It was National Volunteer Week in Canada recently and it’s the perfect time to celebrate the incredible contributions of volunteers.
If there are two words that go hand in hand, it is volunteering and sport. It is only fitting that the official announcement that Thunder Bay will host the 2024 Ontario Winter Games took place during this special week, as for this event to take place it will depend on the expertise and the dedication of more than 700 volunteers.
Scheduled to take place from February 16 to 24, 2024, around 3,500 participants will take part in no less than 27 sports taking place in 18 different venues.
The bid’s slogan was Return to the North. The last time the event was held in this area was in December 1974, meaning they will return after 50 years away.
Knowing the incredible dedication and resilience of volunteers in our local sporting community, I imagine some of the people who worked on the 1974 event will be lining up to help with the 2024 competition.
Thunder Bay has hosted a number of large-scale sporting events over the years that have required a number of volunteers, with the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games and the 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts not being just two of our most recent efforts.
Volunteering to help out with a sporting event in your community isn’t always an easy task, especially if you’ve taken on the responsibility of leading a committee.
In fact, as anyone involved in the world of event management will tell you, it’s one of the most stressful jobs around. That is why it is all the more amazing to me that so many people are willing to give their time and talents to help out as sports volunteers, their only goal being the desire to organize a great event and to proudly present their hometown.
While large-scale events require a certain number of volunteers for a specific period of time, the contributions of our sports volunteers occur every day.
Simply put, organized sport cannot exist without the thousands of volunteers and corresponding hours they donate every year.
Thunder Bay athletes continually make headlines for their success in the world of sport and they are there because of the selfless efforts of volunteers.
Every time a champion hoists a trophy or bites into a gold medal, a volunteer has played a part in helping them on their way to victory.
Behind every athlete is an army of volunteers who serve in a variety of roles such as coaching and officiating, serving on boards of directors, and fundraising to help pay for the ever-increasing expenses of running a sports team. or a league.
Of course, we also cannot forget the number of parents and other family members and friends who make those early morning drives for training or long drives to tournaments, often during cold winter days.
In my capacity as Executive Director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame for the past 36 years and through my involvement in a number of sporting events from local to national level, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers.
My work has also allowed me to help recognize some people for their role as volunteer sport builders who have selflessly dedicated their lives to providing sporting opportunities to their communities.
We have inducted nearly 100 people into the builder category, some for their voluntary contributions and others for reaching the pinnacle of their sport as a professional coach or administrator.
In the category of volunteer builders, there are two of our inductees from the early days of the sport in Port Arthur who were builders of the sport in the truest sense of the word.
Acting as a primary fundraiser, organizer and manager, Hilda Donati helped establish Thunder Bay’s first Peewee Hockey League which, according to some reports, was also the first of its kind in Canada.
In its first year of operation, Hilda’s League, as it was known, consisted of eight teams, with each of the players personally selected, assigned and equipped by Donati.
Tom Crompton Sr. encouraged her along the way, who, in addition to his contributions to the sport of football-football as an official and organizer in the early 1900s, organized his own midget hockey team which played on what became known as Crompton’s Rink.
Every time we hold an induction ceremony where we honor a sport-building volunteer, they are often truly touched by the fact that they are being recognized for their contribution.
I encourage anyone involved in a sports group in our region who knows someone who has dedicated themselves to developing their sport above all others, to submit their name and a summary of their contributions to the selection committee. of the NWOSHOF for review for possible induction.
Speaking of volunteers and people who give of themselves to support the sport, I have to give a big thank you to Hall of Fame inductee Vern Stenlund and his sister Carol Kajorinne.
They recently held an online art auction, featuring over 50 works of art they’ve created and donated for sale, all in support of the North West Sports Hall of Fame. of Ontario.
The event ended with a reception at the Sports Hall of Fame on April 23 to see the final bids arrive. In the end, nearly $11,000 was raised to help in our efforts to preserve and honor our regional sporting heritage.
As National Volunteer Week draws to a close, I would like to personally thank all those volunteers who continue to give one of their most precious assets, their time, to help the world of sport.
Know that your efforts are greatly appreciated. It is thanks to you that Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario have such a vibrant sport community and a rich and proud sporting heritage.
Until next time, keep this pride of sports history alive and stay safe.
Diane Imrie is the Executive Director of the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.