As we turn the page on another month that has fallen victim to the countless restraints of Covid-19, the local sports community does so while acknowledging the mainstays of the sports calendar that were bypassed in the month of June.
And though the majority of the events that were missed would have taken place at venues such as the Laurentian University track, the James Jerome Sports Complex, or the diamonds of the Terry Fox Sports Complex, there is one annual tradition, each and every June, that takes place away from the field of play, yet still ranks among the yearly athletic highlights in Sudbury.
The Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame Dinner has taken place on the second Wednesday of June for at least the past couple of decades, if not more. And the truth is that there is likely not another singular evening, throughout the year, that connects those who love sports in our city more with the memories of a glorious past than the night that sees another grouping admitted to the cherished Hall.
While I was certainly aware of these festivities while growing up as a youth in New Sudbury, the importance of recognizing those who are/were so instrumental to the sporting fabric of our city, while also celebrating the athletes of today who continue to shine on stages stretching right across the country and the globe, was emphasized even further as I launched myself down a new and exciting career path in the early 2000's.
While I definitely recall attending the dinner in the year or two after the Sports Hall of Fame evening was relaunched in the late 1990s, it was in 2005 that I would be present in my capacity as a sports reporter for the very first time. That was also the year that the organizing committee introduced the Joe Drago Coach of the Year award, as well as the Amateur Import Athlete of the Year.
Over time, I have enjoyed the opportunity to become part of the group that spends countless hours examining and evaluating the worthiness of potential HOF candidates, while also whittling our way down to two or three deserving finalists in each of the various annual award categories that now exist.
On that evening however, fifteen years ago, I could offer very little perspective on many of those whose names would be called. In terms of the Class of 2005, there was certainly a very special connection with the late Gary Hall, the long-time hockey administrator that I had come to know quite well (along with his family) through our time at Rosemarie Playground.
In fact, it was Gary who first opened the door for my statistical aspirations in sports, bringing me aboard, as a young high-school student, to tabulate all of the various goals and assists, wins and losses, for all teams and all individuals that were competing in the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association.
Keep in mind that in the 1970s, the SMHA was still a self-contained league, one which featured 30 to 40 teams single-handedly, in an era when tracking individual stats for minor hockey players across all age brackets was not yet frowned upon.
Through high-school connections, primarily with his sons Jean and Roger, I had certainly crossed path with inductee Paul Sauve, while the likes of Larry Wagner, John Maslack and Aldo Roy were all gentlemen of whom I had heard, if not yet been formally introduced.
But as Joe Bacon stepped forward to accept the inaugural Drago coaching award, little did I know of the phenomenal success that Lo-Ellen Park track and field would enjoy, dating back to the days of coach Doug Gingrich, carried on these days by Colin Ward and associates, with Bacon squeezed proudly in the middle of those two dynasties.
The truth is that with every passing year, the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame Dinner offered even greater access to the fabled stories of the past, all while providing a near ideal annual check-in with so many coaches and administrators, athletes and fans of sport, folks with whom I typically will interact with on a near daily basis.
It's an evening that always ranks among the highlights of any given year for me, on a personal level.
It was next to impossible, in 2005, not to share in the pride of Ottawa 67's goaltender Danny Battochio, the young goaltender would went undrafted while putting on a display of acrobatic puck-stopping contortions while helping to keep the Sudbury Northern Wolves in each and every game that I had scorekept for a couple of years.
Nevermind the fact that the super friendly Lively native had come back to star in the Memorial Cup after almost losing his life to a brain injury just a year or two earlier.
Thankfully, it seemed as though I had at least started to develop a bit of a sense of athletic potential, at least based on this account of the June 2005 gathering:
"The Amateur Elite Athlete of the Year may well be looked back upon as the time when three future Olympians were going toe to toe for city bragging rights as hockey hopeful Tessa Bonhomme, figure skating star Meagan Duhamel and record-setting nordic skier Devon Kershaw were all nominated."
The words would become prophetic, indeed, with all three representing Canada at future Winter Olympics.
I'm honestly not entirely sure whether I garner more joy from the celebration of the incredible athletic accomplishments of those who capture the annual awards, or from the chance to sit down and relish the memories of those whose greatness might even precede my day of birth.
Both represent a different manner in which one can tap into all that is special with Sudbury sports.
And though the dinner itself has been postponed, at this point, in 2020, rest assured that the discussions have been on-going, with an unbelievable slate of new inductees to be unveiled when safe to do so - or at least safe enough to bring together the Sudbury sports community for a one night gala that is so cherished by one and all.
It's an event that continues largely due to the dreams and commitment of Chris Sheridan - but his is a Nickel City Nostalgia story for another time.