INNISFAIL – The ear-splitting sounds of children enthusiastically anticipating year-end hockey awards night is something Stephen Bates knows all too well.
Bates, 42, has been involved in Innisfail minor hockey for most of his life, and he has attended and been part of the annual Innisfail Minor Hockey Association (IMHA) Annual Player Awards for just as long.
“It is the opportunity for them (children) to get recognized, to have their coaches stand in front of the room and call them up as part of a team,” said Bates, who has been IMHA president for the past five years – many more after playing in the tiny tikes’ Eaglettes class and all the way up to big boys’ midget. “It also gives the younger kids the opportunity to see some of the older ones and what they have accomplished as well.
“I think some of the younger kids look up to those older guys as role models,” he added. “And when they see the midgets up there, whether it’s a team bringing home a league championship or something else, I think it is something the little guys strive to do a little later on in their careers.”
And on March 29 the association held its 2017 awards night at the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion, where the thrill of anticipation before Bates officially opened the event was as cheerfully loud as ever.
There was no doubt that many of the 300 young boys and girls, from novice, atom, peewee, bantam and midget levels, who played their hearts out all season long, had a sleepless night or two waiting for their special night; to be recognized and hear the warm, heartfelt applause from family members and friends. However, the evening was not just for the players. The best coaches and managers also had their proud moments of accepting awards.
By the end of the evening 21 awards were handed out to players, coaches and managers. It was a memorable way to cap off another successful IMHA season.
“We had a couple of teams win their zones for provincials. We had a couple of teams make it to league finals, and one for sure win a league championship, so yes, it has been a very, very successful year for us as an association,” said Bates, conceding he felt very much at home listening to the collective joy from the young players.
“All through my minor hockey I loved it. I thought it was that time of year to go through your accomplishments,” said Bates. “There are going to be teams there that are going to go through what their team did this season, whether they won a tournament or did really well in the league.
“Even as president of the association there are times when I just don’t know what every team has done,” he added. “It’s nice to sit back and hear everybody’s accomplishments over the year.”
Stephen Bates, president of the Innisfail Minor Hockey Association
“It is the opportunity for them (children) to get recognized, to have their coaches stand in front of the room and call them up as part of a team.”