I’ll finally get my own report on the Gala posted Sunday (tomorrow). From earlier in the week …
Tony Saxon, Mercury Sports Editor
GUELPH — The city of Guelph “punches above its weight” in the way it has embraced and accommodated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this year.
That was the word from the top dog Saturday night, as Canadian Football League Commissioner Mark Cohon spoke at the third annual Gryphon Football fundraising gala at the Delta Hotel.
Stealing a line uttered earlier in the evening by Guelph Mayor Karen Farbridge, Cohon was full of praise for what Guelph has accomplished in hosting the Tiger-Cats for a season at Alumni Stadium while their new stadium is being built.
Cohon said he plans on being in the stands for Hamilton’s home opener on July 7.
“It’s a big opportunity for our league and the Tiger-Cats. It’s important for me to be here,” said Cohon, who engaged in a question-and-answer session with host Dino Roumel before taking questions from the floor.
He said the year in Guelph will help grow the popularity of the league and the TiCats.
“There will be 15,000 fans at games in Guelph that we want to see down in Hamilton next year,” Cohon said.
Moved from Cutten Fields to the Delta Hotel ballroom this year because of swelling numbers, the gala attracted roughly 300 supporters, players, former players and coaches and local dignitaries.
A $200 a plate dinner, silent auction and raffle raises thousands of dollars for the school’s blossoming football program.
Cohon talked of the CFL’s growing popularity: selling out the Grey Cup months in advance, television ratings that surpass Blue Jays and Raptors games and of upcoming expansion back to Ottawa and perhaps, some day, a team on the East Coast.
“I’m just working on our five-year plan, and part of that five-year plan includes can we really make that dream of what people have talked about for decades a reality?” he said of the possibility of an East Coast, where he believes a community-owned team that attracts fans from all over the Maritimes could work.
Tiger-Cats president Scott Mitchell also spoke at the event, praising the local efforts to make his team feel at home.
“As everybody here knows, having a positive mental attitude is half the battle and I can tell you that our experience up here in Guelph has just been absolutely phenomenal,” Mitchell said, lauding Guelph’s “can-do attitude.”
“But tonight is about the Guelph football program, it’s not about the Tiger-Cats,” Mitchell said, “and we’re just happy to play here and help focus on this great success that Stu (Lang, the Gryphons coach) and his team has built.”
Mayor Farbridge said, “This year not only offers a unique opportunity for local football fans, but it’s a great opportunity to showcase football talent in our community, from the Bears (Guelph’s minor football program) to the Gryphons.”
The Gryphons football season starts early this year, Aug. 25 at home to the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.
The Tiger-Cats play an exhibition game at Alumni Stadium on June 20 in advance of the July 7 season opener.