Izzak Kelly knows firsthand the benefits of KidSport.
The hulking rugby player was in the spotlight Tuesday during another Nite of Champions, an annual benefit event for the Surrey/White Rock chapter of KidSport, an organization that helps families pay to register children to play organized sports.
“Basically I wouldn’t be in university (at UBC) right now if KidSport didn’t help me try out for the B.C. team, try out for the Canada team, those teams, and show what I could do,” Kelly, 18, an Earl Marriott Secondary grad, told a clubhouse full of diners at Hazelmere Hazelmere Golf & Tennis Club.
“They made it so money wasn’t a problem, and I could showcase what I could do, and I could make my mom proud of me, and I could show her that I truly did appreciate the sacrifices she had to make, too.”
More than 250 guests attended Tuesday’s dinner, making it the largest in Nite of Champions history.
“It’s all about getting kids registered to play sports,” event emcee Jim Hughson, the South Surrey-based hockey broadcaster, told the crowd.
“It’s all sports, and we encourage people to take part in just about anything they can, and we now pay up to $400 for registration.”
In seven years, the event at Hazelmere has raised more than $650,000, Hughson said – a total that doesn’t include the $119,000 collected Tuesday, as revealed at night’s end.
“That’s all thanks to you, and through some other endeavours and the generosity of some other people, there are now over 3,250 kids that have been registered to play, and there is still a waiting list,” Hughson added. “We’re at about $850,000 raised for our chapter. We’re going strong, and this room has never been as full as it is tonight because there are still kids who need our help.”
The night’s guest speaker was Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green, who talked about his hockey path to the NHL – from his Castlegar roots to Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, to being drafted 23rd overall by the New York Islanders in 1989, and beyond.
As second-year coach of the Canucks, Green said he’s excited about the future of the team, the roster of which includes talented young stars Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and others.
“When I came to Vancouver last season, at the beginning of the year, I didn’t want to come here just to make the playoffs, I’m not interested in that, I came here to win a Stanley Cup,” he said, followed by one of the loudest ovations of the night. “I didn’t do it as a player and I want to do it as a coach.
“There’s lots of passion from the fans – I’ve lived it, I’ve been here in B.C. growing up, and there’s a process to it,” Green added. “It does take some time. You’ve got to have pieces, but I am excited. I’m happy with where we’re at right now – not satisfied, obviously, but I like where we’re going, and I think we’re going to get there, I do.”
A couple of the hotter silent auction items at the @KidSportBC Surrey/White Rock gala tonight at @HazelmereGC in Surrey. Nucks coach Travis Green the guest speaker at event expected to raise $100K to help kids play sports. @SurreyNowLeader pic.twitter.com/b8Fmxt8ii3
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) January 23, 2019
Other local sports celebrities at Tuesday’s dinner were former Canucks goaltender Kirk McLean, B.C. Lions greats Paul McCallum and Geroy Simon, Vancouver Whitecaps legend Carl Valentine and also the soccer team’s former coach, Carl Robinson.
This year’s Nite of Champions was given a soccer theme, in celebration of Coastal FC’s national title for the club’s under-17 girls team. In October, they won the championship at South Surrey Athletic Park.
The Greg Long KidSport Community Champion Award was given to Ron Mullin, a longtime coach with Semiahmoo Minor Hockey Association.
Entertainment was performed by a Semiahmoo Secondary jazz quartet and also actors with the Earl Marriott Drama Club.
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) January 23, 2019
Kelly, the rugby player, was given a cheque for an additional $1,500 toward his post-secondary education and athletic pursuits.
“I found my niche and was able to excel,” Kelly said, “but none of that would be possible without KidSport, because it’s pay to play.”
Ronnie Paterson, president of KidSport’s Surrey/White Rock chapter, said the organization spends “north of $200,000 every year” to help local kids play organized sports.
“This is the biggest event of the year for our chapter, absolutely, but we have other initiatives and contributors in the community, including a golf tournament,” he said. “But this event is a focal point, and I think the community really embraces it, and you can see that by the size of the crowd tonight. It’s fun.”
Guest speakers at previous Nite of Champions events include Trevor Linden, Brian Burke and one-time Canucks draft pick Chad Brownlee, who is now a country musician of note.
“The support is overwhelming,” Paterson told the Now-Leader. “It’s an easy sell to have those kind of people participate, because they know how important it is for kids to get a chance to play sports. It’s a wonderful fit, a great initiative.”