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Photo by Barry Gray, The Hamilton Spectator

Photo by Barry Gray, The Hamilton Spectator

George Bender, left, and Jimmy Vlajkov recall the 1965 Little League Championships as they examine the only jersey remaining from that team in a 2005 file photo. Bender coached the Stoney Creek squad to the finals, the only Canadian team to ever accomplish the feat.

Stoney Creek little league manager George Bender remembered as a gentleman coach

By Mike Pearson, News staff

Stoney Creek has lost a Little League legend.

George Bender, who led Stoney Creek’s 1965 Little League World Series team, is remembered as a gentleman coach, father and businessman who helped others whenever he could, both on and off the field. He passed away peacefully on Aug. 12 at the Juravinski Hospital following a battle with cancer. He was 84.

Bender and co-manager Bert Kerrigan led Stoney Creek to the final of the 1965 Little League World Series in Willamsport, Penn., where the squad became the first Canadian team to make it to the championship game. Stoney Creek lost the world championship 3-1 to a team from Windsor Locks, Conn. Nearly 50 years later, no other Canadian team has advanced to the Little League World Series title game.

Bender was part of a volunteer coaching staff that quickly turned the Stoney Creek Optimist Little League group into a baseball powerhouse. Formed in 1957, Stoney Creek sent its first all-star team to represent Canada at the Little League World Series just five years later in 1962.

Rick Ferroni, who played shortstop for the ‘65 team, said Bender had a calming effect on the team. When paired with Kerrigan’s more intense coaching style, the Stoney Creek team thrived under Bender’s mild-mannered presence.

“He was a superb man, never mind coach,” said Ferroni. “And when he related with the kids, it just kind of fell into place with Bert Kerrigan.”

Stoney Creek entered the 1965 Canadian championships in Dundas on a roll. Ferroni recalls the team won 13 straight games heading into the championship, all without committing an error.

“He was a soft-spoken guy,” Ferroni recalled. “He was the one who would pull you aside and say, ‘Your foot’s a little out or in.’”

Ferroni said Bender would look at his players “with a little smirk and smile,” to show his approval.

“He’d look at you and you could tell you did a good job,” Ferroni said.

Bender got involved in Little League while coaching his own four sons in house league competition. He remained active as his sons grew older, winning the right to coach the all-star team.

Bender’s son Ron said nothing seemed to bother his dad. He can’t recall a single time Bender lost his temper.

“He always looked at life as ‘that’s not important.’ He really instilled that in his kids,” said Ron.

Bender was married to wife Dorothy for 67 years. The couple has five children, Rick, Bill, Ron, Terry and Judi.

A partner in M & T Walls and Ceilings, Bender was often the first to help out when anyone in the family needed assistance with home repairs. He was a master with plaster, working with M & T for 20 years before retiring at age 68.

In retirement, Bender doted on his family, which includes eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He loved to play golf, visit the casino and travel occasionally.

In 2010, Bender was invited to throw out the first pitch at a Canadian Little League Championship game in Ancaster.

“He wasn’t proud of the first pitch,” Ron recalled. “He wanted a recall. And he threw a strike (the second time.) He threw a 45-foot strike.”

Fifty years later, Bender is still revered by his former players.

“People still come up to me 50 years later and say, ‘Your dad was great to play for,’ said Ron.

When coaching house league, Bender ensured all players saw the field, regardless of ability.

“He didn’t just stick with the stars in house league,” said Ron. “Everybody played. He always thought, there’s no reason for a kid to put the uniform on and sit there for six innings.”

Ron recalled a family vacation where his dad was demonstrating boat safety. Ron and his siblings watched from the dock while Bender demonstrated the importance of remaining seated while starting the engine. After a long speech, Bender started the boat, stood up and took a nose dive into the water.

It turned into a lesson on how not to start a boat, prompting hysterical laughter from the entire family.

“He was laughing the hardest,” said Ron. “He always saw the humour in things.”

The Stoney Creek Legion will host a celebration of Bender’s life this Sunday, Aug. 24 from 2-5 p.m.

“We booked for 150 (guests) but that number might be a little low. I kind of think we’re closing in on 200,” said Ron.

A crowd of 20,000 was on hand to watch the 1965 Little League World Series final. Heading into the game, the Canadian team had already shut out Rota, Spain, 6-0 and Jeffersonville, Ind. 1-0.

The team continued its strong defensive play in the final.

Bender also managed Stoney Creek’s 1962 Canadian championship team that lost in the first round at Williamsport.

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