They brought the world to Prince Albert, and now they’ve been named the 2018 Citizens of the Year.
The Prince Albert Daily Herald, Prince Albert Kinsmen Club, friends, family and media surprised Felix Casavant and Derek Smith at the Art Hauser Centre Thursday with the news that the pair was named the 61st Prince Albert citizens of the year.
Previous winners include Ron and Shelley Horn, Sheryl Kimbley, Duane Hayunga, Lyle Karasiuk and Dale McFee.
It is the second consecutive year that two people share the Citizen of the Year title, however, for the first time the co-winners aren’t a couple.
Casavant and Smith were the co-chairs of the Junior Men’s World Softball Championships, held in Prince Albert from July 7-15. The event attracted over 420 athletes, officials and media from 13 countries, and brought over 10,000 people to Prime Minister’s Park.
The pair was involved with Project Triple Play, a four-year initiative to build the new Rotary Field and upgrade Kinsmen Field at a cost of about $1.6 million. They then organized the 282 volunteers and led the weeklong event.
“They are two of the best ambassadors this city could send forward,” said nominator Ellen Grewcock.
“I almost would have been disappointed if they weren’t (citizens of the year) because they’re so deserving. We need to take the time to acknowledge people like the Felixes and Dereks. They brought people who want to come back to this city from all over the world.”
In addition to their work organizing the world softball championships, Casavant and Smith are also heavily involved in the local minor sports community. Casavant is a longtime coach, mentor and executive with the Prince Albert Minor Softball Association (PAMSA) and Aallcann Development Fastball Association (ADFO), founding the latter organization. He has competed in softball since he was fie, and has since coached several levels of teams and brought provincial, western and national championships to the city. He was named the “Softball Ambassador of Prince Albert” by Mayor Greg Dionne.
Smith is also involved as a coach and board member of ADFO. He is also involved with youth volleyball and basketball, organizing tournaments, coaching the U13-16 volleyball teams since 2013 and organizing a Junior NBA program. He is the president of the Prince Albert Community Basketball Association and a past board member of the Prince Albert Sports Hal of Fame. The mayor named his apprentice softball ambassador of Prince Albert.
The two men — who believed they were merely heading to the Art Hauser Thursday for a year-in-review look back at the World Junior Men’s Softball Championships, were blown away when they learned they were the citizens of the year.
“It’s just amazing. What a great honour. To me, the highest honour you can get as a Prince Albertan is to get the Citizen of the Year,” Casavant said.
“Couldn’t have done it with a better guy than Derek. He’s a great partner and we brought the world to Prince Albert. We wanted to, we accomplished it and we are so proud. Thank you all so much for being here today.”
Casavant said that when they were planning the event, they decided they would have been happy if 1,000 people showed up to each day of the tournament.
“My God — that Tuesday night when there were 5,0000 fans — we were amazed. It all came together and we couldn’t have been prouder sitting together and saying ‘hey, we made this happen.’”
Smith said he is looking at bidding to host the world softball championships again a few years from now, but with a new co-chair, as Casavant is looking at stepping back from some of his commitments as he gets older.
Both men, though, are proud of the Prince Albert community and happy to have been a part of something special.
Smith thanked his family for lending him support as he spent many hours away from home planning the world softball championships. He also spoke about the importance of giving back to the community.
“Both of us have been around Prince Albert all of our lives and played all of our minor sports in Prince Albert,” he said.
“Giving back to the community … giving back to minor sports and keeping these events going … that’s huge for us. Both (basketball and volleyball) are growing and it’s great to see lots of opportunity for the young kids. We’ll continue coaching for a number of years. My boys are getting older, but I like to give back to the community and be involved.”
Both men have been able to spread that message, involving their families and inspiring the next generation to continue what they’ve started.
“I played softball from when I was five years old right up to senior men’s. I coached my daughter and three sons right through the ranks, Casavant said.
“I’ve had a good go with that, enjoyed it, met a lot of fantastic people along the way and gotten to know a whole bunch of kids in Prince Albert.
“I think the thing that gives me satisfaction is those kids I did coach over those years have turned out to be great citizens themselves, great people contributing to society. You can’t put a price on that.”