The 1974 Gonzaga team is almost certainly the CBC-era Reach for the Top team with the most coverage today. Many Canadians are nostalgic for the games on CBC, whether through playing or watching, but few squads get as much attention as the underdog team from St. John’s. The Telegram ran a retrospective article in 2015 with the four members of the team. CBC published an article this past week in the context of a book launch about the 1974 team. In addition, the whole final match is available on YouTube (part 1, part 2).
1974 was near the beginning of Reach’s prime years. I have previously written about the paradigm shift of 1972/73, and within a year, top teams were all studying hard and becoming the most competitive teams of the CBC era. Archbishop O’Leary HS, which I believe is the birthplace of year-long practices, made it to the 1974 final as a favourite to continue the string of two consecutive titles for Alberta (O’Leary in 1972 and Lorne Jenken HS in 1973). Meanwhile, Gonzaga HS from Newfoundland, receiving a swell of local support thanks to Reach opting to film Nationals in St. John’s in celebration of the 25th anniversary of joining Confederation, was picking off established teams with a group of grade 11 students (Newfoundland, like Quebec, went only to grade 11 in high school at the time). The final was Gonzaga’s “David” to the O’Leary “Goliath”.
The final was a tale of two halves. O’Leary spent the first phase flustered with incorrect buzzes, giving Gonzaga early leads of 65-0 and then 170-30 by mid-game. O’Leary also got burned by a few tough (and possibly inconsistent) calls of “time” in the quick pace moderator Bill Guest was running. However, O’Leary started clawing back with assigned, scramble, and what-am-I questions on geography. About three-quarters of the way through, Gerry of Gonzaga accidentally hit his buzzer at the start of a question and was forced to give an impossible response; he was visibly shaken by this and went from being the most dominant player on the team to failing to give a correct answer for the rest of the match. In the final snappers phase, O’Leary was on fire and held a 280-270 lead with about one minute to go. However, two incorrect O’Leary buzzes (with -5 penalties) and the up-to-now quiet Peter’s answers of “[Beatrix] Potter” and “the” sealed the close 300-270 victory for the home team.
This was Gonzaga’s (and Newfoundland’s) only Reach title. They would continue to make national appearances consecutively until 1979, but not reach a final again. Gonzaga, as well as the whole province of Newfoundland and Labrador, did not continue participation into the SchoolReach era. O’Leary became overshadowed by Lorne Jenken for Alberta representation after this, but that province continued to make regular semifinal appearances through to the 1980s.
The 1974 team’s legacy lives on. Member Tom Harrington, a veteran host of several CBC programs over the years, holds some clout for keeping his team’s success in the public eye. While there have been some other teams of that era with notable members (including Richview’s Stephen Harper, who lost to the eventual 1978 champions), the Gonzaga team gets the spotlight. Perhaps the timing of the team winning at home at the “coming of age” 25th anniversary struck a chord. There may be a strong attachment to the show in the province since nearly every high school would have had to participate in the 1970s to fill up the broadcast schedule (Manitoba also seems to have this connection from high participation due to low population). It is also interesting that the nostalgia has not resulted in any revival of SchoolReach; though it can be difficult to manage out-of-province competition without the logistical support of a TV network.
During this offseason, I will post less often but will continue to look at past results. If there are any requests for particular topics (other than future predictions), feel free to let me know. Happy Canada Day and enjoy the summer!