The amazing contribution of the Sportsman’s Banquet

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The Melville Minor Hockey Association’s 2016 Sportsman’s Banquet took place recently at the Horizon Credit Union Center. Once again it was an evening characterized by community camaraderie, generosity, celebrity, and good-spirited fun. Kudos indeed go to all those involved in putting the event together this year, and also to those who have supported its ever-growing status as a premier-quality fundraiser over the last five years.

Among the celebrity athletes present this year were World Curling Champion and Olympic Medalist Don Walchuk, NHL Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, CFL Hall of Famer Don Narcisse, and of course representatives of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, including Paul Woldu and Chris Best. These sports personalities added their names to a growing list of athletic luminaries who have attended the event over the last half decade, including Tim Cheveldae, Brian Propp, Kerry Simpson, Damon Severson, Terry Puhl and others.

How is it then that a small prairie town has the ability to host such a world-class event, drawing in the attendance and participation of equally world-class athletes? To answer that question it is essential to dig a little deeper into the history of the event, the contribution it is making to the community, and indeed the sporting legacy of Melville itself.

To many people in and around Melville, sports is not something they do, it is who they are. The town has a long and proud heritage of sporting activity, from hockey to golf, from curling to football, and just about every athletic endeavour in between. It is not unusual to find local families with three or four generations of sportsmen and sportswomen in their family tree.

And it is from that proud heritage that many fine athletes have progressed into the ranks of the professionals. In fact, looking at the names mentioned earlier, all but a few are from Melville originally. They have made their impact at the highest levels of sport, they have become household names, heroes to upcoming generations, and won medals at Olympic games.

Melville’s locally-raised professional athletes have become proud ambassadors of Canada, representatives of this region, and emissaries for the town which will forever be home to them, no matter how far they travel, or how renowned they become. This is part of the secret behind the banquet… For many of the honoured guests over the years, when they attend the event, they are coming home!

And when these athletes think of home, perhaps they see themselves as young kids again, perhaps they remember their first waddling steps on the local ice, or the first time they held a baseball bat, or a hockey stick, or a golf club. Perhaps they also remember the people who encouraged their progress, who coached them through the basics, applauded their victories and gently helped them improve through their failures. And maybe they remember with pride that Melville gave them their start, and they want to pass on that legacy to the young people who follow by supporting those who now support athletic development in the area.

And so they come, the big names, and they stand up as guest speakers and share from their heart, touching the emotions of the attendees, inspiring the kids to expand their horizons and to strive for excellence. And when they can’t come, maybe they send a prized autographed jersey to be added to the auction. Whether present in body or spirit, they still strongly support the town, and contribute to the event. And that’s another secret behind the unique success of the banquet.

But it goes much further than that. While the event might be put on by the Minor Hockey Association, it really is about more than hockey alone. It’s about positive contribution to the heart and soul of a community, it’s about giving, it’s about making a difference. Over the last four years, the banquet has made a significant contribution to the town, as seen in the following examples.

During the process of planning, funding and building the Horizon Credit Union Center, that project gained much of the limelight to the point where the older arena in town was beginning to suffer. As a direct result of funding raised by a past banquet, the old arena was given a new heating system, new PA system, new concession area, and both the plumbing and floors were fixed, then to top it all off, it was repainted. The old arena is still in use and represents an important amenity for the town.

Also as a direct result of the vision of the members of the Minor Hockey Association, and the contribution of funding from past banquets, sustained use of the ice is possible for most of the year. This has greatly benefited not only the hockey community, but also the figure skaters in town. Off-season use of the ice allows for more hockey schools, training camps, and on-ice activities than would otherwise be possible.

The banquet has also played a part in supporting and promoting awareness of mental health issues. In the early years a foundation was set up to encourage the provision of mental health services in the area, and last year it was announced that the funding from the foundation was to be vested to the Saul Cohen Family Resource Center. The intention was clear, to continue to make available help to those who need it, when they need it.

Regional road safety has also been a beneficiary of the banquet. Two years ago they brought Students Against Drunk Driving into the mix. While young people assisted in the event, funding was available to assist in the activities that promote education about drinking and driving.

And of course it is also about hockey. The intention of the association is to make sure that young people can indeed be involved in the sport. Whether it is through operational funding from the arena concessions, use of the bus, and the affordable fees, or through enhanced programs made possible by the banquet, the desire is to always find a way for those who want to be involved in the sport to get their chance.

All of this is a very big part of the secret of the success of the banquet. It’s an event that gets to the heart of the community, by reaching out to positively contribute value where the community needs it. It’s not a quick process, when funds are raised there is much deliberation and thought given to how the money is used. Due diligence is combined with awareness of the needs of the community, to continue to give to those ventures that matter.

As can be said about sport in general, when it comes to the banquet… “It’s who we are!” And maybe it was best summed up by Terry Puhl who once said this. “I stood up at the podium, looked out and saw a room of 500 people, and it’s like every one gave me a big hug.”

Although the numbers have not yet been released for the 2016 event, over the last four banquets the amount raised has been $138,000. And each year, the dedicated organizers have managed to raise the bar a little higher, making it greater, better, more entertaining, more purposeful, and yet still adding more soul and heart to the evening. It is quite an accomplishment, and one of which the people of Melville and the surrounding communities can be justly proud.

Our thanks go to Jeffrey Kohnen for taking time to share the history of the event with Parkland Regional News. His enthusiasm and passion for sport in Melville is infectious, and we know his dedication is representative of everyone involved in the event over the years.

Here’s to the 2017 edition!… May it be better and bigger than ever before.

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