MIKE KELLEY MEMORIAL TROPHY: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE SPECIAL ARTICLE
Every kid that grows up playing lacrosse in Canada dreams of hoisting the Mann Cup: the Holy Grail of Canadian lacrosse. The brutal and quick nature of the WLA and MSL playoffs makes the Mann Cup one of the most difficult trophies to win in sports. During this brutal grind, the boys are separated from the men, and the biggest stars rise to the occasion of the moment. The Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy exists to honour those performances. The trophy has been awarded to the most valuable player in Mann Cup competition since 1941. Despite being such a prestigious honour, the trophy’s name does not hold close to the power that the Mann Cup’s does. Many people in the lacrosse community do not even know who Mike Kelley was. The history of the trophy and its name, while sad, has an interesting story that should be told.
Mike Kelley was an important figure in lacrosse’s rise in popularity back in the 1930s. He was the owner and manager of the Hamilton Tigers lacrosse club, and later the president of both the Ontario Lacrosse League and Canadian Lacrosse Association. He tragically died of a heart attack in the early 1940s, and the Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy has been awarded ever since. Although he never got to meet the lacrosse legend himself, Kelley’s grandson, who is also named Mike Kelley, takes a lot of pride in his family’s name being attached to such a prestigious honour. When he first became aware of his relationship to the award, he noticed that something was wrong. For over 70 years, the trophy was awarded as the “Mike Kelly Memorial Trophy”, which is missing the second “e” in the Kelley family name. In 2014, Kelley notified the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and had to send his grandfather’s old war records to confirm that they had spelt it incorrectly. As Kelley learned more and more about the award, it allowed him to realize how important his grandfather is to the sport. “He actually had a real impact on a national sport that I never really appreciated until I started reading about this award,” said Kelley. “It was a moment of pride for my ancestry.”
When the Victoria Shamrocks won the Mann Cup in 2015, Corey Small was a driving offensive force with ten goals and fifteen assists in six games. For his efforts, he was awarded the Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy as Most Valuable Player of the final series. During the 2016 season, the Shamrocks treated Kelley and his family to a home game against the Nanaimo Timbermen and arranged for him to meet Small. During their chat, the Shamrocks captain surprised Kelley with his individual plaque that he received the year before. “It really caught me off guard,” said Kelley. “I said, ‘I’m really sure I feel comfortable taking that’, and he said, ‘No, I’ve got the memories; I think it’s important that this be in the family.’ I was blown away.” Kelley was humbled by this experience, and he had great things to say about his interaction with Small. “It was just first class,” said Kelley. “He was very friendly. He took the time to meet with me and my family. I didn’t feel like he coming out to do it for ten seconds. We spent time and spoke…I can’t thank him or the rest of the organization enough for how they treated us that night.”
Each recipient of the Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy receives a plaque, but there is not an official trophy anywhere. Moving forward, Kelley would like to see that change. “It would be meaningful to me, but I just feel like it would be the right thing to do in honour of this guy that clearly worked very hard in trying to make lacrosse a wonderful Canadian sport,” said Kelley. This year, the Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy went to Dan Dawson of the Six Nations Chiefs. Next year, the Mann Cup returns West, which would give the Shamrocks a chance to win it at home, as they did two seasons ago. If Kelley’s hopes come true, and an official Mike Kelley Memorial Trophy is created, then there is a chance that it will be awarded for the first time at the Q Centre to a player wearing a white and green jersey.
Lucas Wilson is a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication program at Royal Roads University. During his studies, Lucas worked as a writing and communications intern with the Victoria Shamrocks. His duties included in-game social media, game day program content, and writing press releases and feature stories