This weekend marks the ninth annual Elmira Optimist Club Charity Challenge hockey tournament, and the first time the players will be hitting the ice in the new Woolwich Memorial Centre.
The tournament began 10 years ago when the Optimists were asked to donate money to facilitate the development of RIM Park. Instead of just handing over a cheque to the facility, they suggested a charity hockey tournament in order to raise funds.
The Conestoga-Winterbourne club brought on board the Optimist Club of Waterloo North, and between them, the clubs have raised more than $250,000 over the past eight years. Aside from the donation to RIM Park, the money has gone to youth-related programs and organizations such as Family and Children’s Services, Young Athletics Track Club and National Service Dogs.
Brad Nickel, one of the co-presidents of the Optimist Club, has been involved with the Charity Challenge for five years. The father of three kids himself, Nickel said the charitable work is the most important reason why he is a member of the club, and why he so highly values the tournament and the causes it supports.
“My favourite part of the event is where the money goes in the end: 100 per cent of the funds that we raise go to kids. That’s why I am doing it. That’s why I joined the Optimist Club and why I decided to be president. Everything we do is for the kids.”
Both ice pads in the new facility will be in use while each team takes on a team of similar calibre in a one-game showdown, with winners claiming bragging rights and a roast beef dinner, while the losing team gets hot dogs.
Nickel says that the teams have already expressed their excitement about moving the tournament to Elmira and the new WMC.
“We have had a great eight years at RIM Park, but what a great time to move to venue to Elmira. This is a brand new facility. We’ve come here and now we want to build the tournament through Elmira and the area.”
And he doesn’t just mean for the players. The Optimist Club is always looking for corporate sponsorship and Nickel hopes that community members and businesses in the area will “rally together around the event.”
The club is dedicated to ‘bringing out the best in kids,’ and organizers note that regardless of whether a team wins or loses the challenge, their donation will help the group get closer to its goal.
If your team’s on-ice performance isn’t enough to win the actual tournament, there is still a chance to take the title of top fundraising team or individual. The two teams who raise the most money and the top 10 individual fundraisers are treated to a Buffalo Sabres hockey game. Or additionally, for a donation of more than $750, teams receive a pair of tickets to join the trip to the game.
And as Nickel prepares for the big weekend, he emphasizes that this event is only one of the many things that the Optimists are doing to show their support for kids in the region.
“This isn’t just a weekend for us, it’s a year-long event: we don’t stop!”
For more information, see www.optimistcharitychallenge.com.