For the first time since 2019, supporters from Saskatchewan and across Canada gathered in person in Saskatoon to celebrate the finalists and recipients of the 2022 Saskatchewan Sport Awards.
Among those receiving Volunteer Dedication Awards at the late January ceremony was broomball volunteer Leslie Bilodeau of Debden. Bilodeau was honoured to be recognized for his volunteer work.
“First it was pride, I guess, and then appreciation, after, for somebody recognizing the work I do I guess,” he said when asked about his reaction.
Bilodeau was nominated by the Debden Speedballs Boys Minor Broomball and supported by Saskatchewan Broomball Association for volunteering to coach four broomball teams. At first he thought it was for all of his coaching and volunteering.
“When I first got the award I thought it was for everything I have done in all four sports I deal with, but in the end it was a broomball nomination,” he explained. “At the awards, they did say for everything you did over the years, but kind of concentrate on broomball.
“Over the years I coached boys and girls in four different sports. Hockey is the main one. Broomball is now becoming a main one and soccer and softball too,”
Since 2014, Leslie has served as head coach for the U14 boys’ broomball team and during that time has added the U16, U20 and men’s teams to his resume as well as national team championships appearances.
He explained that broomball has always been part of his life beginning with his parents in the 1980s playing men’s, women’s and mixed broomball.
“We would be dragged along as kids to the rink and we would play in the rink with our friends all weekend while our parents would play broomball,” he remembered. “You would hang out with your friends. As long as I can remember I have been going to the rink for broomball.”
Bilodeau lived in Prince Albert in the 1990s, but the sport wasn’t popular in the city and he struggled to find a team. He played with a team in Debden in the mid-‘90s, but then had nothing to do with the sport until he got involved again in 2012.
Bilodeau put together an adult mixed team, and organized an adult and mixed provincial tournament that same year.
“I started up a mixed fun night which turned into a mixed team, which turned into a men’s team for a bit, and then we hosted provincials and went for a few years,” he said. “Once my kids started playing broomball, then I kind of quit playing broomball and hockey myself to coach my kids hockey and broomball.
“I have been just kind of involved on and off since the 1980s.”
Broomball is not a prominent sport in the province, but Bilodeau sees it as a grassroots sport. However, there are challenges.
“Like I told Sask Sport in my interview I said, ‘it’s kind of a dying sport. It’s just kept alive by the last few towns that are diehards and it’s kept up from people like me that want their kids to enjoy the sport because they enjoyed it as a kid.”
He explained that the sport is growing through his former players, including one who is trying to start the sport in Cudworth.
“There is people from Wakaw who have played and would like to see it started there, but it is hard to start it. I even tried to start it in P.A. a few years ago but getting ice is impossible,” he said.
“I was living in P.A. and I thought, ‘you know what? Why don’t I start (a team)? I know all of the kids. I coach them all in hockey or soccer or ball so I know which kids, but it was just, okay, where do you even get ice time?”
The sport is growing around Debden in other communities as well because of the grassroots.
“Even in Shellbrook there is (interest) now because Canwood and Shellbrook kids are starting to play in Debden. We have got one Shellbrook girl, which led to now several Shellbrook (and) Canwood people. I have got some Spiritwood Shell Lake kids just because a Spiritwood dad, who used to be a Debden broomball player, got his kid coming to play here,’ he said.
“It is kind of almost one of those, it’s up to the old moms and dads of the previous generation to kind of keep it going,” he added.
In 2021, Bilodeau developed and started a provincial men’s league. He’s currently on the organizing committee for the 2023 national championship that will be hosted in Saskatoon.
As hard as he works to keep the sport going, Bilodeau said it’s a team effort.
“I am one of many people in Debden who keeps everything going: the rink, the broomball, the everything,” he said. “My wife always gets dragged into helping me and I lean on my manager Rhonda Peterson a lot and Mel Amundson as well a lot, so lots of people. Steven Peterson … my assistant coaches….”
“I’m the one who got the award but I am surrounded by a lot of people too that put in the time.”
The annual program celebrates the success and dedication of those in the province’s amateur sport community through two categories – Excellence Awards and Recognition Awards. The Excellence Awards celebrate outstanding event performances or a series of performances by a Saskatchewan athlete, coach or team within a given calendar year, while the Recognition Awards include the Volunteer and Coach Dedication Awards, as well as the Inspire Through Sport Award, all which honour individuals who have devoted their time and effort to the growth of sport in Saskatchewan.
Tony Caissie of Melfort also received an award for his work in Special Olympics. Watch for a story on Caissie in future editions of Rural Roots.