By now, even if you’re not a sports fan, you’ve heard the tragic story of the Humboldt Broncos.
You’re probably aware of the April 6 accident in northern Saskatchewan that took 16 lives and injured another 13 passengers, many of them seriously or critically. You may have heard that the GoFundMe campaign to assist the team, which officially closed on April 18, raised an astonishing $15 million to assist those impacted most directly by the crash.
Maybe you were one of the millions of Canadians leaving a hockey stick outside your door in tribute to the Broncos. Or perhaps you donned a sports jersey on April 12 to honour the memory of the lost Humboldt players and team officials.
The nationwide Jersey Day tribute was especially striking, and occasionally moving, on the local level. Strait area businesses, schools and government offices were suddenly bedazzled with every colour of the rainbow, as normal work clothes fell by the wayside and team logos filled up our everyday routine. We even noticed it among the staff and patients at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, where Cathy was getting the last official test related to her late-March stroke (and yes, we both wore jerseys of our own, even as we carried out that necessary piece of business).
And yet, I keep going back to a question that popped up on my Facebook feed a few weeks ago from a young friend of mine, who wondered if the Town of Port Hawkesbury was going to do something official to honour the memory of those lost in the Humboldt Broncos tragedy.
Now, that’s not as easy a question to answer as we might think. Of course, we want to salute those who lost their lives at such a young age, and reach out to their families, teammates, and communities across three Prairie provinces that have been left heartbroken over the past three weeks. The difficulty comes in addressing the situation in a way that doesn’t attempt to take ownership of a loss that isn’t our own.
And yet, in a sense, this is as much our tragedy as it is Humboldt’s, simply because we know what it’s like to put our community’s young people on a bus, send them hundreds – even thousands – of kilometres out of town to represent us in some athletic event, and blindly assume that they’ll always make it home safely.
Ten years before the Broncos’ crash, we got a harsh reminder that this isn’t always the case. The people of Bathurst will never forget the terrible night that six members of the town’s high school basketball team and the coach’s wife died in a highway accident in northern New Brunswick. The community rallied around the Bathurst Phantoms, and a year later the club won a provincial title.
Since we can’t physically attend Humboldt Broncos games this fall, I suggest we do the next best thing, and pack our local arenas, gymnasiums, sports fields, and similar venues – especially for teams that spend a considerable amount of time on the road.
Think about it: We applauded the Cape Breton West Islanders when they won the national major midget hockey title last year. Even before they attended the regional and national championships, they were travelling all over Nova Scotia in the dead of winter. Don’t they deserve full houses at the Al MacInnis Sports Centre in Port Hood when they come home from those arduous journeys?
The same applies to the Strait Pirates. The junior team is commonly considered to be one of the defining symbols of Port Hawkesbury and the surrounding area. That theory hasn’t been borne out by the hundreds of empty seats in Veterans’ Memorial Arena over the past decade. Imagine the lift the Pirates – and their coaches, trainers and bus drivers – would get on their first trip to Springhill, Lantz or St. Margaret’s Bay, if their opening night was packed to the rafters with cheering fans of all ages.
Don’t limit it to hockey. Remember, basketball, baseball and soccer players, as well as swimmers and judokas, rack up the mileage as well. Our local cheer clubs have attended competitions as far away as Chicago. Any one of our young athletes takes a calculated risk every time they board a car, bus, van or airplane to participate in the seemingly-routine act of competing in their chosen sport.
Let’s honour Humboldt by supporting our own from now on. The men and women we lost in that terrible collision could have a lasting impact across Canada, and here in the Strait, if we move forward with a renewed respect and appreciation for the young athletes we ask to wear our colours – and those tasked with getting them safely home after the final buzzer.