The Woolwich Wild Atom A squad were out in numbers, fanning through the aisles of the Food Basics store in Elmira on Sunday afternoon. This was no simple stop for some post-game munchies, however. Instead, the girls, having just wrapped up a 2-1 win over the visiting Ilderton Jets, were picking up food and supplies to donate to the Woolwich food bank.
This year, the team raised $300 by giving up their Secret Santa funds .. and with a little help from the grocer.
“We did it last year, we’re doing it again this year. We’ve raised a little more money this year,” said Dee Brun Gow, a mother of one of the players. “We’ve raised $200, and then Food Basics is kind enough to match half, so they’re giving us $100.”
Brun Gow pitched the idea a year ago as a way of instilling a sense of civic duty and community in the young players. Using hockey as a medium to bring the group together, she encouraged the youth to give back to the communities that had given them so much in turn.
“I think one of the things that is lacking in kids these days that I’m trying to do with the next generation coming up is they lack a sense of community, which in turn can lack a sense of self,” said Brun Gow. “And if they don’t understand that there’s people hungry in their community and they need to reach out and help their community, then it makes a big difference how they give back as they get older.
“They kind of forget that there’s people out there, so this one of those things we try and do just to say, ‘hey, look around – there are kids that go to school with you that don’t get breakfast.’”
It’s in some way a natural extension of the values taught in minor hockey, but applied to the community as a whole. Just look at the example of the Humboldt Broncos, says Brun Gow. When a Saskatchewan Junior A team suffered calamity in a collision en route to the SJHL semi-finals, an outpouring of support raised $15 million to support the victims and their families in the aftermath.
“You just think about hockey. Where is it? Well, it’s at the Elmira community centre. Hockey has a huge sense of community, and it’s a big community. We saw that with Humbolt,” she said.
“There are thousands of other tragedies that happen every year, and this one just really struck a nerve with people. And it’s something about hockey, about being Canadian – and girls’ hockey, especially, I’m trying to do it with.”
There’s been a growing recognition of the value of girls and women participating in Canada’s national pastime, and it’s a trend Brun Gow wants to see go further. She points to the recent Shootout Tournament held by Woolwich Wild earlier this month – the first time the township had hosted the event in a decade – as an example of the trend.
“It was a huge success, and girls’ hockey is becoming such a big thing. I just think it’s important,” she said.
Right now, the Atom A team is competing in a tough division, notes head coach Clinton Rayfield, but the team’s camaraderie has remained excellent throughout.
“So far, so good,” said Rayfield of the season. “We’re in a very tight division, meaning that there’s no easy games. So the girls have to work hard every single game if they want to be successful.”
Rayfield sees community activities like these as an important life lesson for the team.
“I think it’s really, really important to give back to our community. I think as the girls are getting older, they’re starting to see the benefits of being involved in a community like ours, like Woolwich. So this is just one way that we can try and give back,” he said.