Issue 030/2005

10973 John McManus (RMC ’76) From Keeper of the Gorilla Mascot to Navy Athlete of the Year!

RMC ’74 Water Polo Team In Action


10740 Col (ret’d) Dave Read (RMC '75) - is #10 in the 'hole' in front of the net, and 10973 Colonel John McManus (RMC ’76)
is on #9 on the right wing.  The popular Captain Ken MacDonald coached water polo and swim squads were highly respected
RMC teams in OUAA aquatic circles during a good part of the 1970s.

'75 RMC Swim Team

'75 RMC Swim team when the Medley Relay advanced to the OUAA Finals.  During that particular time period a good portion of the Canadian Olympic swimmers were coming out of other Ontario universities.  For RMC to advance to the OUAA Swimming finals was indeed quite a feat!

VICTIM PROFILE Reprinted from B.C. Masters Swimmers Newsletter.
Author: Barry Davis

Colonel John J. McManus, AKA Rocky, was given the very important jobs of looking after the Northview High School Swim Team mascot and holding the championship trophies during annual photographs.  Being a full two years younger than his classmates and quite small for his age, he was allowed to swim in meet warm-ups, but never made the dual meet squad until well into Grade 11 as a 14-year old.  His main task was to ensure that no opponents ever made off with Norton - the fat blue gorilla.  With this level of trust and responsibility, his teammates knew that John was bound for greatness.  For most of the first three years, Norton was well cared for and watched every race.  One fateful day in 1971, Northview ventured to Downsview High for a dual meet.  Unbeknownst to the Northview swimmers, Downsview had gangs of hoodlums that roamed the school.  Norton had been placed on the diving board, as that was a good location to watch the meet.  After warm-up, the Northview Boys Team went back into the girls’ change room (at dual meets, the visiting team always went to the ‘opposite’ room) for a quick pep talk from the coaches.  Upon returning to the pool deck, all that could be seen was a pile consisting of small stuffing chunks and shredded pieces of blue fur.  Witnesses described a group of “greaseballs with big knives” who cut poor Norton from stem to stern.  Norton was replaced by a stuffed moose and John was carefully supervised by other teammates like Roy Smith.  The Moose was never left to graze on his own lest it be made into flank steaks. 

John enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1972 attending Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario where he played Water Polo and swam in the OUAA.  RMC had a small swim team, so they had to struggle to even put a relay together.  In 1975, an RMC Medley Relay qualified for the OUAA Finals.  In that race were many ex-Northview swimmers swimming for various universities.  One swimmer (Richard Bramwell from Guelph) came up to John and asked him if he had a little brother about four feet tall that went to Northview.  John replied that he had no brother, and it was him.  Bramwell walked away saying that it could not possibly be the same person that he was thinking about.   

John’s most exciting moment in the pool happened when he was the Captain of the Water Polo team during his 4th year.  As one of the only RMC teams that had a winning record, they were getting prepared for a game against the best University team in Canada – McMaster.  Mac’s starting lineup had 2 Olympians from the 72 Munich Games and 3 that would later play in the 76 Montreal Games.  John gave the team a motivational chat before the game, but knew deep down that Mac had not been beaten in the OUAA for 15 years and RMC did not stand a chance!  The RMC team came out fired up, but was down 3-0 before the first quarter was 2 minutes old.  Then, a Mac player (more than likely one of the hoodlums that cut poor Norton) viciously kicked one of the RMC players in the head and was kicked out for brutality.  Mac was forced to play the rest of the game a man short, and RMC ended up winning 9-7.

John graduated from RMC in 1976 from Mechanical Engineering and then completed Air Navigator Training in Winnipeg.  After getting his wings, he was posted to 443 Squadron in Shearwater Nova Scotia for the first of his Sea King flying tours.  After his operational tour flying from Navy ships, he became an instructor on the Sea King training squadron.  During this period, he played on the Nova Scotia Provincial Water Polo team and competed in a series of Canadian Championships. 

In 1985, John attended the US Navy Postgraduate School in Monterey, California to study Oceanography.  The only organized Water Polo in the Monterey Peninsula was at the local Junior College called MPC.  Upon arrival in Monterey, he went over to see the coach, and was told that the only way he could participate with the team was to be a student at MPC.  The coach added that he only needed to sign up for one course and could take Water Polo from the Phys Ed department……… in keeping with creative and sound recruitment procedures, John became a member.  Water Polo ‘class’ was run concurrently with the team practice!  He competed in weekly tournaments with other college teams in Central California like Chico, UOP, Fresno and Davis and attending cross-dressing Halloween parties.  We do not have time to discuss such items here so you will have to ask John. 

After Monterey, John flew two more Sea King tours and then set his sights on space.  In 1992, John applied to be part of future Space Shuttle and Space Station missions along with 5300 other applicants.  He made it into the ‘Final 20’ and participated in the final selection process that was conducted by the Canadian Space Agency. 

John was selected as the 1997 Canadian Exchange Officer to attend Royal Australian Air Force Staff College in Canberra, Australia.  Soon after arriving in Oz on a hot summer December day, he took his kids for a swim in the Tuggeranong Pool complex.  While his kids were splashing in the kiddy pool, John saw a group of ‘old guys’ putting on hats and getting nets ready for a game.  John wandered over and asked “how a guy would go about joining their group”.  The guy, who seemed to be the leader, asked John if he had every played the game before.  John started to give a quick Water Polo resume when the guy stopped him and said “Mate, you are # 9, you are the newest ‘Over-40’ member of the Tuggeranong Vikings and by the look of you, you better get ready to swim for the ball” 

After Australia, John was posted to the Air Force Operational Headquarters in Winnipeg.  There, he took up Masters Swimming with MMAC.  He was fortunate to arrive at the right time when the 160-199 relay teams that needed someone at least 46 years old and able to do a sub-29 50 Free.  At the 2000 Nationals, the 3 fish and John lost a Judges Decision (from a former Downsview high school dropout) in the 200 Free Relay (even though they had a lower time), but then won the Medley Relay in a time that was the 8th fastest in the world during that year. 

In July of 2000, John moved to Victoria to take command of 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron – still flying Sea Kings after all these years.  Since arriving in BC, he has been a member of the Navy Masters Swim Team and is also active with BC Summer Swimming looking after the coaching committee for the Sidney Piranhas.  It was recently announced that he has been selected as the 2004 Navy Male Athlete of the year based on his performance in the 50-54 Age Group in Masters Swimming.  We are proud of John for sure, but the author suggests you not let him near any mascots.

John McManus with high school team

How does an Air Force Colonel, Air Navigator, go from being “Keeper of the Gorilla Mascot” for his high school swim team to - Canadian Forces Navy Athlete of the Year at the age of 50?

With a whole lot of focus, training, dedication, and skill, just to name a few things.   

10973 Colonel JJ McManus (RMC ’76) (aka Rocky in his RMC days) is not your every day 50-year Canadian Forces officer.  When we were checking around trying to fill in a few blanks for our RMC Flashback article, it was not difficult to receive feedback.  The following were just some of the typical comments we received: 

  • John is arguably the most dedicated swimmer on the CFB Swim Team.  He swims every morning for an hour and a half, between 0600-0730 hrs.

  • He's a team player and is always very helpful and encouraging to new Club swimmers.

  • John maintains an extremely high fitness level and leads by example 24/7 - whether it's Unit sports; EXPRES; on the job; and / or in his personal life.


John McManus and Navy teammate Michael Basanta discuss strategy before the 50 Free.

He never hesitates to volunteer his services for the good of the team.  The “Colonel” for example takes on the responsibility of maintaining the team's website.  Check it out.   

John asked the coaching staff to post workouts as a link for the benefit of all military personnel that were deployed which has been greatly appreciated, in particular, by the “sailors at sea” which is confirmed by the many e-mails of thanks received by the coaches. 

Classmates, friends who have known “Rocky” over the years knew he is a pretty special guy and very professional about every thing he does and is very passionate about aquatic sports.  This passion has earned him a great deal of personal satisfaction over the past few years: 

He has broken numerous BC Masters Swimming Records (both individual and relay); 

In 2004, John had by far his best season.  About 50% of his swimming events were personal best times.  At the age of 50, this is remarkable especially that he has used swimming for fitness training and competed in swim meets for almost his whole life; 

The most recent highlight and most rewarding had to be when John broke his first ever Canadian Masters swimming record (+50 males) in the 1,500m swim during the 2004 Canadian Masters Swimming Championships in Edmonton.  He topped this off by also playing a vital role in a new Canadian record in a Navy relay record in the 4x200m freestyle event. 

At the end of 2004, all Masters Swimmers that compete throughout Canada are recorded and ranked based on their swim times.  The results are then posted on the Masters Swimming Canada website (under results and records).   
2004 Male 50-54 Masters Swimming Rankings 

John ranked # 1 in Canada and this top ranking has never been matched by and other CISM Swimmer. 

Colonel JJ (Rocky) McManus has proven that a person can perform at their best at the age of 50 and still be considered an "elite" swimmer.  No wonder the Navy had no trouble in recognizing the COMMANDER OF THE MARITIME AIR COMPONENT PACIFIC as their Athlete of the Year.  

Colonel JJ (“Rocky”) McManus (RMC’76) Recalls His Swimming Days….And Coach Captain Ken MacDonald 

From 1972 to 1976, Captain Ken ‘Coach’ MacDonald was the RMC Water Polo and Swimming Coach.  He was an experienced age group swimming coach and in addition to coaching at RMC, he looked after the Base Kingston Aquatic Club.  In mid-August 72, he made a presentation to the newly-arrived recruits about the RMC Water Polo team.  He mentioned that the practices would take place every afternoon and that cadets trying out for the team would go to the pool instead of participating in the daily recruit sports.  As the days were very hot in August, the thought of spending time in the pool was very attractive to some of us.  About a dozen recruits were trying out for the team, and along with the returning RMC players and the 3rd years transferring from CMR and RRMC, we were told that there were probably going to be about four positions available for the new recruits.  

Being a competitive swimmer, I enjoyed swimming lengths, but when the yellow balls got thrown into the pool, I found it extremely humbling trying to pick them up.  Most of the other recruits had played Water Polo in High School or for a Club, and knew how to handle the ball and shoot.  I had never picked up a Water Polo ball in my life, and had no idea how to catch and pass it with one hand!  We recruits worked out for about two weeks, and when all the other cadets returned after Labour Day, we had about 20 players competing for the 13 positions.  I recall thinking that things did not look good for me, especially after I saw the many 3rd years that had played at the other colleges.  But, I figured that at least I would be in much better swimming shape for the Swim Team just by getting to swim every day for a month. 

In about mid-September, ‘Coach’ made his decisions.  Some of those players with previous collegiate experience were not selected, and four recruits made the 13-man team.  One of them on the list was me, and I remember talking to Ken about this.  I expressed my thanks, as well as my surprise about getting selected.  He told me that he was building for the future, and he wanted a solid base of 1st Years on the team.  He told me that he knew that I had no experience handling the ball, but that I was a solid swimmer.  He figured that it was easier to teach a swimmer how to handle the ball than to teach a good shooter and ball handler how to swim. 

One of the best things about being on an Intercollegiate Team during Recruit Camp was getting to personally know the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years, and realize that they were friendly, human, and not out to make all recruits lives difficult.  Also, Ken was there every day to listen to our military problems and guide us.  In my 1st year, we played in the QUAA.  That meant that we were off to Montreal or Quebec City almost every weekend during the fall.  We got to wear 6s, drink Molson Brador beer, and play multiple Water Polo games.  In the close games, the novice players were relegated to the bench but were good cheerleaders!  I recall the first game that I got in was against CMR at their tournament.  We were ahead about 9-0, and the coach wanted to rest the starters.  He looked down the bench and called for ‘Ernie’ Chance, Gabor Vajay and me.  In we went, and we all scored a couple of goals.  The final score was RMC 18 CMR 0.  We learned later that night that humiliating CMR like that when you were staying in quarters there was not a good idea.

In the three years that followed, all of us on the Water Polo Team had a wonderful time and we were fortunate to have continuity in coaching from Ken.  In 1973, RMC switched to the OUAA, and we ended up experiencing a much higher level of competition.  There were five teams in the OUAA East and five in the West.  In 1974, we ended up 2nd in the East.  I’m not sure, but I think that we were the first RMC Team to make it to the OUAA playoffs after RMC switched from the QUAA to the OUAA.  We met McMaster, who was 1st in the East, in a sudden death playoff.  They showed no mercy to us, and I think that they beat us 17-1.  We knew how CMR felt two years before. 

Editor’s Note:  Following graduation in 1976, Coach Captain Ken MacDonald with a few of his contacts in the PERO world made arrangements for young Lt “Rocky” McManus to be seconded to C.O.J.O (the Canadian Olympic Organization) during the entire ’76 Montreal games. Quite a coup, for Rocky!  Especially, knowing that the majority of his “anglo” classmates were posted to St Jean for French language training.  

Coach Ken Macdonald during his Canadian Championship gymnastic days and prior to his arrival at RMC.  

By Coach Ken MacDonald


Back L-R: Cliff Watt; Eric Thomas; Gabor Vajay; Andy German; BGen Turner; Pete Prediger; John McManus; Graham Rodgman; Ken MacDonald

Water L-R: Rick Charland; John Cutbill; Chris Chance; John Linscott; Mike Hache; Dave Read; Bruce Lazenby.

Coaching any sport is a challenging endeavour at the best of times, but it is made even more so when one has never played the sport. That was my situation when tasked (notice I said tasked not asked) to coach the RMC Water Polo Team. I did have a good background as a competitor and coach in competitive swimming and diving, so the "powers that be" felt that was close enough. Thus, I became the swimming and water polo coach over the period 1971-75. During this period we had more disappointments than successes, but the successes were sweet ones and the cadets were superb people and a joy to be with. They were like sponges and tried to sop all the information and skills I could give them. In swimming we were all fortunate in that many of the cadets had some age group swimming background and I had coached the sport for several years. Competitive swimming is an individual sport where only in relays does the team concept arise, so the experiences are very different than in water polo. During my tenure, we had several excellent swimmers who excelled and progressed to Provincial and National Championships. Rick Douglas and Dave Read immediately come to mind. As a swimming team we did well in the regional and QUAA events, but did better as a water polo team.

The water polo team was essentially the same cadets, but with a different outlook, because we were a bonefide TEAM and always did very well in invitational and QUAA events. While some of the cadets had some high school exposure in the sport, we were short on experience and comparative skill level compared to our adversaries and their larger base of students; but we were never embarrassed and always tried to improve. For example, after being easily handled once by the very highly ranked McMaster squad, we invited them to RMC one weekend to show us some of the tricks of the sport, legal and otherwise. As I said earlier "sponges," pillbox adorned "sponges!!" Not too long after that mini clinic, we went to a tournament in Hamilton and much to everyone's surprise (including ours); we defeated the vaunted McMaster team. Yahoo! They were livid, while we were very humble in our "once in a lifetime" victory. We had a similar experience with another large university with a great water polo team - the Toronto Blues. I must take full credit for this major victory, because I was rushed to hospital with an allergy attack just prior to the game and while I was away, the team laid a licking on Toronto. I take credit for the victory because I felt the team was better off without me and so they dug REAL deep to prove that point. Thereafter we tried to find some reason for me to be absent during each game, but the Athletic Director, Dudley Hill would not allow this to happen. We used to have a lot fun at the Queens vs. RMC night each year because water polo was one of the several events contested. Our win/loss ratio was pretty even over the years, but one particular time, the Queen's coach and team members had been scouting our team and were planning to zero in on Dave Read because he was our speedster and a great player. They planned to put their best player on him in an attempt to neutralize his effectiveness. We had other plans. Since they only knew Dave by his hat number and the fact he had a moustache, we changed Dave's hat and number with Graham Rodgeman's because Graham also had a similar moustache and a similar swim stroke to Dave. Now Graham was a good player, but it was really hilarious as he led the poor Queen's player everywhere in the pool except where the ball was, leaving Dave and the remainder of the team to swim with relative ease anywhere they wanted. We won the game and Simon Beitler, their coach, didn't catch on until we told him after the game. We feel Graham won that game for us and we were very proud of his great performance.

We were not one of the glory teams, but we worked and trained as hard or harder and were a credit to the College. At the end of each game the players looked like they had been in a catfight. The players all had to wear two bathing suits because one would invariably get torn off. In fact, Rick Douglas had his bathing suit completely torn off and on the bottom of the Queens pool during one of our "friendly" games mentioned above. The game had to be stopped so we could get him another suit. We had many notables on the team over the years; Chris Peachment was by far the best goalie in the conference and his replacement Gabor Vajay was a fine goalie as well, his only problem was that he loved to score goals and would take off down the pool with the ball and leave our net empty. He kept us all on our toes. Rick Charland had one of the hardest shots in the conference and was always on the net.... but, at least one or two feet over the top, his nickname was "convert." John Cutbill was a terror in the pivot position with his backhand shot and Rick Douglas, Dave Read and Andy German were very strong swimmers and goal scorers. I can't remember all of the players, but Graham Rodgman, Bruce Lazenby, Pete Prediger and John McManus stood out as stalwarts who always worked hard and put excellent effort into each game. And who could forget our Faculty Representative Cliff "splendid" Watt? Unfortunately we never had all of these guys on the same team! I won't get into the big Mac eating contests or some of the other escapades we had, but will end with the fact that several of the cadets including Dave Read and John McManus kept swimming and have been very successful in the local, regional and national masters swimming programmes. I may or may not have contributed to their carry-over successes, but I do know that coaching and being with all of those fine people was one of the most rewarding times in my career.

What is Coach Ken MacDonald doing these days? 

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