Ron MacNeil has the distinction of being the
all-time leading goal scorer in the history of
box lacrosse in Canada. The list that includes
fifty players begins with the inception of the box
game in 1932 and is updated annually. Ron leads with
868 goals in 389 contests of regular season play. It is
compiled by Wampsbible of Lacrosse website.
That statistic speaks for itself and his longevity as an active player from 1962 to 1998 is a testament to his durability and love of the sport.
But even more significant than that, he has been a
constant innovator effecting improvements
in equipment worn by players at all
levels. Actually, he invented
the plastic lacrosse stick, but more on that later in
As fate would have it, Ron was born in the “hotbed” of lacrosse on the West Coast, the home of the Salmonbellies, New Westminister, British Columbia in 1944. Ron, the second of four boys, moved with his family to the Lakeshore area of Etobicoke in 1952 and then on to the brand new community of Alderwood in 1955.
An early “baby boomer” he joined with his buddy, Ken Hodge (of Boston Bruins hockey fame) to play for the Alderwood bantam lacrosse team. The Alderwood Lacrosse League was a new organization under the leadership of the late Bob Sinclair, a Member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame for his contributions to minor lacrosse.
It all almost wasn’t to be. When Ron was eight years old, late in the summer of 1952, he was on a bus going to a swimming pool, and his brother was on the other side of the street on his bike heading for the same location. After the bus stopped, he ran in front of it across the road and was hit by a car that ran over his left leg.
The doctors considered amputation, but his father refused that opt ion. Eventual ly, the doctors reat tached some of the leg muscles, grafted skin from his back and he was confined to bed for three months. After that he had to learn to walk again. Typical of youngsters and their reactions, Ron earned his nickname “Groucho” because of his cranky disposition during the weeks of his recovery and the moniker continues to this day.
Ron, brothers Cyril, Earl and Milton lived at 2 Paula Street beside the playing fields of Alderwood Collegiate. Sports were their life and joy and they all excelled in the major sports played in the booming decades of the sixties and seventies. Since the layer of skin on his leg was thinner than the rest of his body, he had to be very careful of scrapes and other damage. This almost ended his career at the senior level when the battering began to take its toll.
But before that he moved through the minor ranks in Alderwood and was a frequent call-up for the neighbouring Long Branch Junior “A” team in 1961 that was coached by Morley Kells. Later on Alderwood got their own junior team and Ron was an established all-star performer and Kells became his coach again. The record shows that he scored 114 goals in 24 games which is a noteworthy achievement at any level of play.
Upon graduation from the junior ranks, he joined the newly founded Toronto Maple Leafs senior team in 1966 and Kells was again his coach. When Ron’s leg injury began to affect his play, a protective device in the form of a padded brace was sewn together by Tommy Naylor, an assistant trainer with the Maple Leaf hockey club and that solved the problem. All together, Ron went through three more braces during his playing career.
That experience struck a chord with MacNeil and he quickly turned his mind to the design of better and lighter equipment that was now required for the new fast moving style of play introduced by coaches Jim Bishop, Bobby Allan and Kells.
Meanwhile, in his four years with the Leafs, he was the most proficient scorer on the team. During that period of competition, lacrosse entered a new era of popularity because of the rise of new suburbia and the birth of the baby boomers simultaneously with exposure on television.
Ron decided to open a sporting goods store on Brown’s Line in Alderwood and he created and produced his first line of equipment: special gloves, better fitting kidney pads and total coverage shoulder pads.
This brought on another first. Morley Kells and others lamented about the shortage of hickory-made sticks turned out by skilled native craftsmen, particularly, Herb Martin and latterly Enos Williams. Kells suggested plastic as a substitute and Ron designed the stick that you see in the photos shown in this article. The sticks were produced by H&H Leisure Ideas and the mould was made and the machinery engineered. The machine, itself, was found abandoned in a field and somehow made its way to the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame where it resides today.
The stick featured here came with either wood handles for older players and plastic for the minor leaguers. A year later, firms began producing plastic sticks with a different design for the American field lacrosse college leagues. This heralded the end for the wooden stick. As Groucho’s story continues, the merits or demerits of the plastic stick will be analysed. The Toronto Maple Leafs folded in 1969 and MacNeil moved on to play for the Brantford Warriors of the Senior Ontario Lacrosse League.
He joined Gaylord Powless and a corps of other stalwarts and they went on to win the Mann Cup in 1971. Numerous knowledgeable followers of the game consider that national champion team to have been the best team ever assembled in Canada. This is open to some conjecture, but since then eight members of the Warriors have become members of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame including Ron in 1998. According to Groucho there are three others who should also be included.
After two more successful years with Brantford, Ron took his talents and ideas out to the West Coast in 1974 to play for the Victoria Shamrocks. All in all, he played top rated lacrosse for 17 years; 7 for Victoria, 2 for Nanaimo Timbermen, 4 for the Maple Leafs, and 4 with Brantford. He played on two Mann Cup teams, one east and one west, and was a prolific scorer every year of play.
Ron knew talent too! When in Victoria, Ron helped coach minor lacrosse teams. Kells remembers Groucho telling him about twin peewee players, Paul and Gary Gait whom he believed to be the best two youngsters that he had ever seen. By the time they were through their junior careers, he was sure that he had witnessed something really special. He began contacting American College coaches to suggest that they be given a chance to play at the top field lacrosse level. Johns-Hopkins said no as did others, but with help from Bobby Allan, they were brought to the attention of Syracuse and the rest is history.
From 1987 to 1990 they set numerous records as midfielders and the Orangemen won three National Championships. Besides going on to play brilliantly all over North America, they formed their own lacrosse equipment company, GBLax.
Subsequently, in 2005 Ron joined their company as research and development manager. He would often travel to China to oversee the production and quality of his designs. After the company was taken over and renamed DeBeers-Gait Lacrosse, Ron returned to Canada where he continues to operate his own equipment business.
When discussing the merits of lacrosse sticks, he has this to say about plastic verses hickory and their design and efficacy: “The governing bodies of lacrosse rule that the width of the mouth of the plastic stick be no less than 61/2 inches. This means in affect, that the ball cannot be fired as quickly as from a smaller wooden style stick.”
Here are his observations about the manufacture of lacrosse balls: “Viceroy in Canada used to produce our rubber balls. Then the Canadian Lacrosse Association dictated that they receive a 25-cent royalty on each ball sold. Viceroy couldn’t make a profit on that and balls from China were substituted. The new “dead” ball won’t bounce as high as the Viceroy and so the high bounce shot has left the game.”
These two features have given the goaltenders a major advantage over the shooters and hence less scoring and excitement is a result,” emphasizes MacNeil who is worried about the future of the Canadian box lacrosse game.
Nonetheless, he is a man that has dedicated most of his working life to the betterment of lacrosse. He is a most worthy and deserving inductee to the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame.