There was an electric atmosphere in the Strathcona Paper Centre Tuesday evening as over 1,100 people filled the seats and stood two and three deep around the boards to watch as the Amherstview Jets won Game 7 to complete a playoff upset over the heavily favoured Napanee Raiders.
While there will undoubtedly be head scratching and questions in the coming days about what happened to the record-setting Raiders or how Jets goaltender Alexei Masanko stopped all the shots he did, no one can deny the community interest and support rallied for those games and the players that played in them. Indeed, we imagine this was the kind of gathering the insightful town leadership envisioned when they put their necks on the line to see the Strathcona Paper Centre built 14 years ago now.
Not only does amateur sport build community and offer affordable family entertainment through live, unscripted performances, but it also offers a lot of positive lessons for the youth that play it, from the tiniest tykes right up to high school varsity players and juniors. In that environment, they learn to work with others and sacrifice self for loftier goals. They hone their skills, putting in hard work to improve and, sometimes, they have to overcome adversity in the process.
In communities large and small, individuals that have recognized those needs have selflessly given their own time to coach, to fundraise, and to provide opportunities. Napanee has been quite fortunate to have people who have given time to build programs like Softball Napanee or the Raiders or the gymnastics club into organizations that have gained a strong reputation at the competition level that has stood the test of time. It also has a great number of builders working in house league, school, and recreational programs or organizations like KidSport to make sure that more young people receive the opportunity to compete, to have fun, and to learn. It is with their collective efforts that rugby player Brittany Benn began her path to the Olympics, or football star Leroy Blugh went on to be the CFL’s most outstanding Canadian. It’s also their influence that has trained a generation of doctors, lawyers, business leaders, politicians, coaches, and parents. Who knows what that Crunch or Stars player skating in the playoffs this year on that same SPC ice will do in their own future.
Many hours of hard work go into providing these community programs and those people who keep them alive year after year deserve a debt of gratitude — mind you, most have already discovered the joy of helping develop others and build their community can outweigh the personal sacrifice. The burden of that commitment is also eased by the notion that others in the community are appreciative of the effort and willing to put in their own time and money for the cause.
The more people who show up to arenas and ball parks simply to watch and cheer and who take part in fundraisers, the more it helps sporting programs in this community operate and instills confidence in young athletes. That makes a difference. It would make even more of a difference to the young participants if some of those people went beyond and offered their own time and expertise as volunteers. Even those who don’t know how to coach can lend a hand somewhere and keep amateur athletics vibrant. That small investment could change for the better the lives of many people including — perhaps, most of all — themselves.