Sun Times: OLA board of governors approves move of historic Excelsiors to Owen Sound

Titans goaltender Jesse Legault makes a stick save as Riley Thompson sends a shot at the net in the second period of a contest between the Owen Sound Bug Juice North Stars senior B club and Oakville Titans inside the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre June 22, 2019. Photo by Greg Cowan, The Sun Times

By Greg Cowan

Owen Sound Sun TImes

After delaying in response to public pressure and creating a five-person committee to review the relocation of the Brampton Excelsiors to Owen Sound, the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) has reportedly given the move its blessing.

 “At last night’s board of governors meeting, the move of Brampton to Owen Sound finally has been resolved,” Major Series Lacrosse commissioner Doug Luey said in a news release distributed Thursday. “I couldn’t be happier to have this situation put behind us. It has been an issue for quite some time, without any action from the OLA. This, despite our league trying to have some sort of resolution, so we can move forward as a league.”

“I needed to get it done,” Luey said.

Wednesday’s approval from the OLA’s board of governors could be the final chapter in a months-long process.

An appeals process does exist within the OLA’s constitution, Luey said. The OLA’s elected board of directors may also still ask to weigh-in and vote on the move.

The OLA’s board of governors represents the leaders of the association’s sub-groups – such as minor lacrosse zone directors and member-league commissioners. It’s chaired by the OLA president.

The OLA’s board of directors are elected by the association’s membership.

The OLA’s constitution states if a franchise holder or purchaser “desires to move the club from its location to another city, town, policy village or rural district, approval of a majority of the members of the group and the board of directors shall be required.

That language may leave the door open for a challenge.

Luey said he’s reviewed the constitution and as far as he’s concerned the move is now 100 per cent official.

“I’ve found numerous cases where (a move) was done either by the board of directors or the board of governors and in some cases not (approved) at all,” he said. “That was the case I was making for them to do this.”

Attempts to reach OLA President Jim Bomhof by phone Thursday afternoon for comment were unsuccessful.

The move of the historic Excelsiors franchise was first leaked on social media in November and quickly confirmed by both Excelsiors’ owner Joe Norton and the MSL.

The MSL said the team’s move to Owen Sound was approved during a league meeting with unanimous support.

The planned move quickly turned sour as Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club (BELC) board members turned on one another and questioned the legitimacy and motives behind the original transfer of the team to Norton from the BELC in 2018.

Meanwhile, a group of Excelsiors alumni and fans came together and organized a petition to try and save the team.

Even the mayor of Brampton got involved by writing a letter to the OLA and threatening legal action should the move take place.

The infighting and swell of public support on social media led to the issuing of a public statement from BELC board members confirming the transfer of the team to Norton and echoing Norton’s assertion that the club was in debt and likely to fold in 2018 before the community-run team was transferred to the Detroit-based Bug Juice businessman.

The BELC statement also helped shed a light on the financial strain of the team and the amount of monetary support needed to stay competitive in the league.

When the City of Brampton pulled an annual grant of $30,000 in 2016, shortly after a major corporate sponsor stopped supporting the team, the Excelsiors’ board realized the team was no longer “viable” in its current state, board spokesperson Trevor Small told the Sun Times in November.

Shortly after the MSL announced the move in November, new OLA President Jim Bomhof said the OLA normally rubber-stamps team moves when they’re supported unanimously by the member league. However, he did note there was community pushback that needed to be rectified first.

At a Dec. 9 OLA board of directors meeting, the board carried a motion to create a five-person ad-hoc committee “to gather and explore the available information related to Joe Norton, Bug Juice LLC, and the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club”.

The committee was specifically authorized to make recommendations back to the OLA board of directors, based on the available information, on how to best proceed.

Since then, no information has been put forward into the public sphere about the work or findings of that committee.

“I’ve been questioning them as to who is on this committee and why have they not contacted me or anyone?” Luey said. “I’ve had no contact. Nothing formal from this so-called committee. I was obviously growing frustrated . . . my only concern is Major Series Lacrosse and getting this franchise up-and-running in Owen Sound.”

The move has been wholly supported in Owen Sound by the senior B, junior B, and minor lacrosse associations who all issued letters of support to the OLA.

If the decision stands, the Scenic City will enter into the nation’s top summer box-lacrosse circuit.

Luey said if an official appeal is made, the team will still move and play in Owen Sound while the process is completed.

For his part, Norton said the move of the team will add to the rich lacrosse history in Owen Sound.

“Our goal, our focus, and all of our efforts will be dedicated to bring not only one Mann Cup but multiple Mann Cups to Owen Sound,” Norton said.

The MSL is a six-team summer league that often serves as an off-season home for top-tier professional National Lacrosse League and college players. The MSL champion plays a best-of-seven series against the Western Lacrosse Association champion each year for the Mann Cup.

The Owen Sound Crescents won a Mann Cup in 1950 by winning a best-of-seven series 4-3 over the New Westminster Adanacs.

The Brampton Excelsiors last won the Mann Cup in 2011.

The 2021 MSL season would typically begin in late May, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could force another change to the schedule.

The 2020 MSL season was cancelled amid the pandemic.

In its news release Thursday, the MSL said it’s moving forward with the annual draft slated for March 18 and has been working on various scenarios for the 2021 season.

“Both the draft and 2021 schedule scenarios have been at a standstill until the OLA approved the move to Owen Sound,” the news release stated.

Norton purchased the Owen Sound North Stars senior B program in 2018 at the same time as his purchase of the Excelsiors. Both clubs were run by community-led boards before the transfer to Norton.