By Darren Lum
The Haliburton Highlands Hall of Fame named Linda J. Brandon among the 17 individuals to be included in the inaugural class of the Haliburton Highlands Hall of Fame.
Linda has been a very dedicated community volunteer in the Highlands for several years. She helped launch the Ontario Special Olympics Red Wolves youth 5-pin bowling team, a Special Olympics team for the Highlands in 1997.
In an email she said the saying ‘expect the unexpected’ was an understatement to characterize the recognition she has received. She said it was an “overwhelming honour” to be a part of this first class, which was announced on June 7.
“I am very grateful and humbled to be included, as an inductee under the category of ‘Builder’,” Brandon said. “Upon reflection, those same emotions held true when building our team, the Ontario Red Wolves 5-pin bowling team, a name the athletes chose in 1997,” she wrote in an email. “Forming this team was one of the most significant milestones in my life and a milestone in the lives of everyone who contributed to the on-going development of such an inspiring team.”
She was not only the founder, but served as a head coach and club manager and treasurer from 1997 to 2007. She was also the community coordinator for the County of Haliburton from 1997 to 2007. While she was fulfilling her Red Wolves duties, she was also working as an educational assistant at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Many of her efforts revolved around inclusion for everyone. In addition to the Red Wolves work, she also served as the co-chairperson of the Minden Terry Fox Run Organizing Committee from 1994 to 2007; president, vice-president, board/committee member for the Haliburton County Association for Community Living, which included advocating, governing and developing strategies that best met the needs of the people supported from 1994 to 2002; and a volunteer with the Haliburton County Food for Kids Program. She even completed her teaching English as a Second Language Certification via Oxford Learning in 2004, completed her Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Waterloo, which included her taking courses during the school year and in the summer.
She enters the Hall of Fame as one of three builders inducted this year, joining Albert John LaRue, also known as A.J. LaRue, and Lenny Salvatori.
She adds in 1997 there wasn’t an opportunity to form a new high school sports team.
“Their spirits were lifted to know they could still have a separate team of their own, on their own time. The team name ‘Red Wolves’ was chosen by the athletes,” she wrote about the Red Wolves beginnings.
Integral to the building of the team are the 15 athletes, families, friends and other valued supporters, including the “best 20-plus coaches.”
She thanked the families of Robyn Thomas, Linda Snoddon, Pauline Sharp, Mary McKelvey, Brian Plouffe, Lyle Bacon, Duane Pratt, Scott and Michelle Moore (former owners of the bowling facility), Diana Reesor, John Kellett, Yvette Brauer, Barbara Piercy, and her two daughters, Amy and Emily. There were also many other high school volunteer students and staff who enthusiastically offered coaching assistance.
Yvette Brauer, who is the current Red Wolves team coordinator, said a lot of credit goes to Linda for how she made a positive impact in the lives of people like her son, Trevor, who benefited socially and physically being a Red Wolves active member.
The Brauers first moved here from Toronto in 2005. At first Trevor had no interest in joining the Red Wolves after his experience of attending a mainstream school where he was treated like everyone else.
However, there wasn’t much to do here socially, so Trevor warmed to the idea and joined the bowling team. He soon discovered the warm atmosphere and inclusive quality created by Linda’s leadership was the best place to make friends.
“That was a good introduction for Trevor to make new friends and still be fit. From that, Trevor got to go to provincial games for bowling … he represented the Red Wolves for golf, he want to provincial games,” she said. His experience also includes competing at the nationals held in P.E.I.
“What started with Linda has given opportunities for a number of athletes to travel provincially, nationally. And it all started with Linda and her vision to have Special Olympics come to the Highlands, so if she didn’t do that we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she said.
In hindsight, it was an important decision for them in building a connection to the area built on the opportunity for social and physical growth.
Yvette said the Special Olympics organization is supportive, but money is not always available and so for programs to operate it took the support of its community and needed leadership of someone like Linda to facilitate the fundraisers and ensure the commitment of sponsors related to operating an athletic program on a shoestring budget to not just hold activities, but pay for uniforms, and to cover travel competitions.
Linda wrote in an email about the key fundraiser for the Red Wolves which was the Law Enforcement’s Annual “Flame of Hope” Torch Run. It provided significant opportunities for important funds to be raised to not just help offset the program costs, but also to spread added awareness about Ontario Special Olympic athletes throughout the county.
Trevor isn’t the only beneficiary with a story to share.
Parents Duane and Tracey Pratt are grateful to Linda for the opportunity that enabled their daughter, Skylar to expand her world.
“By creating the Haliburton Red Wolves, Linda provided a place for our daughter where she felt comfortable and accepted around her peers; not something that comes easily to Sky, [who has] autism. Skylar has thrived in this environment, which has awarded her opportunities she would not have had otherwse,” they wrote in a letter of support submitted to the Hall of Fame.
Skylar started with the Wolves at the age of 13 back in 2005. She looked forward every week to bowling, seeing her friends and her coach, Linda. Her time with the bowling team included the “once in a lifetime experience” of getting to represent the area with her team at the provincials in 2016, where they qualified to compete at the nationals held in P.E.I. in 2018. She continues to be an active member participating in not just bowling, but also curling, softball, golf and shuffleboard.
From the letter, the parents wrote the team has not only given her “a source of physical activity and sportsmanship, but also a place where she has made very good friends. Our family can’t thank Linda enough for starting our chapter of Special Olympics. It has enriched our daughter’s life more than we can express. We were very happy to learn of her nomination and can’t imagine anyone more worthy than she for this honour.”
Not to take away from Brandon’s efforts, but the team was also sustained by the support of its volunteers, who were often parents, or guardians, including community helpers that received training to coach, assist and fundraise, she said.
“Other than that, the whole thing, where we are today it all started with Linda. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it didn’t start with Linda,” she said.
Although Linda left the Red Wolves to return to attend school in 2007, she remained in touch with the athletes, Yvette said.
There is a lasting legacy related to starting a team that has grown to something so much bigger than ever imagined.
“It is heartening to know that for more than the past decade the Haliburton Red Wolves, under the leadership of Yvette Brauer, who is the Coordinator of the Haliburton District Community of Special Olympics, expanded the Red Wolves team to include 35 registered athletes, 32 volunteers, and sport options that include bowling, curling, golf, shuffleboard and softball. Tremendous enriching team development and advancement has taken place since the building of the Red Wolves team’s foundation in 1997,” she wrote. “For that, I am incredibly grateful to have played a part in this significant sport heritage experience! The biggest ‘thank you’ to everyone who has served on the Haliburton Sports Hall of Fame committees including all those who in any way contributed to my induction.”