By Sue Tiffin
Dave McKay first became a volunteer when his kids were involved in sports, but he became involved because of volunteers helping him when he was a child himself.
“I got into it mostly because of people who volunteered when I was a kid, or when I was younger, anyway,” said McKay. “Our coach on the baseball team was our bus driver. He didn’t have any kids of his own but he came out and coached us. Some of the adults around town who played ball would come out and give us some advice, and give us a hand. I kind of remembered that when I was an adult and had kids of my own and felt I could do the same sort of thing.”
He’s been volunteering for about 50 years now, currently about 10 to 15 hours a week. At least one hour of the week, from October to the end of March, is spent with the Haliburton County Red Wolves curling team.
Having been active his entire life, McKay joined the curling club in Minden after moving here, and in 1997, began volunteering as a coach with the curling program for public school kids. While he was curling, he met members of the Haliburton County Red Wolves team, Haliburton County’s Special Olympics athletes, and when Coach Bruce Fisher needed someone to stand in for him in 2012, McKay jumped at the chance.
“I started out helping him, and a year or so later, he was helping me, and that’s really how I got introduced to the curling program with the Red Wolves,” said McKay.
Four years ago the Red Wolves curling team won the B-provincial championships.
“The Red Wolves themselves really enjoy coming out and doing whatever it is they’re doing, some of them curl quite well, some of them enjoy being out with the other athletes.”
Yvette Brauer, who has been a volunteer with the Red Wolves for 15 years and whose son Trevor is an athlete, said the team is looking for both volunteers and athletes after two challenging years. At first, with the strict pandemic protocols put in place by the Special Olympics Ontario organization, athletes suffered greatly from isolation, made more difficult by the remote area and poor internet access of the Highlands.
“Friendships are so important,” said Brauer. “And we’re a family.”
The Haliburton County team did give bocce ball a try in the summer, given that social distancing protocols could be easily maintained outdoors, but golfing was only permitted this past September, and with regular competitions cancelled, the five-pin bowling team has been participating in a virtual competition rather than being able to enjoy the sport in the same way.
Not all athletes have returned yet, with the pandemic ongoing, and fundraising opportunities have not been available. The full team has dropped from 35 to about 18 athletes and Brauer is hoping that everyone will return and that others might join, including seasonal residents who might not know of the local team.
“We just want to give everyone an opportunity,” said Brauer. “And if they don’t know we’re here, they can’t join.”
For McKay, the experience is personally rewarding, but knowing that he’s helping support inclusion in the community is important to him.
“It’s a fulfilling thing,” he said. “The Red Wolves really enjoy coming out and doing things, so if you can help them in that area I think it’s a good thing.”
For those interested in playing, coaching, or cheering on curling, five-pin bowling, softball, golf or bocce ball visit haliburton.specialolympicsontario.ca or contact Yvette at email@example.com.