Manitoulin Special Olympics athletes and coaches feted

Piper Paul MacDonald led the Manitoulin Special Olympics (MSO) curling and snowshoeing teams into the celebration held last week to recognize and congratulate on the teams for their efforts.

MINDEMOYA—It was a special night to recognize some very talented Manitoulin Island athletes who accomplished so much at the Canada National Special Olympic Winter Games in Corner Brook, Newfoundland earlier this year.

“Good evening and welcome to our wonderful celebration night to honour, recognize and congratulate these fine Special Olympics athletes who did us proud at Corner Brook, Newfoundland March 1 to 5, 2016. Thank you for putting Manitoulin Island on the map,” stated Karlene Scott, master of ceremonies for the evening, which was hosted by Community Living Manitoulin (CLM. 

As was reported previously, the MSO curling team garnered a silver medal at the games. That team included Randy Corbiere, Jeff Panamick, Andrew Splawanyk, Rebecca Strain, Regan Millsap and coaches Nancy Leeson and Ellen Holroyd.

The MSO snowshoeing athletes, coached by Judy Olacke, brought home seven medals. Matthew Bedard led the way with three gold medals in the 1,600-metre, 800-metre and 400-metre races. Kelsey Mellan garnered two gold medals in the 100- and 200-metre races and Dayne Tipper won two bronze medals in the 800- and 1,600-metre races.

“I would like to thank our piper Paul MacDonald for coming tonight to make the festivities that much more exciting by piping in our athletes,” said Ms. Scott.

“I have several messages to bring tonight and I have a few more words to say myself,” said MSO coordinator Janet Anning. She pointed out Judy Olacke, coach of the MSO snowshoeing team, as well as co-coach of the MSO curling team Ellen Holroyd, were not able to attend the ceremony.

Ms. Anning read the message from Ms. Olacke, who wrote in part, “first, I would like to thank everyone who is here in this room tonight. Karlene Scott and all other CLM people, thanks for your work at organizing this celebration. To the parents, thanks for your continued support throughout the year and to all those parents, friends and relatives that travelled to Newfoundland, your loud and colourful support was so special, it made a real difference to our success.”

“The road to the Nationals started three years ago at the Regionals in Sault Ste. Marie,” wrote Ms. Olacke, who noted it was a “real treat to have the Island curlers travelling with us, it was so great to be able to share the experience.”

“Of course, I have to give special mention to my athletes, Matthew (Bedard), Dayne (Tipper) and Kelsey (Mellan),” continued Ms. Olacke. “Working with them has been inspiring to say the least. They have put many hours of hard, sweaty work into becoming better snowshoe racers. They have worked their way up to the top of Northeastern Ontario and then to the top of Ontario and now to the top of Canada. That is no small feat.”

“All these successes were due to the athletes’ hard work long term and to the support from all those loved ones around them,” wrote Ms. Olacke. “I am so proud of their accomplishments. Kelsey, Matt and Dayne, have fun tonight showing off your medals. You all earned every bit of them.”

“Ellen (Holroyd) started coaching our team about three years ago, and has been a great addition to the curling team,” said Ms. Anning. “She said in her message that she is so proud of these athletes and working with them. I would like to thank the parents, grandparents and friends who helped them get to the Nationals.”

Ms. Anning explained, “we started the MSO program 10 years ago, starting with bowling and then track and softball. Nancy Leeson was the original coach of the curling team. We had teams go to Sault Ste. Marie. Since we had never been to a curling event before, we didn’t know what to expect. Along with Nancy, Jan McQuay came on board early and Mae helped out as well They were a tremendous help with coaching our athletes on how to curl.”

“Now our curling team is on top of Canada, getting silver medals at national games,” stated Ms. Anning,  adding that it “has been an amazing process.”

Ms. Anning acknowledged the tremendous Manitoulin fundraising support that was provided to help the athletes get to the Nationals, noting the many groups and individuals that support MSO, including the organizers of the annual Bluegrass in the Country celebration.

Ms. Leeson said, “I would like to thank the parents who have stood beside me for the past 10 years. We’ve had to be strict at times, you can’t baby the athletes. I thank Janet for asking to help out in coaching.” She recalled that at the Nationals, “I laughed, I cried, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life. Our team has only been together three years and they’ve won a silver medal. I want to thank the athletes for putting up with me, and everyone who has supported us.”

Next Ms. Scott introduced each of the athletes that went to the National games and their parents.

“Where would these awesome athletes be without the coaching and cheering team of two very dedicated people, Roslyn Taylor and Janet Anning?” she asked. “They put their heart and souls into helping these athletes achieve the goals set before them.”

Also travelling with the team was Mae Bowerman, Pauline Featherstone and her son Austin Featherstone. “Austin too is a great inspiration to these athletes, as he has been fortunate to bring home some wonderful medals to show off as well,” said Ms. Scott.

Best wishes and certificates were sent by MP Carol Hughes and MPP Michael Mantha to each of the athletes. They were presented by Spencer Kenney, vice chair of the CLM board.

Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens bade congratulations to the MSO athletes and coaches on behalf of the municipality.