(With files from the orderofsport.ca)
Phyllis Bomberry was a trailblazing softball player and is now being honoured in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame for the Class of 2023 for her exceptional contributions to the sport.
Bomberry, who passed away in 2019, had a storied sporting career spanning over a quarter century, facing both racial and gender discrimination while making her mark as a professional women’s softball player.
Bomberry, of the Cayuga, Wolf clan, was born in 1942 on Six Nations.
Just a decade later, during her childhood practicing with her dad and brother, she showed exceptional promise as a softball player and is now being recognized for her trailblazing contribution to a traditionally male-dominated sport, defying gender roles and stereotypes of the time.
Bomberry’s softball career reached a pinnacle of success when she helped lead her team to gold at the Canada Summer Games in 1969 and was the first female athlete to be awarded the Tom Longboat Award.
As an Indigenous woman growing up in post-war Canada, Bomberry faced racial discrimination in addition to gender discrimination as she pursued her passion.
In addition to softball, she also threw herself into ice hockey, football, volleyball, Badminton and lacrosse.
Described as having a “fiery” and “competitive” spirit since her youth, that drive is being credited with seeing her through tremendous adversity to take her place in the Canada Sports Hall of Fame today.
Bomberry’s father also played amateur baseball.
Softball became her favourite sport when she played with her dad, catching pitches for him and her brother during her childhood years.
Phyllis played with the women’s team, the Ohsweken Mohawks, helping them win back-to-back provincial Intermediate B championships in 1960 and 1961.
She finished high school in Toronto where she was recruited to play catcher for the Carpetland Senior A Team in the Ontario Senior Women’s League.
She worked at a radio factory to fund her athletic pursuits and faced discrimination as the only Indigenous woman to play on the team.
She endured racist taunts from the stands while, the Sports Hall of Fame notes, league officials did nothing to defend her.
Bomberry endured the discrimination with grace and courage and helped the Carpetland team win the Canadian Softball Championships in 1967 and 1968.
She was also named Top Batter, All-Star Catcher, and most valuable player in 1967 and again, all-star catcher in 1968.
Her family often came to Toronto to watch her play, which gave her the strength to endure the discrimination she constantly faced.
Bomberry broke ground when she was awarded the Tom Longboat Award, established in 1951 to honour exceptional Indigenous athletes, named after the legendary long-distance runner, also from Six Nations.
She was the first woman to win the award.
After helping her team win gold in 1969, Bomberry continued to play professional softball, winning gold again at the Canada Summer Games in 1976 before a knee injury forced her into early retirement.
For her remaining years, when she returned home to Six Nations, Bomberry became an everlasting inspiration to young people on the reserve, becoming a renowned beadworker and leatherwork crafter.
Bomberry is now receiving the recognition she deserves for her resilience, grace and grit as a trailblazing Indigenous female athlete in the annals of Canadian sport history.