This year’s Kemptville and District Sports Hall of Fame was a celebration of one remarkable volunteer and three special groups who all overcame serious adversity to be successful. However, there was an undertone of loss at this year’s induction ceremony. Not of the sporting variety, where someone wins and someone loses, but of the loss of people who loved their sport, their team, and their community.
The 1962-1963 Prescott-Kemptville Combines entered the Hall this year. This senior men’s amateur hockey team was a collection of players from five small towns in Eastern Ontario that was formed to take on the powerhouse teams from the larger centres, including Brockville and Ottawa. The Combines pulled a major upset over the overwhelming favourite team of retired pros from Ottawa, by coming from behind in all three of their wins. This improbable upset left hockey fans and sports writers confounded. Despite later losing in the quarter finals of the Allan Cup to Moncton, the team sent a very clear message that small town players could stand toe to toe with their big city opponents any time. Family members were on hand to accept certificates on behalf of some of the players who have passed.
The next inductees represented the North Grenville Curling Club. A group of diehard curlers formed the Kemptville Curling Association in 1988 and rented ice wherever they could get it. They acquired equipment from a military club that was closing, and had many fundraisers. Sadly, by 1995, curlers began to switch to other clubs, but the KCA secured their remaining funds by safely depositing them in a bank. When the municipality started making plans to build the North Grenville Municipal Centre (including two ice pads), the group was approached about taking over the existing rink on Reuben Street and converting it to a curling rink. In 2004, a new curling executive was formed and the North Grenville Curling Club was born.
Clara Thompson (Milne) was an impressive athlete in her own right. After getting married and having three sons, she re-focussed her energy on helping kids to enjoy the many benefits of amateur sports. Vocal and outspoken, she often fought for what was right. She started at the bottom of an organization, quickly rose to the top, but never wanted the spotlight for herself. She served her community for over 40 years and would answer every phone call at any time of the day. Her passion for sport is demonstrated by the fact that she’s had two hockey awards named after her. One of her sons delivered a heartfelt and very emotional speech about Clara that left few dry eyes in the room.
The Team of the Year award was given to the 2016-2017 Kemptville Panthers Peewee Rep Hockey Team. Despite an underwhelming exhibition tournament to start the year, the team caught fire when the season started and finished the league with an undefeated 19-0-5 record. Along the way, the team won the regional Silver Stick tournament and competed in the International Silver Stick in Forest, Ontario. A tragedy then struck the team, as Assistant Coach Joshua Dixon died on March 20 while vacationing in Costa Rica. Loved by the players, the team was devastated. However, the team decided to finish their season, despite the heartbreak, and to honour their coach. Dealing with the adversity, the team became closer and helped each other heal. Where other teams may have quit, the Panthers finished their season by winning the playoff title and finishing with an undefeated 26-0-7 record.
Quite often, sport provides the opportunity to bring out the best in people. These people simply refused to quit, and reached beyond themselves and their own self-interest to achieve something greater. This year, it certainly looks like all inductees discovered this greatness in themselves and each other.