One Labour Day tradition ends, another begins

Labour Day was always a special day Carla Molinaro and her mom Teresa.

As lifelong Ticat fans, the two went to every home game after Carla bought season tickets as a Christmas gift in 2008. Teresa attended her first game as a 15-year-old, then took her own daughter when she was the same age. Now it was something they could do together.

“I put the tickets together with some gear to wear. When she opened the box, she cried. And we went to every game after that,” Carla says. “It was the best thing I ever did. We had so much fun together.”

Originally from Manitoba, Teresa Molinaro – then Zieba – moved with her Polish-immigrant father to Hamilton in 1940 when he got a job at Stelco. It was her uncle who took her to that first game, turning his niece into an instant and lifelong fan.

“It didn’t matter how the team did, if there was a game on TV she watched it,” Carla says. “Her loyalty never wavered. She’s get frustrated, she’s complain. I’d say, ‘hang in there mom, it’s only the first quarter.’”

She passed that passion onto her daughter as well. When Carla was a teenager, she wrote a fan letter to a little-known Canadian defensive lineman named Jim Muller. He called to thank her.

“My mom ended up inviting him over the house for dinner,” Carla says.  “She looked after him like he was her grandkid.”

Once they started going to games, Teresa’s fandom only intensified. She bought a new piece of Ticat gear each year – this season, it was a bucket hat – and wore her No. 11 jersey with “Nonni” stitched across the back to every game.

One year, back when the team played in the old Ivor Wynne, Teresa was selected as a fan-of-the-game, an honour that came with the opportunity to do the Oskee Wee Wee on the field with Pigskin Pete. She walked onto the field using her cane.

It wasn’t always easy. Teresa battled a myriad of health problems over the years, from heart failure to lung disease. She suffered a fractured vertebrae last summer and yet was in her seat four days later – she wanted to see Angelo Mosca have his number retired.

“Nothing stopped her going to those games – weather didn’t matter, health didn’t matter, her oxygen tank didn’t matter,” Carla said. “She was a warrior, my mom – strong Polish stock.”

But this season, things were a little worse. She couldn’t attend the Aug. 20 contest against Saskatchewan – just the second game she’d missed in nine seasons – after being admitted to the hospital for what doctors suspected was lymphoma. By last weekend, with the Ticats in Calgary, she’d slipped into a coma.

“It was written on the board in her room in ICU ‘Ticat fan, put the game on at 7 p.m. Sunday night,” Carla says.

Teresa Molinaro passed away on Aug, 31 at the age of 82. Carla was there.

On Labour Day, Carla will go to Tim Hortons Field for the first time without her mom. Her son Dan will come instead, wearing his grandmother’s jersey. And those tickets are getting renewed next season as well. Carla plans to take Dan and her daughter Heather to every game.

“I want to keep that tradition going, just for my mom,” Carla says, her voice breaking just a little.

“I think she’d love it.”

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