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China Clipper

Pro football's first Chinese-Canadian player, Normie Kwong

by Richard Brignall

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sports & recreation, prejudice & racism, football
list price: $8.99
also available: Hardcover Paperback
published: 2012
imprint: Lorimer
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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
12 to 18
7 to 12
Reading age:
12 to 18
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Normie Kwong's parents immigrated to Canada from China in the early 1900s. For them, and many other Asian immigrants, moving meant having to face both the government's anti-Asian policies and society's attitude of Chinese exclusion. But Normie overcame it all and, despite his small stature, in 1948 he became the youngest footballer ever to play in a Grey Cup game. Nicknamed the "China Clipper" as a nod to both his Chinese heritage and his record-setting speed on the football field, Kwong went on to become a hero and popular sports role model for generations of football fans in the West. After retiring from football, Kwong entered politics and was later appointed Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. [Fry Reading Level - 4.9

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Preface The modern Grey Cup game was born in 1948. The actual game was played the same way as before. But that year the Canadian football championship got a little more exciting. It all centred on the Calgary Stampeders' first appearance in the big game. Before 1948, western teams that challenged eastern teams for the Cup were accompanied by few fans. They watched the game and then went back home. They were just faces in the crowd. The 1948 Grey Cup became a party. Stampeders fans were at the centre of it all. Two hundred and fifty Calgarians boarded a special train headed for Toronto. Easterners thought their rivals didn't have much to celebrate. The Calgarians were just excited their hometown heroes finally made it to the championship. Calgary Alderman Don McKay said it was time to inject some colour into the event. He wanted to take Calgary's greatest celebration, the Calgary Stampede, to the eastern city. Since 1912 the Stampede had brought broncobusters, calf ropers, and bull riders from all over North America to Calgary. The Stampeders' fans donned their favourite clothes. The women wore red silk blouses and white ten-gallon hats. The men dressed in full cowboy gear, including chaps and spurs. They also loaded horses and chuckwagons onto the train. On the day before the Grey Cup game, that special train pulled into Toronto's Union Station. The party in Toronto began as the westerners exited the train whooping and hollering. The group paraded to the Royal York hotel. Men played accordions while couples broke into square dances along the city street. One man carried a lasso, which he used to rope people as they walked by him. People ran out of restaurants and office buildings to watch the strange show. A reporter asked one westerner, "I suppose it's ridiculous to ask who's going to win Saturday?" There was a great cowboy yell. Then his hand slapped down on the reporter's back. The westerner replied, "It certainly is son, it certainly is." Calgary fans planned the first Grey Cup parade through the city streets. Toronto Mayor Hiram McCallum was caught up in the spirit of the moment. He accepted a challenge to ride a horse down Bay Street the morning of the game. The parade started in front of the Royal York. It followed Bay Street with Mayor McCallum riding along on a horse. On the steps of Toronto's City Hall they stopped and enjoyed a pancake breakfast. Then the parade of horses, chuckwagons, and 250 brightly dressed people headed for the football stadium. The Grey Cup, East-West clash, started at 1:45 p.m. The Stampeders football players entered the big game quietly. They were not part of the celebration put on by their fellow Calgarians. They didn't want anything to take away their focus on the game. Those Calgary fans transformed the Grey Cup into an important event. People now come from across the country to be part of the celebration. The parade and pancake breakfast are rituals that continue each year. The 1948 Grey Cup game was important for another reason. For one Stampeders player that game was more than a western party. It was the end of a history-making season. Nineteen-year-old rookie Normie Kwong became the first Chinese-Canadian professional football player that year. He was more than an oddity who was quickly forgotten. He became one of the greatest players in league history. Normie always saw himself as just a football player. But he played for more than glory on the football field. He represented the hopes and dreams of Chinese Canadians across Canada.

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Contributor notes

RICHARD BRIGNALL is a sports writer who has written numerous books on superstar athletes, including George Chuvalo, Lionel Conacher, and Fergie Jenkins.

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Editorial Review

"Told in simple language with the aid of a glossary, this story informs and inspires. Reluctant readers, new Englilsh speakers who enjoy sports will find plenty of reading enjoyment in this book." Rated G - Good, even great at times, generally useful.

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About the Author

Richard Brignall

RICHARD BRIGNALL has written ten non-fiction books for young readers and adults. He has also contributed hundreds of articles to magazines across Canada, including Cottage Life and Outdoor Canada and was previously the sports reporter for the Kenora Daily Miner and News. His books have been shortlisted for the Carol Shields Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Golden Oak Award. He lives in Kenora, Ontario.
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