a plane for the first time for a flight to Canada. In Jamaica, I had attended a private school (Morris Knibb), got great grades and played soccer (football) and cricket. Keep in mind at that time social media was radio only, no television. My mother, brothers and I settled in Oakville, Ontario. Mom was a nurse at Oakville Trafalgar Hospital and my father was a detective (CIA) Kingston police who remained in Jamaica. My brothers and I enrolled in St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School where we played soccer. Hockey, we loved but we were jealous of our peers skating circles around us, but we could run and we were athletic. Initially, I had no knowledge of what American football even was. Not until entering high school did I learn about the difference between soccer and American football. It was grade 12 at Perdue High School where I started my American football experience. The football program could not field a team for my Grade 13 year. I opted to play for the Burlington Braves in a junior league. The coach was Bernie Custis, a former All American from Syracuse University. In 1951, he became the first black QB in CFL history when he started for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

DM: How did you end up playing football at Laurier?

RK: Back in those days, the school was still called Waterloo Lutheran. I had reached out to a number of universities about pursuing my education and playing football but nobody got back to me. My basketball coach, Dan Logan, an art teacher at Perdue HS and friend to Bernie Custis, suggested I go see Tuffy in Waterloo. So, I had a friend, George in his brand new mustang, drive me to the university and I met with Tuffy. After a short meeting, he directed me to the university residence and said “Pick out a room.”  I hadn’t even enrolled yet! Tuffy was an amazing coach and a man I respect greatly.

DM: Did it feel somewhat awkward for you and Stacey being the only black players on the team?

RK: Well, I’m sure you would feel awkward if you were one of the only two white players on a team in a racially unbalanced environment. In Jamaica, I had no experiences with racism. Things there were more about class than race. However, in Canada, it was a different story. Wherever I played…..on my high school team, on my junior league team, etc I was always the first black player. Certainly, some teammates were more welcoming than others. It wasn’t always easy. However, I still treasure many amazing friendships developed with my teammates, especially Golden Hawks like Stacey Corey, Wally Parker, Jim Cooper and others. And I’ll tell you a great story about Wally later on. I met Stacey Coray right after checking out my dorm room on that 1st day meeting Tuffy and we have been friends/brothers ever since.

DM: Wide Receiver is often considered a glamour position with players being in the spotlight, making incredible catches, and scoring highlight-reel touchdowns.  What was your experience playing that position?

RK: Under Coach Knight, we adopted and ran the Wishbone Offense new to college football in the USA and a 1st for Canadian college football. We didn’t throw the ball very much at all. Most of the time, my role was to block, and I was acquiescent. We were a dedicated, hard-working team and I knew my role and I accepted it. We had a lot of success, especially in my final football season as a Golden Hawk(1972).

DM: I remember Stacey Coray telling me how strong that early 1970s team was.  You guys had quite a lot of success.

RK: In 1972, we started off the year playing an exhibition game vs St. Mary’s. They had one of the strongest programs in the country. They beat us very easily. During the regular season, we were 4-2. In the playoffs, we beat Ottawa 23 to 10 in the semis and defeated Western in the provincial final 38 to 27. That allowed us to get a rematch with St. Mary’s in the national semi-finals. We destroyed them 50 to 17. In the Vanier Cup, we lost to Alberta 20 to 7. The Varsity Stadium field was completely frozen and I had rubber cleats. Think about that for a minute! They even put sand on the field to try to make it less slippery, but that made conditions even worse. Wow! What a historical Golden Hawk team and season.

DM: I learned that you were a mid-round draft pick of the Calgary Stampeders.  Tell me a bit about that experience.

RK: Well, first off, you need to understand a few things that were happening in my life. By the time I had graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with my BA degree in Political Science in 1973, I was already married to Sheila Regehr Fisher and we had our daughter, Maya born early September at the start of the 1972 football season. Sheila attended Guelph University and also graduated 1973 with a degree in Political Science. Sheila went on to have a purposeful career with Status of Women Canada and Basic Income Canada. It was very satisfying for both of us to get our degrees while having to juggle family and work responsibilities. (I remember as one of my part-time jobs to generate income to support my family having to carry cases of beer up from the ground floor to the Turret). My daughter later went on to graduate with Honours from Carleton’s prestigious Mass Communication program and has had a very successful career with the CBC and University of Toronto. I was drafted by Calgary Stampeders in the 5th round. I did get out to Calgary for football training camp but was released once their season started. Since I was already out in Alberta, I went up to Edmonton to see if I could join that team. Edmonton was not interested. I also had one last football attempt with Hamilton Tiger Cats that was the end of my football career. I knew I had to give up the dream and get real and get back to Waterloo and move on with my life. It was time to start a career and provide for me and my family.

DM: What profession did you undertake?

RK: I became a licensed real estate salesperson selling real estate in the Kitchener-Waterloo surrounding areas for 10 years. I worked with Mitgang and then Olsten Realtors. I was fortunate to be able to help Coach “Tuffy” Knight sell and purchase his home in Kitchener. In 1982, I moved to the USA, near New York City where my mom was living. We started a business called Kane’s Health Care Registry that provided supplemental staffing in hospitals and nursing homes (Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses and Certified Nurse Aides) and home health care services to individuals living in their homes. The business was quite successful providing hands- on health care services for the elderly but lacked resources for lines of credit. After ten years of trying to secure lines of credit to expand the business, I decided to take my business experience delivering health care services to the elderly and joined All Metro Health Care. Six months into the job, my boss drove me from NYC to Albany one day, set me up in a hotel, and told me that he wanted me to run their operations in the Capitol District of New York. I stayed for ten years and helped grow the company. In my years in the industry, one of the things I am most proud of is that I was a strong advocate for workers in terms of improving their work conditions, benefits and raising their living wages. I am currently retired but on occasion as a Independent Contractor / Consultant will provide professional and technical advice to businesses in the home health care industry.  On moving to the USA, I got my citizenship and exercised my right to vote for the 1st African-American President Barack Obama (born Honolulu, Hawaii, the 44th president from 2009 to 2017) and the 1st female African-American (Jamaican father) and Asian-American (Indian mother) 49th Vice President Kamala Harris.

DM: So, I understand that your son had quite a football career.

RK: I am so proud of Morgan’s football achievements. Watching him play, I was able to live my dream vicariously through him for a number of years. Morgan played running back at Merivale High School in Ottawa and got a full scholarship to Wake Forest in the Atlantic Athletic Conference. A student/ athlete wanting warm weather and a conference to showcase his 4.3 speed, he played from 1996 to 1999. He played a key role right away and had over 100 carries every year of his career. In this final season, he rushed for over 1150 yards and had 12 touchdowns. Some specific highlights I remember from his senior year were an 80 yard touchdown run vs Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles, the game vs Army, and their bowl game in Hawaii.

DM: I’d love to hear about that.

RK: Well, the Army game was at West Point. I think Morgan rushed for about 210 yards that day. I was cheering wildly in the stands, waving a Canadian flag around, surrounded by a sea of cadets and thousands of Army fans which was very intimidating. After the game, Governor Pataki came down and shook my hand and congratulated me on my son’s performance. Wake Forest was invited to play in the Aloha Bowl in 1999. Morgan scored a touchdown in that game helping them defeat Arizona State 23 to 3. Morgan made 2nd runner up all ACC. Jim Caldwell, who later went on to become a Head Coach in the NFL, was Morgan’s Head Coach. One of the coolest things about going to the Aloha Bowl was that it was in Hawaii played on Christmas Day 9 am start. (Mele Kalikimaka) My former teammate at Laurier, Wally Parker, lives in Hawaii. When I arrived at the airport with my family, he was waiting there with ceremonial leis for all of us. He spent the week showing me around the island.  

DM: Thank you very much for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you.

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(Editor’s Note: After speaking with Roan, I found some news articles about Morgan:

*Morgan and his freshmen year at Wake Forest: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-1996-11-08-9611080157-story.html

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