Many athletes play for the headlines, others strictly for the gold — too often, it’s an “all about me” attitude.

It is, therefore, a breath of fresh air to meet up with an individual who excelled in his sport of choice “just for the fun of it.”

Vancouver Burrards’ alumnus Ernie Smith is that type of person.

“Being a member of the team, whether it was lacrosse or soccer or, for that matter, the fire department, it was all the same,” Smith offered during a recent discussion. “To be successful, you have to rely on your teammates and they on you; therefore, you drew close to them and that is what it’s all about — fun and the respect of those around .you.”

Born November 7, 1924, in Grayson, Saskatchewan, Ernie moved with his family to Vancouver in the early Depression years, his father in search of work, eventually settling in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

Smith was a husky youngster, athletically inclined, but knew little about the game of lacrosse until, at the age of 14, the father of his buddy gave them both boxla sticks.

Both youngsters proved to be naturals, practising hour-upon-hour on the False Creek Flats and at the South Memorial Park outdoor box. With less than two years of Juvenile-level lacrosse under his belt, and at the tender age of 16, the pair got. their first taste of senior lacrosse — Smith with North Shore Indians and Harris with Burrards.

“The teams in 1941 had trouble fielding enough players for every game, so they were given permission to bring up a bunch of kids to fill out the rosters,” recalled Smith.

How did you fare on August 4, 1941, your first night?

“Well, I had played just Juvenile ‘B’ ball — no junior at all — so I probably was scared as hell and ended up sitting on the bench all night,” chuckled the self-deprecatory Smith.

What actually occurred was the youngster scored three times on Salmonbellies’ netminder, the first of his 55 senior career hattricks.

Smith was asked to recall any of his other outstanding on-floor achievements; for example, August 19, 1952, when he scored an incredible nine goals on Nanaimo’s.

“I did?” a surprised Smith asked. “You know more about me than I do. I never really think of goals scored. Oh, I remember there were some headlines but it’s all a blur.

“No, what I do remember, though, is twice being asked to go to the Mann Cup with the Salmonbellies. You see, in those days, teams travelling to the Mann Cup were allowed to pick up three extra players from the league.

“I can remember asking me to go to the 1943 Mann Cup but I had to decline because I had just joined the airforce. He asked me again in 1946 but, again, I had to say no because I had joined the Vancouver Fire Department and was starting training.

“The thing is, though, that an opponent thought enough about your ability that they would ask you to join them — that’s such an honour,” he exclaimed.

Smith did, however, play in four Canadian championships (1945, 1949, 1951 and 1952), winning the title in 1945 and 1949.

Actually, he took part in five Mann Cup tournaments. Smith became a referee after his 1953 retirement, officiating in 113 senior games including the second and fifth games of the 1955 Peterborough-Victoria Mann Cup series.

For Smith, it was lacrosse in the summer, soccer in the winter. Ernie describes himself as a “good sub” in soccer but perhaps he should have said “very good sub” for he played in the elite Coast League.

After 38 years as a fireman — “a job I thoroughly enjoyed” — Smith retired on May 30, 1984, missing only one-half shift due to illness.

During his 303-game senior career, Ernie accumulated 429 goals and 127 assists for 556 points and won the MVP honours in the 1952 league playoffs.

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