Bobcats’ Legend Jerry Abernathy Passes Away

WINNIPEG, MB. — This past Monday, one of the greatest Canadian university basketball players to ever play the game, Jerry Abernathy of the Brandon Bobcats, passed away after a long battle with cancer in his home in New York City.

In 2009, Abernathy was inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame. His biography reads like this:

“A member of the Brandon University Bobcats from 1977–1981, Jerry was a proficient scorer and high percentage shooter, but made a name for himself as an exceptional shot-blocker and a strong rebounder. He was affectionately known as “Mr. Eraser” throughout the Great Plains Athletic Conference. His presence and intimidation on defense ranked second to none in the country. Abernathy was a CIAU/CIS/U Sport All-Canadian in 1980 and 1981. He was also a three-time Conference All-Star in 1979, ’80, and ’81 and a CIAU/CIS/U Sport National Tournament All-Star in 1980. He also provided strong veteran leadership to some young Bobcat teams.”

I knew Jerry as a reporter and broadcaster but never as a teammate. One of his dearest friends and favorite teammates, Jude Kelly, who is now Canada’s Ambassador to the World Masters Games in Auckland, N.Z., knew Abernathy as well as anyone and remembers him this way:

By Jude Kelly

It is with profound sadness that I announce the death of one of the greatest players who ever suited up for a Canadian university, my friend, Jerry Abernathy, who passed away in New York City on Monday, July 10, from lung cancer. He was 62, 63 or 65 years old. He never told anyone his real age.

“Big Ab” or “Abbey” or “The Eraser,” as he was known, was a dynamic 6-foot-10 centre who led the country in rebounding and blocked shots while he played with Brandon University Bobcats in the late 70s and early 80s.

A larger than life character, Ab had an easy laugh and was an engaging story-teller. The Brooklyn, NY native had an inquisitive, curious nature and was always willing to try new things and experiences. After each season, he would give away his size 19 sneakers to local fans, where they wound up as flower pots, door stops, or in one case as a burglar deterrent.

True story: One woman in Brandon put his sneakers outside her front door every evening, thinking that no robber in his right mind would dare to step inside this house – after all, there’s a giant inside. She was right.

Another tale: During his first year at university, a local First Nation artist made him a custom pair of size 19 moccasins as he could not get winter boots. That same winter the city went through 127 straight days of below zero weather. Ab never complained during that cold stretch and was always grateful for the support he received from the local First Nation’s community for this gracious gift.

During his three years with Brandon, from 1978-81, Jerry was a three-time All-Canadian, and three-time conference all-star. He was a CIAU/CIS tournament all-star in 1980, helping the Bobcats to the national championship game, where they lost to the University of Victoria. Ab led the Bobcats to their first-ever Great Plains Athletic Conference title in 1980.

He was inducted into the Brandon University Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

“Abernathy’s defensive play and shot blocking was regarded as legendary in the late 1970s and early 80s,” said former Bobcats head coach Jerry Hemmings. “(He) was the beginning of the foundation of great Bobcat teams.”

During the 1978-79 season, Abernathy averaged 17.3 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots per game. He still holds the Brandon record for most rebounds in a game with 29.

After Brandon, Ab played professionally for the Harlem Wizards basketball team, a globe-trotting troupe that blended basketball with comedy. He later worked for the New York City Department of Education, where he was a Substance Abuse Counsellor.

Ab has quietly departed for his new home in the sky, that heavenly hard-court where he’s probably playing one-on-one with the angels – and blocking their shots too.

—Scott Taylor, MyToba Sports

Files – Jude Kelly

Photo – File

Editor of the popular Game On Hockey Magazine and The Point After Football Magazine, editor of Canadian Meat Business Magazine, sports editor of Grassroots News, TV play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Goldeyes and author of the bestselling book: The Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg. He likes virgin pina coladas, long walks on the beach, puppies and thoroughbred race horses that run according to form.
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