Hamilton, ON – Ron Foxcroft must have felt like a proud parent.
He was among the thousands in attendance at the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans, but for Foxcroft, the weekend took on a celebratory tone.
Foxcroft, a resident of Burlington, a suburb of Hamilton, is the inventor of the Fox 40 whistle, which is not only used by officials in the NCAA, but, every professional and amateur league in the world, including the NBA, NCAA, NFL, NHL and CFL.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the invention of the Fox 40 pea-less whistle, a device that Foxcroft says, came about from necessity...and fear.
The man known worldwide as "the Fox," was the first, and only, Canadian to become an NCAA official. He also officiated at international games, and the seed to invent the famous whistle, came from a call, or, in this case, a non- call.
"I was refereeing the 1976 Gold Medal game between the USA and (then) Yugoslavia in the Montreal Forum," he recalled, "when Adrian Dantley took an elbow under the basket and my whistle with the little pea got stuck. I sort of thought about it at the time."
Foxcroft kept the idea in the back of his mind, and stayed busy, until another non-call, almost caused an international incident, and gave him the scare of his life. He was one of the officials at a pre-Olympic final in Brazil, and the home nation was playing in the game.
"The whistle failed in a foul against Brazil," he said. "Now I knew that at times, they shoot referees in Brazil, so I thought to myself, 'if I live and can get back on the plane, I'm going home to design a pea-less whistle.' I got off the plane on May 14th, 1984 and the next day I met Dan Bruneau a mould maker in Stoney Creek, (on the outskirts of Hamilton) and on May 16th I met Chuck Shepherd a design engineer in Oakville.
"We worked for 3 and-a-half years and had about 25 prototypes but narrowed it down after two years to 14 prototypes. Finally in July 1987, I had two prototype whistles that worked."
While Foxcroft was excited about the news, his wife, Marie's enthusiasm was tepid, at best.
"My debt was $150,000 and I owned TWO Whistles. My wife freaked out and said we own two whistles @ $75,000 each. She bought a suit case," he laughed.
Knowing he had to do something, Foxcroft used a brilliant promotional strategy.
"I took the two whistles to the Pan Am Games in August 1987. I went upstairs in the dorm where the referees were living, and at 2 am, I blew the whistles. Hundreds of referees opened the doors, standing there in their underwear, wondering what kind of whistle they heard. The next day, I got orders for 20,000 whistles @ $6.00 each in US funds. That was $8,00 per whistle in Canadian funds. My $150,000 debt was covered. And my wife has been spending my money ever since," he said chuckling.
From that event, things took off.
"We went to the best referees in the various leagues around the world. I started with the NCAA, then the NBA, who became the first league to use it. They used it three times. The first time, they said 'we don't like it', the second time they said 'at least we can say it's different', then the third time, they used it in Chicago Stadium, which we know was a crazy, loud place. The next day, they NBA called me and said, 'you have no competition, send us a bunch.'"
While Foxcroft is proud of the popularity of the whistle, he prouder of the fact that his whistle has saved lived.
The Fox 40 Classic whistle was used by search and rescue professionals when they were saving lives following the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11terrorist attacks, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.
Since the whistles are waterproof and unbreakable, they can provide a critical connection for rescue workers. The harder you blow the whistles, the louder the sound that is produced. Fox 40 whistles can be heard more than a mile away and they can be heard through concrete rubble.
"The Oklahoma rescue workers bought about 400 Fox 40 whistles and then realized they didn't have enough," said Foxcroft. "So the governor of Oklahoma sent a private jet to Oakdale, California, where we had an outlet and picked up another 500 whistles."
In New York, Fox 40 whistles were used to help with locating and rescuing those who were trapped in rubble after the terrorist attacks.
"In New York they would blow a horn and then the whistles. When the whistles blew, all work had to stop," said Foxcroft. "Then they placed a sound sensitive microphone in the area to find out if there was somebody in the rubble."
How loud are the Fox 40's?
Foxcroft points out that a pea whistle is about 80 decibels, while the first Fox 40 started at 115 decibels. Now, a new model called the Sonic Blast, measures out at 125 decibels, or as loud as a jackhammer. Millions of people worldwide, have either, heard, seen or used the Fox 40 pea-less whistle, which is now sold in 140 countries.
But, where does the name come from?
Foxcroft applied for the patent for the Fox 40 whistle on November 5, 1985; the day he turned 40.
Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.
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