Don Cameron: The Man Behind DU's Alumni Team

(above) Don Cameron and wife Marie celebrate another Snoopy Tournament championship

Editor's Note: The second of LetsGoDU's four-part series focuses on the man who has been the cornerstone of the DU's Over-60 Alumni Team at the Snoopy Tournament for the last several years. Don Cameron gives us a glimpse into how this particular Denver Pioneers team was conceived and what makes it so special.

See Part I: Jim Wiste

Exclusive to LetsGoDU

By DJ Powers

Staff Writer - NCAA
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If you ever meet Don Cameron, the first thing you will notice in speaking with him is the unyielding passion that he has for the University of Denver and the Pioneers hockey team.

And he makes no apologies for it either.

“Cammy” as he is affectionately called by friends and teammates alike, has been the driving force behind the DU Snoopy team since about 2003. While the job of getting this extraordinary group of predominately 60-something-year-old players together is relatively easy today, it wasn’t always that way.

“I think it has gotten easier. I think it gets easier because we’re getting older and the commitments aren’t the same. We don’t have the work commitments that we had in the past. Guys are able to get time away from work. I suppose one of the bigger challenges is that guys are leaving behind things like work or family or whether they have other things that they do, this isn’t maybe their highest priority, but they do make an effort to be here. If you need 15 players, then you have to be able to draw from probably 30 guys that are capable. I think if you look at our teams over the last six years, you’re gonna have maybe five guys that have repeated. But there are always some new faces and some guys will skip a few years then come back. Our nucleus now has more depth than there has been. It seems like we’ll be able to put together a team a lot easier going forward.”

So just how did Cameron come to join then organize the DU Snoopy team?

“The first year of the 40-year-old division, I came and played with the what was then the Denver group (Stars). It wasn’t the DU team per se, but it was the DU guys. The main guys were Jack Smith and Bill Abbott. And they came for a number of years. Anyway, when I turned 40, I came and played with them and had a lot of fun. They had other DU guys come over the years. So it was just hockey in general in Denver. I guess the tradition got started with Smith and Abbott, and then the other teams kept coming out again. Then it looked like it was dropping off. So I thought that I would make an effort to get a lot of the guys that I played with to come out here and see if we could put a team together, which we did. As you know, this has been going on for about six or seven years, and our nucleus are the DU Pioneers. Out of the 15 players on this year’s team, nine of us had played together about 45 years ago. It’s just almost a pilgrimage. Everyone looks forward to it and you’ve been able to experience some of the fun that we have. We all have good roots at DU, but we don’t get to enjoy them often enough. It’s always fun to see your old friends and the stories get embellished, but at the same time they were good the first time around, so they have to be good forever (Laughs).”

Since its inception, DU has learned a lot about how to put together such a team for this one-of-a-kind tournament from their nemesis, the University of Michigan. But one page that they would like to take out of the Wolverines Snoopy Tournament playbook is fielding other teams in different divisions. For the last few years (with the exception of this year), the University of Michigan has sent two teams, one in the 60A Division and the other in the 50A Division, to the Snoopy Tournament. Cameron hopes that one day his team could do the same to keep this particular DU hockey tradition alive for years to come.

“I would really like to see us getting some of our younger alumni working on putting a team together. The University of Michigan has a wonderful tradition that they have had (at the Snoopy Tournament) and they’ve had two or three teams that have played in this tournament over the years. So it would be nice if DU could do the same because it’s a wonderful tournament to play in. I think there is some guys like Judd Stauss, who was something like the Class of 2000 and captain of the team that is a good guy that guys group around. So if we can get him to work on a bunch of guys, I think that would be good. I think once they experience it, they’ll have something to come back to. And again, they don’t have to make it every year. But you probably have 40 or 50 guys that you can draw from. So if you can get a nucleus, you can work from there. There are some common things like DU and our days there, and then of course hockey. So it would be nice because as much as we enjoy it and are as old as we are doing it, we’re not going to be able to it forever.”

Another thing that Cameron would like to see are more college alumni teams in the Snoopy Tournament. Each year, the tournament features many former collegians playing on teams in every age division and level. In addition to DU and Michigan, this year’s Snoopy Tournament also featured former players from schools such as Boston College, Boston University, Clarkson, Cornell, Minnesota, Michigan State and Yale. Cameron feels that being able to meet other alumni teams from schools, particularly those in the WCHA such as Michigan Tech or North Dakota would make the Snoopy Tournament not only more enjoyable for all of its collegiate participants, but also for the many legions of alumni and fans of these schools as well.

“The rivalry that we have with the University of Michigan is really good. We know a lot of the guys from playing against them in college and some of them might have lived in Denver for a time, so some of us may have played with them. You play hard (against each other) and play to win. It was funny because one time I ran into one of their guys named Jerry Andal, whom I had played with and against forever. He says “damn it Cammy is that you?” and I said “damn right it’s me.” (Laughs) And then a little later it’s like gotcha! So that’s part of the spirit of this thing after all the years. As competitive as it is, we all have a lot of respect for each other. What intrigues me most about Michigan is that they have a totally endowed program. Red Berenson has been pretty responsible for making that happen. How he’s done that, I don’t know. But we certainly have the wear with all in our alumni with maybe the right approach be able to accomplish the same thing. It will take time, but it takes a lot of common ground to build it. I believe we have that, but we just haven’t tapped into that yet. We haven’t tapped their pockets yet. I think we need to tap into the fun side first, and then the pockets will follow.

We all played college hockey, so that’s our commonality. A lot of us played junior hockey and played in different places. So we run into the same people. But those college years are some of our most formative years and they were the most memorable. Michigan had their successes and we had ours. We’re proud of who we are and they’re proud of who they are. If North Dakota or Michigan Tech or even some of the eastern teams would bring teams to this tournament, then that would great. You seem to dig a little deeper when you’re skating as an alum. It’s a pride thing.”

Denver is a very special place to Cameron. He continues to make his home there and his wife Marie is a DU alum herself. And while he has strong ties to the current Pioneers team, it is the Snoopy Tournament team that is closest to his heart.

“Sure, it’s about the hockey, the reunion and all of that, but if you can stay healthy doing something that you enjoy, why wouldn’t you continue doing it? And it’s not just healthy physically. There’s a lot of stimulation here and it comes in so many ways. Everyone has had interesting careers and you get hear about them and enjoy hearing what they’ve been able to do in their lives. It’s just a great experience. Well, you look forward to that experience. You have a common bond. It’s hockey and it’s DU. Everybody has enjoyed some interesting experiences, whether it be as professional hockey players or business guys or teachers. There’s a broad spectrum, and the guys love what they’ve done. They’re proud of themselves and we’re all proud of them. It’s part of the deal.”

Talking about the DU Snoopy team also brings out the sentimental side of Cameron. When asked about still wearing the Pioneers colors 40-plus years after leaving the university and what people should know about the DU Snoopy team, Cameron struggled a bit to get the words out while trying to hold back a few tears. But when he did, it was simple, direct and really quite eloquent.

“I think the pride never leaves. You’re just very proud. You don’t let anybody down because you just can’t. You just can’t do that. As DU hockey players, we learned about being quality people and we can certainly count on each other for anything. It’s one thing to count on them (teammates) on the ice, but to be able to count on them in life is something else. And that’s certainly has been a part of it. I think people should know that we’re a group of people who enjoy each other. We just have a lot of caring for each other and we’ll go through walls for each other.”

Cameron’s tireless work and energy, along with those of his wife, have been a big reason why the Pioneers continue to participate in the Snoopy Tournament each year. While the close-knit family bonds that have been forged through the friendships and battles are quite evident, what is less so is how the team comes together each year. And it isn’t always a one-man job either. The efforts of other players such as Bob Peers and Wayne Smith have made Cameron’s job as the team’s primary organizer that much easier, especially when it comes to finding the so-called “fill-ins”. While the ultimate goal is to have the Snoopy team made up exclusively of DU alumni, it is often easier said than done. The DU Snoopy team has had numerous non-DU players over the years that have come and gone. Yet they continue to be a part of the extended DU hockey family, which oddly enough includes a former CC Tiger.

This Pioneers team is truly the sum of all of its unique parts, but one thing is for certain – it is very, very difficult to imagine a DU Snoopy Tournament team without Cammy. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a teammate of his who thinks otherwise.


vizoroo said...

DJ again brings back the memories of DU hockey from one who was there. A totally dfferent approach from Wiste, but Cammy has a lot to say and DU is proud of their continuing contributions.

Unknown said...

Camy my heart goes Out to you I still remember a few beers with you and Jim couple years ago. So sad. Marsh Munroe