Class of 2019 inducted

LUCAS PUNKARI/DAILY HERALD Michael Amouri of the Prince Albert Gymnastics Club, top left, Brad Bibby, Mark McElligott, Derek Smith, Bryce Elliott of the Prince Albert Gymnastics Club, Blake Edwards, bottom left, Don Hlewka (and his late wife Ethel), Paul Roy, Blair Hoffman and Derek Smith were all honoured at the Ches Leach Lounge Saturday night during the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame’s induction banquet.

When Blair Hoffman spoke on behalf of the 2019 Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame inductees Saturday at the Ches Leach Lounge, one of the main things he spoke about was how diverse this year’s class was.

“The efforts of everyone that’s being inducted tonight and those who have helped to volunteer with sports in Prince Albert makes me believe that it’s one of the best communities in Canada,” Hoffman said. 

“To quote (fellow inductee) Paul Roy, this is a memorable and unique day in each of our lives. It’s an evening that we won’t forget”

Brad Bibby, Don Hlewka and his late wife Ethel, Mark McElligott, Blake Edwards, Luc Robin and Derek Smith joined Hoffman and Roy as inductees in this year’s class, while the Prince Albert Gymnastics Club was recognized as the sports organization of the year.

“It’s really a reflection of the dynamic sports community here in Prince Albert,” vice-president Bruce Vance said. “There’s so many ends of the spectrum when it comes to what people do and we try to recognize as many as we can each year.”

Brad Bibby (Athlete)

Bibby has been found on the softball diamonds and the curling sheets over the years as he’s represented his province in both disciplines.

He’s played six times and the ISC World Championships and also won the provincial Travelers Curling Club Championship in 2011 to go along with an Under-16 Juvenile title in 1989.

“The induction has brought back a lot of memories of the games I’ve played, the teams I’ve been a part of and all of the guys and girls that I’ve been teammates with over the years,” Bibby said. “It’s been a blast.”

Bibby can be also be found as a volunteer for major events like the 2018 WBSC Junior Men’s Softball World Championship and this year’s New Holland Canadian Junior Curling Championship.

“I like to give back as much as I can, and that includes the coaching that I’m doing now with the Prince Albert Junior Curling league,” Bibby said.

Don & Ethel Hlewka (Builders)

After taking over operations of Minto Bowl in 1968, the Hlewka’s helped to establish one of the best Youth Bowling Council organizations in the province with 68 provincial champions and 19 national medalists coming from the lanes.

“It started it as a hobby at first and it just built from there,” Don Hlewka said. “That first year that we started advertising towards the kids, we had 198 registrations that night and I was told that I needed to get to the building and help everyone out as soon as I could.”

One of the big highlights for Hlekwa came in 1974 when three YBC girls’ teams went to the nationals in Ottawa and met former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

“We went into this office and got a beautiful picture taken with all of the kids around him,” Hlekwa said.

“It really inspired the kids as the Bantam team won gold, the Junior team won a silver medal and the Senior team picked up a bronze.”

Since Ethel passed away in January 2018, Don has been joined on his staff by his son Derek and his grandson Mark.

Mark McElligott (Builder)

Since moving to Prince Albert in the 1980’s, McElligot has been a major part of the rugby community here ever since.

He was a player and coach for the erstwhile Prince Albert Gryphons program and helped to establish the Prince Albert Dragons and Whiskey Jacks teams with fellow inductee Paul Roy over the last two decades.

“I was driving to Saskatoon for games when Paul gave me a call to be a part of the High School program,” McElligott said.

“It was important for us for everyone to get their chance while playing and we’ve had a lot of athletes who have gone on to play provincials or on tours, in addition to playing for the Whiskey Jacks.”

Since the Dragons formed, they have finished first or second in the league on 14 teams, while the Whiskey Jacks captured a provincial title in 2018.

“Prince Albert Rugby is leading the way when it comes to development and a lot of that has to do with the foundation that Paul and Mark have laid over the years,” Whiskey Jacks player Darcy Murphy said. 

Paul Roy (Builder)

Having played with the Fredericton Exiles program from 1979 to 1985, Roy’s move to Saskatchewan in 1985 for a teaching opportunity led to him being involved with the local rugby scene in Prince Albert.

“I phoned the Saskatchewan Rugby Union and they said the nearest club was in Prince Albert and that they had one game left that fall in Saskatoon,” Roy said.

“I ended up meeting Mark (McElligott) at that game and he said if I could get a job in Prince Albert that next year, he’d share an apartment with me and that was a pretty good deal for a young guy.”

Roy put together a youth program that lasted for two years with Riverside, Boucher and Holy Cross schools and was involved with the Gryphons program until it ended in 1995.

In 2002, Roy introduced a rugby program to Grades 7-9 students at PACI, which would later set the stage for the Dragons program.

“I was biking through what is now Max Clunie Field one day and thought that we could have some rugby here,” Roy said. “PACI was looking for ideas for things that the students could be involved with and I brought up having a rugby program at the school.

“Mark came on board the next year (along with students from Carlton) and everything built from there.”

Blake Edwards (Builder)

When Blake Edwards joined the K.O. Combinations Club in 1996, it was initially so he could learn some self-defence.

“I had been assaulted in the city and I didn’t feel comfortable defending myself, so I was looking to gain some self-confidence,” Edwards said. “It worked for me as I dropped a lot of weight and gained that self-confidence within a month.”

After the club closed in 1999, Edwards played a key part in helping to bring boxing back to the community a few years later with Braddock Koch.

One of the major initiatives that Edwards put together to help raise funds for the Prince Albert Boxing Club was the R U Tuff Enuff event, which ran from 2002 to 2015.

“We needed a lot of space and our rent was always high, so I talked to Braddock and approached with the idea of doing a Toughman competition,” Edwards said.  “I was a member of the Kinsmen Club at the time and I sold them on the idea, and we were able to sell the building out in our first year.”

“I went on record at being against it at the time, which showed you where my head was at,” Koch joked.

Edwards is a coach in the Junior Boxing program at the club and has been able to teach the sport to his children Aiden, Logan and Sara.

Luc Robin (Meritorious Service)

A coach in the local hockey scene for 33 years, Robin has been a board member for Prince Albert Minor Hockey Association since 1988.

He also was a softball coach for 12 years and served on the executive for Prince Albert Minor Softball for 15 years.

Robin has also been a volunteer for major events in the city over the years and received the Hockey Canada Century Tour Canadian Tire Heroes of Play Award in 2014.

“It’s nice to be recognized for those things but you don’t do it for that,” Robin said. “You get involved to give the kids something that they can play in.”

“He’s a guy that’s always there for you, even if it’s three in the morning,” Ian Litzenberger added. “He’s someone that we are truly grateful to have in Prince Albert.

Blair Hoffman (Athlete and Meritorious Service)

Hoffman has been involved in hockey, baseball and slo-pitch since 1960, as he started off playing in the Battlefords and remains competing to this day in Prince Albert.

“I got my first glove when I was four years old, and I’ve been playing ever since,” Hoffman said.

“I played about five to six nights a week for the Junior and Senior Beavers teams in North Battleford and that helped to hone whatever skills I have today.”

Hoffman continues to play today as a member of the Silver Foxes Oldtimers hockey team and has won 10 medals at the Huntsman World Senior Games as a member of softball teams in Prince Albert.

Behind the scenes, Hoffman worked as a Recreation Coordinator and the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Prince Albert from 1975 to 2005, where he was involved in the upgrades or construction of every athletic complex in the facility during that time.

“My wife and I were only going to be here for five years, but we soon realized that this was the perfect place to pursue a career and raise a family,” Hoffman said.

“I think a lot of people would tell you that I never knew when my time at work ended and my volunteer work began. I just had a passion for what I was doing.”

Derek Smith (Athlete Builder and Meritorious Service)

The first ever inductee to enter the hall in three categories, Smith first excelled as a volleyball and softball player at a number of levels, which eventually led to him being named Prince Albert’s Male Athlete of the Year in 1995.

“We went to the national softball championship in Winnipeg that year and we won the midget title,” Smith said. “We then hosted the nationals the following year and we won at home, so that was a pretty exciting time.”

As his playing days wound down, Smith became involved in coaching with PA Minor Softball and the Smashing Bananas volleyball program.

“It’s been interesting to be a coach and to see the players get better over the years has been a lot of fun,” Smith said.

He has served as the president of the Prince Albert Community Basketball Association since 2010 and was the co-chair for the 2018 WBSC Junior Men’s Softball World Championship with Felix Casavant.

“That was the best time we’ve had together,” Casavant said. “We’ve picked up a lot of stuff off each other to put on one of the best championships.

“To see how successful that event was and the legacy that Project Triple Play left with the new diamonds here is something that will last a long time,” Smith added.

Prince Albert Gymnastics Club (Organization of the Year)

Although Saturday’s ceremony took place right in the middle of their competitive season, it was a major night for the Gymnastics club, which has been around since 1966.

“As we drove back today, we were able to take a breath and reflect on the decade of work that we have been involved here with at the club,” recreational director and men’s and trampoline coach Bryce Elliot said.

“There’s a lot of pride and emotions that come with being recognized. It was a great night.”

For executive director and head coach Michael Amouri, one of the things that stands out the most over the last decade was when the community helped the club in their facility upgrades.

“We were able to raise $100,000 in about a year’s time, and I feel like it would take a lot longer to do that back home in Toronto,” Amouri said.

“I think that shows how much the people of Prince Albert believe in what we are doing and the amount of work we put into the club.”

A total of 435 people were involved in the club in 2018, which also saw them host the provincial championship for the fifth time.