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James and Kitler received much deserved recognition

A good number of the athletes who were celebrated at the recent Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame Dinner are more than a tad familiar with receiving recognition for their sporting accomplishments.

The same cannot always be said for those who toil in the background, key components in the world of amateur sports that allow the above-noted athletes to strut their stuff.

It is perhaps this reality that has tended to make the recipients of the Bill Roman Administration Award such wonderful interviews in recent years, a sincere and genuine appreciation in receiving kudos for volunteer roles they undertake for countless reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with seeking a share of the spotlight.

"At the beginning, I wanted to get involved in activities my children were participating in," noted 2017 Roman Award recipient Marisue James, a mainstay with both the Sudbury Playground Hockey League (SPHL) and Sudbury Youth Basketball League for the past several years.

"As they've gotten older, I've really appreciated the benefits for me personally. It really gives you a different perspective being involved in an organization when your kids are not involved."

Like so many others in different sports, James thrives in an environment that nurtures the very grassroots of her passion, more than willing to let others who crave elite athletics veer towards the other end of the spectrum.

"The Mickey Mouse hockey kids, four and five years old, it's just like being a mom to them," she said. "The first time they step on the ice, you want to make it a positive experience for them. The end benefit is a smile on a child's face."

"I can't tell you what it's like walking into a store and having one of my hockey players or basketball players come up and throw their arms around me. It's very gratifying."

The SPHL has been blessed with some outstanding stability in the ranks, a key ingredient that keeps those familiar faces coming back year after year. "We have a core group of people that have been involved for a really long time and we work really well together," she said. "We understand each other's idiosyncrasies, and that's a big bonus."

Some coaches in Sudbury can lay claim to enjoying substantial name recognition in this area, the benefit of years of commitment to their sport. That's not the case for Patti Kitler. Despite having started her impressive coaching career in 1982, her love of both nordic ski, in general, and para nordic ski in more recent times has allowed her to slip under the radar of the public eye in most years.

Not in 2017, however, as Kitler was named the winner of the Joe Drago Coach of the Year award earlier this month. "As a kid, I got kicked off the downhill ski team," she reminisced. "In cross country, I could go straight and no one would say anything."

"My eldest son, we started skiing together, so I got to coach him until he was eighteen." Currently one of the country's foremost authorities on coaching para nordic athletes, Kitler suggested that she tries to stick to some tried and true methods in deciding how to approach each athlete, all of whom are quite unique within the domain of para sports.

"I really believe in LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development)," she said. "I look at the athlete, I find out what sport they have done before, and I teach them, through their sport, cross country skiing."

And while there are certainly some carry-overs that apply when one moves from working with able bodied nordic skiers over to the para nordic crew, Kitler has noticed some key differences as well.

"Any athlete who has a disability, if they really want to succeed, they can do it exponentially faster," she said. "They tend to learn quicker." Following is a complete breakdown of the award winners and 2017 Hall of Fame inductees:

Import Athlete of the Year
Kadre Gray - Laurentian Voyageurs men's basketball

Professional Athlete of the Year
Nick Foligno - Columbus Blue Jackets

Amateur Male Athlete of the Year
Connor Vande Weghe - Laurentian Voyageurs men's soccer

High School Male Athlete of the Year
Dylan Terris - Lasalle Lancers (volleyball, basketball)

Team of the Year
Krysta Burns rink - Laurentian Voyageurs women's curling
Megan Smith, Sara Guy, Laura Masters, Ryan Lafraniere (coach)

High School Female Athlete of the Year
Allison Byrnes - Marymount Regals (flag football, soccer, track & field)

Elite Athlete of the Year
Collin Cameron - Para-Nordic skiing

Amateur Female Athlete of the Year
Jenna Hellstrom - Kent State Golden Flashes
Women's Soccer

Dr Fred W Sheridan High School Team of the Year
Lo-Ellen Park Knights nordic ski team

Team of the Decade
Marymount Regals flag football team

Hall of Fame inductees for the Class of 2017 included Bill McKetsy, Mary Waddell, Bob Rogers, Mario Anselmo, Pat Pickard, Mike Derks, Ron Didone, Andy Barbe and the 1999-2000 Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats team.

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