Hockey season underway, this year’s Woolwich Sun Rays roster were joined Saturday by family and friends for a meet-and-greet at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. The organization also received the proceeds of a recent fundraising event.

The money will help the team meet its mission of giving players a safe place to learn and develop while making friends and having fun playing Canada’s pastime.

The organization is open to special needs players, male and female, who are six years of age or older.

“It is to give people who can’t play mainstream hockey a place to play hockey. It is Canada’s best-loved sport and people’s brothers and sisters and friends and schoolmates are playing hockey, so this gives all of those players a safe place to do the same,” said Julie Jamieson, president of the Sun Rays’ board, of their purpose.

Jamieson founded the team in Elmira after growing up with a brother who played sports when he could, but who didn’t have the opportunity to play in an organized league.

“He passed a few years back at 48. His name was Raymond and he was a big sports enthusiast and loved ball and hockey and wrestling and all of it. He would watch lots of it and do his best to sort of play recreational on his own and with friends,” she said.

“But there was no format or venue then for him to really belong to a team of any kind, at least any that we knew of, so it was something in my mind that there should be a place and a way that those kinds of individuals have a place to belong, a place to play.”

Curious about the opportunities out there, Jamieson volunteered at a local special hockey international tournament in Kitchener.

“It opened my eyes and I was aware that this does in fact exist. Lots of local centres have teams, so it was after that that I decided to approach Woolwich Minor Hockey to ask about the idea and to see if there was a way we could form a team in Woolwich,” she explained, noting that the president at the time not only welcomed the idea with open arms but did a considerable amount of  work to help bring the project to life.

“That is how it got started and so the team now, the Sun Rays, are named for my brother, so it was neat. It is a good township and it has certainly been a community that is diverse and inclusive,” she said.

“It just seemed everywhere we turned people were in favor and supportive and wondering how they could help, so it was a great collective effort to bring it to life, but it seemed like something that Woolwich was very ready for.”

In their third year, the Rays welcomed 20 local players onto the team, the youngest nine year of age, the oldest 49.

Raymond, as his nephew Wil Jamieson explains, was well-known in the community. In his memory Wil, along with his friend Greg DeMeuleneare, put on the first of what they hope will be an annual BBQ with all proceeds going into supporting the special needs community. Fittingly, this year the proceeds went into the hockey team named after Ray.

“There are a lot of people and organizations that helped support my uncle through his life, so now we want to give back to the people that supported him and carry his name on. He was a bit of a rock star in the community, everybody loved Raymond.”

That support was a driving factor that helped the two put together the event in only six weeks.

With support from local businesses they were able to cover close to the entire cost of the event, and well exceed their initial goal of $2,100.

“And that’s why we are able to present $7,500 today to these guys,” said DeMeuleneare, before receiving a round of applause from the lunch guests.

“We were aiming for 60 people sitting down and we ended up having 92, so the only limitation was the size of my backyard.” Wil joked of the yard at his St. Jacobs home.

Next year, the two hope to be able to expand the memorial fundraiser to be held at the Waterloo Rod and Gun Club.

This year though, the proceeds will help the Sun Rays with rental costs, equipment and tournament expenses among other things.

“It was wonderful, they were very successful and raised an awful lot of money and the proceeds will come to our team this year,” said Julie Jamieson. “We are in a position where some families are certainly in a position to afford a hotel room, others less so, so we kind of want to have enough so that we can treat all of the players equally and support them by subsidising the tournaments. That (donation) will be able to help quite a bit for the costs for players.”

Practicing every Saturday morning at 11 a.m., the team travels to play against Orangeville, Guelph, Cambridge, Kitchener and Hanover in addition to attending tournaments.