Interview With A Barnstormer

T. Matt Latrans talks with former player and coach Brock

Art by Christaphorac

One of the more memorable furs T. Matt Latrans interviewed was Brock Horace Thiessen (1904-2008), former head coach of the Rocky Mountain Royals. He had started coaching them when they were formed as a semi-professional team in 1974, then went professional when they joined the Furry Basketball Association as an existing team in 1980 and retired in 1984. Brock was not known for enjoying interviews, mostly because his FBA coaching career was marred by a lackluster team, but that's all interviewers wanted to talk about.

But when T. Matt got his first interview in 1999 (in honour of Brock The Crock turning 95), he had done some study and learned Brock had a basketball career of his own—one that predated the FBA itself. From 1920-1950, Brock had been a player on the Hamilton Mariners (which would also join the FBA in 1980). Would Brock like to talk about that?

Brock was surprised at the request, then smiled and said Well, make yourself comfortable, and I'll prattle on and you can tell me when I get boring.

For once, an interview with Brock had to be ended because the interviewer ran short on time, but T. Matt suggested Brock write a column for Furballer on his memories of basketball history, as Brock was one of the few players left from the barnstorming era of the Hamilton Mariners and who had seen the first iteration of the Great Lakes Basketball League in the late 1920s to early 1930s and its revival in 1947.

Brock followed T. Matt's suggestion and wrote Tales of a Barnstormer for Furballer. The column was discontinued because it had such a niche audience, but James Thiessen, Brock's grandson and editor, successfully marketed it to another sports magazine, where it would be published until Brock's death. Even then, Brock's output had been such that James had a massive backlog of articles, which he then organized and published in book form.

T. Matt interviewed Brock on several occaisions afterwards, becoming friends with the elderly badger. One time, Brock was asked about the lowest-scoring game he remembered.

Brock couldn't answer, saying I don't think the answer would have any meaning to you. Basketball was different when I started in 1920 than it was when I retired in 1950, and it was different again in 1980, and different again now. So I really can't answer that.

As a birthday present, Brock presented T. Matt with a Hamilton Mariner's jersey—not just any jersey, but the one Brock himself had worn on the court in 1926.

T. Matt's last interview with Brock was in early 2008. T. Matt asked Brock what he thought of some players who'd been caught smuggling pot across the border. Brock told him a tale of him smuggling wine across the Canada-US border.

That doesn't sound so serious, said T. Matt.

But it was 1926, Brock said. Prohibition was still in effect.

That statement reminded T. Matt how old Brock really was—to the coyote, Prohibition was something he'd read about in history books. Brock, on the other hand, actually remembered it.

Some months later, T. Matt phoned the nursing home Brock Thiessen lived in, intending to tell the badger that he'd be in town to cover a Royals game and to tell him that an issue in his honour was ready to go to print. Instead, the receptionist at the nursing home sadly informed T. Matt that Brock had died. Unfortunately, because T. Matt was obligated to cover games on the east coast, he wouldn't make the funeral.

T. Matt was saddened by his elderly friend's passing, but that was mitigated by the fact that Brock had had his day in the sun as player, as coach, and as writer.

And after all, Brock Horace Thiessen was very old.

Furballer's commemorative issue referred to Brock The Crock Thiessen as The FBA's last barnstormer.

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