The second time Gerry Bomba was caught smoking by his high school football coach, he finally learned his lesson.
“The coach made me run the field with a blocking bag on my head,” laughed Bomba. “I couldn’t believe how long that field was. He told me if I got caught again, I’d get suspended. I quit smoking.”
Bomba, a retired RCMP member, was an acrobatic left guard with the Winnipeg Tec-Voc Hornets who won the school’s first city high school title in 1957 and then repeated as champions the following season and added the provincial crown.
The Hornets were inducted into the Football Manitoba Hall of Fame at an August ceremony at the Viscount Gort Hotel in Winnipeg.
“When I was in Grade 11, we had a bigger line than the (CFL Winnipeg Blue) Bombers so my Grade 12 year was pretty special because nobody expected us to win,” said Bomba, 76, who resides in the Quail Run area of Vernon with his high school sweetheart/wife Marion.
The smiling 5-foot-10 Bomba was packing 191 pounds of muscle in high school. He wore No. 83 for the Hornets.
“I was a wrestler at the YMCA and I was a pretty good diver in wrestling so I could dive and make a tackle in football.”
The Hornets defeated the Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute Maroons in both title games.
“They used to kill us in seasons before so it was a surprise when we beat them. We won by a safety touch. We had an excellent coaching staff and the players are still like a brotherhood. I counted 16 guys off our team at the hall of fame ceremony. We had lots of laughs.”
Teammate Bob Kuryk was there. He was an all-star in eight seasons with the St. Vital Bulldogs that won the Canadian intermediate championship in 1962 and the senior title in 1968 and 1969.
In addition to Kuryk, the Hornets’ lineup included quarterback Bud Ulrich and lineman Bernie Novak. Both later became officials.
Ulrich, a CFL referee, was inducted into the provincial shrine in 2010 and Novak into the Winnipeg High School Football Hall in 2009. Novak attended the media conference wearing his Tec Voc team jacket, which was more than a little snug.
“Bud was also a very strong athlete in hockey. He could run and had a pretty good arm,” said Bomba. “He also refereed hockey and he wrote a book called Cracked Ice which I’m just about done reading.”
Bomba belonged to the YMCA weightlifting club, where he also excelled in wrestling and did some boxing. He set a city record for deadlifting 450 pounds in squats.
At 18, he was the youngest wrestler named to Team Canada. He was measured for a uniform prior to the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games Games in Cardiff, Wales but never got the chance to compete.
“The Ontario champion, a guy named Bob Steckle, was a farmer and he couldn’t go, maybe because he had to work. They ended up only sending two divisions (Bomba was a light heavyweight) because they didn’t want to spend the money.”
Bomba wrestled into his early 30s while serving the RCMP in 13 places, including his first post in Vernon. He also worked in Williams Lake and Maple Ridge.
“I wrestled the Pacific Northwest champion once at the PNE (Agridome),” chuckled Bomba. “I missed making my weight by four pounds so had to fight a heavyweight who was 270. The guy who wrestled him before me was also 270 and he lasted 15 seconds. I lasted four rounds and won on points. I had a plan to run him around the ring, but he was just as fast as me.”
He played one exhibition game for Junior A Winnipeg Rods and turned down offers to wrestle and/or play university football at North Dakota, Kansas and Missouri–Kansas City
Born in the Ukraine, Bomba’s father was a carpenter and his mother a bookkeeper. His father’s work inspired him in high school.
“I took drafting in school and I built and designed two of my houses and some for friends.”
Bomba was the first from Tec-Voc to join the police force, followed by teammate and good buddy Don Marchand.
Eight knee surgeries later and Bomba stays fit with a gym in his basement. He also does some trout fishing and boating.
Bomba and his wife, Marion, have two sons, Mark, of Langley, and Matt, of Vernon, both active in sports.