The History of the Bobby Fox Trophy

Zone 3 Football

written by  John "Pepper" Millington
Ridgeway Crystal Beach High Alumni

Photography by Joe "Ski" Seliske



The Bobby Fox Trophy is emblematic of the ultimate achievement for high school football in Zone 3 of the Southern Ontario Secondary School Association (SOSSA). The award is arguably among the oldest and most prestigious honors for high school football in Ontario and possibly all of Canada. Teams that have captured the coveted prize have been recognized as among the best throughout the Province of Ontario.

The Bobby Fox Trophy historically has been reserved for competition among only the largest schools within Zone 3. With zone expansion and demographic changes throughout school districts and communities during the 1970’s, the “Senior A” tier of SOSSA dissolved giving way to Divisions I, II, and III. Smaller schools, the likes of RCBHS and FESS, are no longer eligible to compete for the award because their student enrollments are so much lower than the giant schools serving the densely populated metropolitan areas of the zone. Today, the Bobby Fox Trophy is presented to the SOSSA football champions of Division I, Zone 3.

There was a time, however, when RCBHS (with its tiny population of only 350 students) and its sister school FESS (hosting over a thousand students) battled for the zone championship title and the trophy known as “The Bobby Fox.”  RCBHS and FESS student athletes competed against the largest schools located in Zone 3.  The biggest of the big schools were categorized in the “Senior A” division of SOSSA. The competition was fierce, and the rivalry often bitter. In those days, football was king of all interscholastic high school competition; and the two sister schools of Bertie Township occasionally seemed only minutes apart from outright civil war.

November 5, 1959, RCBHS captured the final championship designated for small high school football teams—“Senior B” Zone 3 SOSSA.  RCBHS won that last “Senior B” title in the championship game beating Dunnville High School that year (39-0). As the “Senior B” tier dissolved, RCBHS was faced with dropping the gridiron sport or playing the larger schools of the “Senior A” within Zone 3. The RCBHS students and their legendary coach Cy Wilkinson chose the latter. Outstanding coaches can sometimes make incredible things happen.  Zone champions, WHVS, already fielded a team with the Tiger logo. RCBHS had to change their name. It was then that RCBHS became the Blue Devils and drew a target on the Bobby Fox Trophy. There were concerns. Few took RCBHS seriously.  The school had no grade 13. RCBHS embarked upon what many thought impossible— a task so overwhelming that SOSSA officials hesitated and compared it to David vs. Goliath and then Goliath again and then more Goliath  etc., etc. When asked for their input, the spirited student athletes of RCBHS reassured their coach, “No problem!”

Within two years, a dramatic power shift became evident throughout Zone 3. The Bobby Fox Trophy continually reappeared more after championship games that featured RCBHS and FESS than any of the Welland schools. Historically, the Welland schools had dominated the zone. By 1962, for the first time ever, RCBHS squared off with FESS under the lights of Oaks Field for the SOSSA Zone 3 championship. The Blue Devils’ victory in 1962 marked the beginning of the RCBHS and FESS dominance of Zone 3 high school football.  In the decade that followed, the Falcons and Blue Devils captured the Bobby Fox Trophy an incredible combined 7 times before the “Senior A” tier of Zone 3 was dissolved. More than once the Devils and the Falcons met each other in the championship game to decide the zone title.

The Bobby Fox Trophy has been presented over half a century to the best high school football team in Zone 3. The games are always played in November sometimes under lights in the cold Lake Erie fog but more often in mud, rain, snow, sleet, and ice with the frigid wind chill from the approaching Canadian winter.  The award was first presented in 1958.  It originated out of circumstances surrounding a serious injury upon a football field.

Bobby Fox, from Welland, was the quintessential student athlete.  He attended Notre Dame High School. After graduation, Fox’s all-around athletic ability and his love for competition kept him involved in numerous sports throughout southern Ontario and New York State.

By 1958, Bobby Fox, still a young athlete, played football for the Niagara Falls Thunderbirds. It was during a game that year that Bob suffered such a severe injury that his left leg had to be amputated.

The Thunderbirds presented their injured defensive halfback the Bobby Fox Trophy in honor of his courage on the field and for his indomitable spirit in life.

Bob decided to make the heart-felt efforts of his Thunderbird teammates even more significant.  On a cold November night and still recovering from amputee surgery, Bob Fox made his way on crutches to the Welland Tiger’s football banquet—with him the trophy bearing his name. His former high school arch rivals, the Tigers, had just captured the 1958 Zone 3 football championship. At their banquet, Bob made his first of over a half century of presentations in a manner that can only be described as “a class act.”  That night, the legacy of the Bobby Fox Trophy was born.

Bobby Fox, now 77, still returns as often as possible to present the trophy to the SOSSA high school champions of Zone 3. Mr. Fox winters in Florida and stays active. He plays golf and competes in the annual National Amputees Golf Tournament. Recently he was invited to compete in the Wounded Warriors Invitational Golf Tournament held in Tampa, Florida. Bob is the President of the Canadian Association for Amputees and presides over its governing board of directors. Mr. Fox has been inducted into Welland’s Sports Wall of Fame.

Bob Fox admits that returning from Florida to present the trophy annually has offered challenges from bad weather to cancelled flights. One year, he recalled, the weather being so turbulent that he had to drive his car back for the presentation because flying had become very unpredictable.  Upon arriving in Welland, Bob learned that southern Ontario weather was severe enough to condense the football play-offs. The changes in format concluded the season earlier than originally planned. The Zone 3 crown had been established the week prior to Bob’s arrival.  Bob looked at the situation pragmatically, “That’s OK, and since I drove my car here, I do not need to rent one; and I also have more time to visit with all my old teammates.” That’s Bob Fox.

Every trophy surviving the test of time has legends. It doesn’t matter if it is Lord Stanley’s Cup or Bobby Fox’s Trophy. Bobby Fox, himself, says that the trophy should not be looked upon as an accurate record of history. “There are mistakes upon it,” he acknowledges.  Mr. Fox has offered to correct errors made by others, should he be requested.  Bob is aware that not all champions appear upon the traveling award. “Some schools just didn’t get the job done,” he admits. “Football coaches are usually buried under a ton of extraneous work at the end of their season.  In the early days, many were also the basketball coaches forced with starting that season at the same time. Coaches had to be multi-task suited for every athletic event and every educational occasion. School politics and assignment changes can also cause disruption that interferes with consistency and continuity. Teacher/coaches often find themselves under enormous pressure from everywhere.  We need to understand and appreciate the nature of their job as well as their accomplished efforts toward competing.”

Trophy controversies exist, and the award has been lost and broken so many times that the bottom figurines no longer resemble the Heisman characters originally attached upon the base of the award.

The Bobby Fox Trophy was won by RCBHS (12-0) at Oakes Field in Fort Erie, 1962.  It was captured (9-0) over Notre Dame at Oaks Field by undefeated FESS the following year, 1963. The trophy was retained by the Falcons (14-6) over the Blue Devils in Ridgeway, 1964. Team excitement resulted in the trophy being broken that year.  A Heisman figurine on the trophy snapped off leaving only the stub.  FESS also neglected to attach their championship tag to the award.  No tag appears for the year 1964.  In Welland, 1965, FESS handed the broken, untagged trophy and the zone title to Notre Dame (6-1).  The jubilant Irish excitedly snapped off the remaining figurine leaving (2) broken Heisman figurine stubs upon the base of the Bobby Fox Trophy.  Today, no Heisman figurines appear upon the award. Each of the originals has been replaced by the more common quarterback replicas.

As a traveling award, the Bobby Fox Trophy mandated a code of conduct and ethics that accompanied its handling.  During its early history, the trophy was always the responsibility of the winning school to work with a designated engraver in Welland to properly attach their championship tag upon it, maintain the trophy throughout the year, secure it within their show case, and have the award ready for presentation at the next championship game the following year. That did not always happen. Today, the responsibilities associated with the Bobby Fox Trophy are assigned to an unbiased “convener” appointed by the DSBN. It works better that way.

As time went on, coaches and teams in Zone 3 held a fascinating desire to capture and showcase The Bobby Fox Trophy to their students, community, and benefactors.  By 1966, Boxer Belcastro’s heavily favored Fighting Irish neglected to surrender the trophy prior to the title game that year.  In the head-to-head zone championship that followed, RCBHS trounced Notre Dame (14-0) to remain the only unbeaten team in Zone 3. Although the Irish could not score a single point in the championship contest against the Blue Devils, it was Notre Dame’s negligence of trophy responsibilities that denied the RCBHS students the award on that day in Ridgeway, November 11, 1966.  Without the trophy on hand after the title game, the undefeated Blue Devils were also deprived the annual team/trophy presentation photo that year. Worst of all, RCBHS was unable to carry out the expected responsibility to properly assign their 1966 Zone 3 championship tag upon the trophy for that football season. The Blue Devils did not receive the award until they repeated the championship the following year.

The “Bobby Fox” finally arrived in Ridgeway for the 1967 Zone 3 title game with WHVS. The Blue Devils then recaptured championship honors by defeating the Tigers (13-7) in the game that followed. With the Devils’ back-to-back title wins over both Welland high schools in consecutive years, the symbol of Zone 3 supremacy was finally presented to the RCBHS captains.  However, a tag had been attached to the Bobby Fox Trophy crediting Notre Dame as Zone 3 SOSSA champions for 1966, a title they lost to RCBHS (14-0) the year before.

RCBHS still retains the right to challenge that “inappropriate” 1966 tag screwed to the Bobby Fox Trophy by the Irish.  Who knows?  Perhaps someday the Devils will challenge for a correction.  Only time will tell. One thing was established for sure and forever on that day.  Each and every player (from both teams) who set foot upon that field, Remembrance Day, November 11, 1966, understood without a doubt who the undefeated zone champions really were when the title game ended (14-0). This is the stuff from which legends are made!

The FESS Falcons defeated the Pelham Panthers (12-0) in 1969 triumphantly returning the Bobby Fox Trophy back to Fort Erie and their school with another perfect 8-0 season.

The following year, 1970, the undefeated Blue Devils duplicated the Falcons’ title success bringing the coveted award back to Ridgeway with a (14-7) victory over the Welland Tigers to capture another championship season for RCBHS with their perfect record of 8-0.

During the brief time that FESS and RCBHS were eligible to compete for one of Canada’s most prestigious prizes in high school football, the two schools proved they were more than prepared for the challenges. The Bertie sister schools won the symbolic honor a combined 7 times within the decade that spanned 1960 to 1970 . . . a tangible testament to the excellence of the student athletes, their teachers, and the head football coaches from RCBHS and FESS.  The history of that educational effort and the successful athletic achievements from both schools must always be preserved.

This extraordinary legacy shared by the head football coaches from RCBHS and FESS meets all the criteria necessary to be
maintained permanently upon the Greater Fort Erie Area Sports Wall of Fame.

Pepper and his wife Sherry last year at the AAAA level football Championship game 2013
Notre Dame vs Lakeshore High School

Pepper is responsible for the nominations of all the Ridgeway and Fort Erie
coaches placed on the
Fort Erie Sports Wall of Fame in 2014.

Pepper wearing his replica jacket from his time at Ridgeway.

The Heisman figurine broken off the Bobby Fox Trophy 50  years ago.

The broken piece from 50 years ago shown to Bob Fox.

Notre Dame took the 2013 AAAA Championship Game
in a seesaw battle with LakeShore High School.

Ridgeway is no longer eligible to play for the Bobby Fox Trophy
as it was placed in lower divisions based upon school size.