After giving so much for the last four years, Prince Albert’s 2018 Citizens of the Year had just two words: thank you.
Felix Casavant and Derek Smith weren’t just thanking people for the recognition, although they did do that during Saturday’s 2018 Citizen of the Year ceremony at the Prince Albert Inn. The duo, who co-organized Prince Albert’s 2018 World Junior Softball Championship bid, also thanked volunteers, fundraisers, fans, family members and everyone else who worked hard to make the dream of hosting the tournament a reality.
“This championship didn’t just happen overnight, and it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of helping hands,” Casavant said during his part of the acceptance speech. “So tonight, Derek and I want to take a few minutes to say some much deserved thank yous.”
That list included everyone from local partners, who fundraise money for an upgraded ball diamond, to Prince Albert and area businesses that stepped forward with donations large and small, to fans who packed the ball park in record numbers.
They also thanked the people who made up what Casavant called Prince Albert’s “army of volunteers,” as well as the numerous directors and managers who made the tournament happen.
“It was extra special to see this army in action when we set an attendance record of 5,000 fans on a Tuesday night with the featured Canada versus New Zealand game,” Casavant remembered. “What an amazing night. (It’s) one that I will remember forever. We are a great committee and a true team, and we are why it was such a success. We share this award with all of you.”
“All contributions big or small were appreciated,” Smith added. “Thank you for making our dream a reality.”
The two Citizen of the Year winners received praise from across the globe, as officials with national and international softball organizations wrote to congratulate them on the achievement. Many of those letter writers focused on the positive atmosphere surrounding the tournament, as did Mayor Greg Dionne, who called it the most positive two weeks the city has had since he became mayor.
“I’ve been on council for 15 years and this was the most positive year that we’ve ever had in our community and it started with this world (tournament),” Dionne told the duo during his speech. “Thank you, because you lifted up the community.”
Although Casavant and Smith were both given the award based on their work with the Word Juniors, other speakers were quick to point out their extensive volunteer experience in the world of coaching. For many, those efforts guiding numerous Prince Albert youth teams were enough to warrant additional recognition.
“The importance of having a dedicated, caring coach in a young person’s life cannot be overstated,” Prince Albert Daily Herald editor Peter Lozinski said. “Through their coaching, they’ve helped shape the next generation of leaders. They’ve impacted so many lives and inspired so many youth, and that is their other legacy.”
“We get to see the nominations and we get to see the list of people who have come and become Citizens of the Year, and they fit the bill very clearly,” Kinsmen Club president Brad Amy added during his speech. “They’re dedicated. They’re honest. They do things with a high level of integrity.”
For the people who knew Casavant and Smith best, the lead up to the World Junior Tournament was a hectic, but gratifying experience. In their speeches, Casavant’s son Brett and daughter Marina said they were proud of their dad for dreaming big, working hard and being a great role model. Smith’s wife Janet and mother Terry echoed those sentiments in their own speech, saying their family was happy to be a part of the experience.
“This feeling of being proud of our dad is nothing new to us,” Brett Casavant said. “He puts 100 per cent of himself into anything he does.”
“Derek’s sister Colleen pointed out that our boys were 13 and 10 when they started the plans for bringing the world to Prince Albert,” Janet Smith added. “It is incredible, and I am so grateful that through their formative years they saw this event unfold and saw how much hard work and volunteer time went into making it a success.”
For the woman who nominated Smith and Casavant, the decision to honour them was an easy one. Ellen Grewcock has known both families for years. She called the World Junior Tournament their biggest rodeo, “but not their first.”
Grewcock, the current president of the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame, pointed out that both Smith and Casavant are already members, and have proudly represented Prince Albert on the provincial and national stage for many years. For her, the recognition as Citizen of the Year is well deserved.
“I can say that I feel honoured to know both of these gentleman, and to have the opportunity to be at events that they’ve organized and be part of it,” she said. “If you have been a volunteer at any of these, you know that you won’t just see one Casavant or one Smith out volunteering. You will see many, as they’ve instilled the same community values in their family…. Prince Albert is very fortunate that we have both of these gentlemen. They have a passion, have a gift, and they’ve given of it.”