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Hamilton high school named after football pioneer Bernie Custis

Head Coach of the McMaster University Marauders football team, Bernie Custis, shows off the award for Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union coach of the year in Toronto on November 18, 1982. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Julien LeBourdais

A local school will be named after a revolutionary Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) announced that the new school being built in the stadium precinct at 1055 King St. E. will be named Bernie Custis Secondary School.

Construction on the school is scheduled to be completed for September 2019.

“Trustees are honoured to name the new north secondary school after Hamiltonian Bernie Custis, a leader, educator, and trail-blazer, whose achievements crossed borders and whose name will continue to inspire students for generations,” said Todd White, chair of the HWDSB in a media release.

Custis is the first African-American quarterback to be named as the regular starter for a professional football team in North America. He took the reigns for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Aug. 29, 1951.

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Custis was named a CFL all-star in his first season with Hamilton before moving to halfback and playing three more seasons in Hamilton. He won a Grey Cup with the Tiger-Cats in 1953.

After his playing career, the Philadelphia-born Custis was a teacher and principal in Hamilton’s former Wentworth County Board of Education.

Custis returned to football in 1982 as coach for the McMaster Marauders, where he spent eight seasons and finished with a 31-23-1 record. In his first year at Mac, Custis was named the top coach in Canadian university football.

Custis died on Feb. 22, 2017, at the age of 88.

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On June 11, 2018, school board trustees approved a motion to consult with students from Delta and Sir John A. Macdonald secondary schools on five names: Bernie Custis Secondary School, Nikola Tesla Secondary School, Scott Park Secondary School, Shannen Koostachin Secondary School and Trillium Secondary School.

Roughly 1,250 students will be accommodated in the 160,000-square-foot facility. The three-storey Bernie Custis Secondary School will also include unique amenities, including green space and a partnership with the city of Hamilton that provides state-of-the-art athletic and physical education opportunities for students.

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