The Norfolk County Sports Hall of Recognition is proud to announce its Class of 2023 Inductees. John Axford, Barry Boughner, Roy Cowan, and Paul Smithson are the latest individuals to be announced to the Sports Hall. They will join the group of over 90 athletes, coaches, builders, and sports ambassadors already inducted.
John Axford, who grew up in Port Dover, Ontario, played major league baseball for ten years. Nicknamed “Ax Man,” Axford, a pitcher, suited up for a number of teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers, and St. Louis Cardinals. He also played seven seasons in the minor leagues, and was named to Team Canada’s baseball team in 2013 and 2023. Prior to playing professional ball, Axford pitched for Notre Dame and Canisius College.
In 2011, Axford was the National League’s saves leader. That year, he received the National League’s Rolaids Relief Man Award, and was named co-winner (along with Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds) of the Tip O’Neill Award, issued by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Axford played minor ball in Port Dover and was a member of several provincial championship teams, including the 1999 Midget OBA Champions, 2000 Midget Champions and OBA Team of the Year, and 2001 Midget OBA Champions. One of his former coaches described Axford as a standout player, adding “it was his intelligence, his strong work ethic, and his leadership that set him apart.”
Barry Boughner, originally from Delhi, Ontario, was a standout baseball and hockey player, as well as a coach and organizer in the Inter-County Baseball League. Boughner’s on-ice career included six years of professional hockey in the IHL, CHL, AHL, and NHL. He suited up for the California Golden Seals, Des Moines Oak Leafs, New Haven Nighthawks, and Albuquerque Six-Guns, among others. Boughner played junior hockey with the London Nationals, helping them to a Junior B championship in 1964-65. Boughner was named to the OHA West All-Star team in 1967-68, along with Darryl Sittler. Boughner also coached at the Junior A level in hockey.
Boughner played baseball for London’s Junior A and Senior A Intercounty Baseball League teams, earning multiple championship titles. During his career with London, Boughner played all nine positions, including catcher and pitcher. His versatility is demonstrated by the fact that he made the IBL first all-star team in 1974 as a second baseman, in 1975 as a third baseman, and in 1980 as a designated hitter. Boughner’s prowess was recognized by the Intercounty Baseball League, who named him to their Gold Bat Club in 2018 as one of the top 100 IBL players since 1919. Boughner also served as a coach and organizer in the IBL.
Boughner has been described as “an exceptional coach whose passion, dedication, and commitment to player development have left a mark.” As a player, he was said to be “a natural team leader,” and a person who “gave his all every game.”
Roy Cowan, a long-time Simcoe resident, is being inducted as a builder/ambassador. Since the 1950s, Cowan played a variety of roles in minor baseball and hockey, including player, coach, referee, umpire, and organizer.
Cowan served, at various times, as president of the Simcoe Commercial Hockey League, Chairman of the Simcoe Minor Softball Association, President of the Simcoe Men’s Softball League, President of the Simcoe Minor Hockey Association, and in other executive positions on these and other area organizations. He has also volunteered on several community boards and supported local events such as the Friendship Festival, which he helped start, and the Norfolk County Fair.
Many of the individuals who wrote letters of support for Roy’s nomination noted his willingness to go “above and beyond” with his volunteer efforts. One person noted that Roy was “always ready to offer advice and mentored many kids to be better with whatever they wanted to do.” Others noted that he was a “fixture” at Simcoe sporting events, adding, “Roy has always been a great community booster and one will have to look hard to find someone who was more committed to our community.”
Paul Smithson is being inducted posthumously as an athlete/organizer, As a curler, Smithson skipped his teams to two provincial championship titles and two berths in the Provincial finals, and also notched 15 Zone championships, curling for a total of 37 years. One fellow curler recalls Smithson as “very competitive” but added that his competitiveness never detracted from his sense of fair play.
Smithson helped out with “Learn to Curl” programs, and was described as a “tireless” worker running bonspiels, promoting the game, and introducing new people to curling, serving as “a great ambassador for the sport.”
As a high school student, Smithson excelled in football and track and field, particularly pole vault. His passion for track and field carried over when he became a teacher. Smithson organized youth track and field and cross country events for elementary school students for 29 years.
The four Class of 2023 inductees, along with Class of 2022 inductees Shane Bergman and Shirley Shaw, will be formally inducted into the Norfolk County Sports Hall of Recognition at the Induction Dinner Saturday, July 13 at the Hungarian Hall in Delhi. Tickets will go for sale to the general public in May. Details will be announced on the web site.
The Norfolk County Sports Hall of Recognition is physically located in the Simcoe Recreation Centre, pool viewing area level. Displays of sports team photos and inductee plaques can be viewed during regular operating hours. Additional information about events, past inductees and how to nominate individuals can be found on the Sports Hall’s web site, www.norfolksports.ca.