The 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts is the latest example of a major sporting event landing in Thunder Bay.
Over the decades, the city has seen it all, from national Special Olympics competition to world junior baseball events, the Allan Cup Finals, the Staal Open professional golf tournament and the Hockey National Championships of Telus Cup, among others.
Such events have a number of benefits for the community. Ahead of the World Junior Baseball Tournament, Warren Philp, General Manager of the Thunder Bay International Baseball Association, said, “Our goal, I think, is to get this baseball tourist from the (Greater Toronto Area ), from elsewhere in North America, from elsewhere in the world to think about going in, watching games and seeing part of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario at the same time.
Aside from the economic benefits, such events also serve to galvanize the community into action and rely on a unique collection of willing volunteers to facilitate the actual running of events. There would not have been an international baseball event without the countless hours dedicated to the cause by Philp, Reg Galbraith, Larry Hebert, Lou Pero and many other community-minded volunteers.
The Scotties, despite the hurdles and delays posed by a lingering and frustrating pandemic, have enlisted Curling Hall of Famer Rick Lang, local curling enthusiast John Cameron and the Executive Director of the Sports Hall of Fame of Northwestern Ontario Diane Imrie to lead the local organizing committee.
After considerable interest from volunteers to help run the big tournament, the current public health situation will unfortunately see little need for volunteers in the absence of supporters in the stands (at least not before the playoffs).
The Staal Open began in 2014, raising over $1 million for various local charities in its five-year run. It was unique in that it required a small army of volunteers for everything from shopping carts to hospitality and security. The community was also treated to the presence of famous hockey personalities like Bobby Orr, Dave Poulin, Johnny Adams, Grant Fuhr and Katie Weatherston who drew large crowds of autograph seekers as well as golf fans to the extravaganza. from mid-summer.
Volunteers tend to be special people who often do special things. Ron Howarth is an example of both. Howarth was in charge of the information booth at the Valhalla Inn on one occasion for the Staal tournament. He was informed the day before the event started that a nervous Joe Daley (former NHL and WHA goaltender) was trying to get Orr to sign several copies of a rare photo of Daley, Orr and Wayne Gretzky (all in hockey uniforms for a charity game in Winnipeg).
It was to be a special and unique gift for her children and grandchildren. Howarth took it upon himself to avoid any “unpleasant surprises” for either of them. He briefed Orr on what was going to happen in the Valhalla Inn’s living room as Orr made his way to Linda and Henry Staal for his first meeting that year with his old friends. Knowing who was about to approach him and why, Orr greeted Daley and happily signed the treasured photographs, which became special Christmas gifts for Daley’s family members a few months later. All thanks to Ron’s kindness and sensitivity.
Howarth was one of the many volunteers involved who made the Staal Open a wonderful community event. The volunteers were led by a truly unique volunteer coordinator in Gloria Scherban, who held this responsibility for several years. Many volunteers returned only because of the incredible support and kindness of Scherban, who was undaunted in any crisis and handled all aspects of his position with aplomb.
Scherban was recognized regularly at the Volunteer Appreciation Reception at the end of each event with a standing ovation from her volunteers. Another Staal volunteer, Anita Pustina, remembers Scherban as “a most knowledgeable, capable and hardworking coordinator who literally dedicated all of her hours to making the Staal Open a success”.
This does not mean that everything worked perfectly at all times. Some volunteers needed more training on occasion. Carolyn Verhoeven (full disclosure, my mother-in-law) also volunteered at the Staal Open. Unfortunately, she is not a hockey fan.
Verhoeven takes his work seriously, volunteer or not. After being assigned to duties involving the security of a VIP car park and given strict instructions on the pass needed to enter said car park, she had to firmly, but politely, inform a handsome, burly young man that he could not park in parking lot. without the appropriate credential.
“But my family sort of organizes this tournament,” said Eric (or Marc, or Jordan or Jared) Staal. A hearty laugh between the two of them led her to make a punctual and reluctant exception.
Carolyn Verhoeven remains open to offers for her future volunteer services. Gloria Scherban insists she’s ready for her next mission.
Kevin Cleghorn is a Thunder Bay lawyer, sports enthusiast and was fully trained by Gloria Scherban.