Gord Marshall was a simple hard working man.
He worked his dairy farm in Innerkip, loved his family and little could stop him from getting on the field to play fastball or the rink for a game of hockey.
Three hundred and sixty five days a year, his life revolved around family and sports.
“He was passionate about everything he did, a heart the size of the moon and he loved helping out,” Innerkip umpire and Gord Marshall Ladies’ Fastball Tournament chair Brad Hallock said. “He spent hours everyday on his farm, so getting out was play time and sports was a passion.”
Long a fixture in the Innerkip sports community and Oxford County, Marshall played catcher for the Innerkip Eagles for more than 20 years, coached women’s fastball, umpired and played hockey for several years.
However, in 2002 what seemed to be a cold sore on his mouth that wouldn’t go away was found to be skin cancer when Marshall was convinced to get it looked at after the Marshall’s had their family photo taken. After receiving treatment, the cancer spread to his lymph nodes resulting in a tracheotomy and continued treatment, but in vain.
Marshall died Aug. 12, 2003 at London Health Science Center. He was 48.
The cancer that had stricken his body may have led to his death, but in his last months and days it wouldn’t keep him from doing what he did best – working the farm and his involvement in fastball.
“At the end, he was walking with two canes and he was still the first one in the barn in the morning getting the cows and nothing could’ve stopped him from going to the ball park when the work was done,” son Kevin Marshall said.
On the day of his funeral, the Innerkip women’s league was in the midst of their yearend tournament.
Scheduled to continue during the mid-August weekend, the 12-team tournament only paused for two hours between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, 2003.
Nothing would’ve made Gord happier than to see the games continue.
But when the funeral procession made the drive southbound down Blandford Street past Innerkip Ball Park to the Innerkip Cemetery the Marshall family saw every player from the Innerkip teams in front of the main gate to honour Gord.
“It was a shock to us coming in to Innerkip with the funeral procession and all the teams were lined up,” daughter Pamela said. “It meant a lot to all of us.”
In the year following his death, the Gord Marshall Ladies’ Fastball Tournament was created in 2004 and for two years served as a fundraiser for the local Innerkip ladies’ team.
In 2006 the Innerkip Umpires’ Association were asked to take over and made it their goal to turn it into one of the top women’s fastball tournaments – third only to provincial’s and national’s – and gave themselves a towering goal to raise $100,000 for the Oxford County unit of the Canadian Cancer Society by the 10th year of the tournament.
The first-year saw them raise a shade over $1,800 and left them with a lot more ground to cover before 2013.
As years went by the numbers went up until peaking at $19,108 in 2009 and maintaining a steady average never dipping below $17,000.
The tournament gained prestige as the amount raised also increased. It’s now at the point where team’s are turned away for lack of space and three diamonds are in full use for four days straight from a little after sunrise until darkness gives way for the lights to brighten the diamonds in the late hours.
For a man that lived for fastball, there couldn’t have been a better tournament to attach his name to.
“When you see the name you associate it with how he played the game,” Innerkip umpire and former Eagles’ teammate Dave Jonker said. “He liked good ball, so when you see players come out and give their all that reminds you what he was all about and why we’re out here doing it.”
What began as a local fundraiser became one of the best competitive women’s fastball tournament in Canada.
Although named for Gord Marshall, the tournament has turned into a way of bringing more attention to cancer.
“We touched a nerve because everyone’s touched by cancer. It’s a disease that touches everyone, unfortunately,” Hallock said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada wrote in a 2013 report that two-in-five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime with 187,600 expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2013 alone and a further 75,500 estimated to die from the disease in 2013.
With the tournament now taking about six months to plan, the Innerkip Umpires’ Association couldn’t dream of the annual tournament stopping.
“It’s a ton of work, but it’s two tons of fun when it’s all said and done,” Hallock said.
“There’s no better feeling Sunday afternoon when it’s all over and we can say we did it,” he added. “It’s a personal gratifying feeling. That makes you feel proud.”
Gord Marshall embodied fastball.
As a catcher, you often command the field and the pace of the game. Though bad games happen, Marshall had his own way of getting his teammates to keep their heads in the game.
When things on the diamond aren’t going a team’s way it’s common to hear screams of anger. For Gord, his way was to never upstage or embarrass others, but he used his own unique technique of having others get their head in the game.
“He’d just get the ball and throw it hard to the pitcher. When we saw that in the infield, we knew Gord was pissed,” Innerkip umpire and Eagle teammate Neal Hallock said. “When he threw two like that at (pitcher) Rocky (Thompson), we’d all catch on. Gord wasn’t a yeller, but he had his way of letting people know.”
There was rarely anything that could take him away from the field, but at times work on the farm threatened to keep him from the diamond.
His Innerkip Eagles teammates wouldn’t risk losing their catcher on the eve of a tournament.
“We had a game at 6 p.m. for a tournament in Shakespeare, but he couldn’t go since they had all the hay to bale,” Neal Hallock said. “The whole team went down there and they never got so many bales of hay in all their life and we made it to the tournament. There was a bale every 30 seconds.”
“The baler wouldn’t stop the entire time,” Jonker said. “It’d be smoking just so Gord would make the tournament.”
First and foremost, nothing was more important to Gord Marshall than his wife Judy and kids Kevin, Amy, Jenn and Pamela.
He instilled in them a work ethic and love of sports. No matter what work had to get done, he found a way to incorporate the two together.
“He always found creative ways for things to be fun,” daughter Jenn said. “He’d have us practice our pitching when we cleared the rock fields, so you’d underhand it into the bucket.”
Though he had a lifelong involvement in sports, he never let his priorities waiver.
“He was family first and sports second and sports ran a very close second, but he was a true family man,” Jonker said. “He was a good man. I kind of miss the guy. Well, I miss him a lot actually.”
In his later years Gord Marshall took on umpiring as another way to be around the game, but as he often told friends it just gave him a front row seat to every game.
“He umped me a bunch of times and he actually struck me out once,” Kevin Marshall said laughing as his three sisters followed suit. As a longtime coach for women’s teams, he also made sure his girls never lost focus.
“When you went to baseball you went there to play,” daughter Amy said. “No chit-chat about boys, so he’d have mom buy elastics to put their hair up in case any of the girls had it down to look pretty for any boy watching.”
Never one to take the spotlight, he continued both his farm work and involvement of sports for as long as he could.
“Ball and the farm were the biggest things,” daughter Pamela said. “He’d want (the tournament) to be about the community, not him. He was never one to stand out in the crowd.”
The lofty goal that’d been made in 2006 and left them $98,000 short in 2007 was completed in 2013. The main goal that began in 2006 and reason for the tournament had been reached.
“It’s awesome where it’s gone and the dedication all of Innerkip and the teams donate their time and money back to the cause,” Kevin Marshall said. “To have it in his name is just remarkable. It’s in his name, but everyone here has been touched by cancer somehow. It’s not just for him, it’s for everyone.”