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Coach of the Year devoted to Northern Sliders

'Jack encourages each player to reach his or her potential and praises each player for his or her efforts.  He's respected by both the children and the parents.'

BY SCOTT HUNTER HADDOW

SCOTT@NORTHERNLIFE.CA

   He loves to see smiles on kids' faces.  Northern Life/Play It Again Sports' Coach of the Year for 2003 is Jack Raymond.  He spends almost all of his spare time in the winter at Garson Arena where he is devoted to the Northern Sliders sledge hockey team.

  "If you're tired, sore and dragging your butt into the rink, seeing these kids brings your energy right back up," said Raymond.  "Their energy seems to rub off on you when you're out there with them.  It's been most definitely worth it."

  Sledge hockey is similar to regular ice hockey.  It's played with six players at a time, including a goalie.  Players, most of whom are disabled, propel themselves on a mini sled by using spikes on the ends of 2 three-foot-long sticks, which they also used to shoot and pass the puck.  It has the same rules and discipline structure as regular hockey.

 "The self confidence in these children has risen ten-fold thanks in a large part of Jack's coaching," says Lynn Mercier, "On the ice they can forget about their disabilities and focus on their abilities under Jack's encouragement."

 

  Raymond, 33, who works as a mechanic at Inco is now in his sixth year coaching the team.

  The team bean innocently enough through the efforts of Raymond's wife, June.

  She was looking for activities that their son Brandon, 10, could participate in.  He has spina bifida.

  She stumbled across a sport called sledge hockey and the couple began organizing fun games with a few players.

  In no time at all, the sport became immensely popular, and the Northern Sliders became a non-profit organization. 

  "We started with four kids, andwe put some organization into it and it just snowballed from there," said Raymond.  As more and more kids began taking up the sport, Raymond became coach.

  "Coaching is a little bit of everything for me," said Raymond.

  To these kids, sometimes you're a leader, a motivator, a friend or a social worker.  The best part about it is seeing the kids smile and having fun because that's what it's all about."

  Raymond is now a Level II certified coach through Hockey Canada.

  He has developed the Northern Sliders into a competitive group.  They have participated in numerous tournaments across the province, and have won several of them, and come in second many other times.

  He has two divisions on the team, novice and junior.  The players ages range from seven to 18.  He is coaching about 22 players this season.

  "It makes heart feel good to see them out there," said Raymond.  "The more they develop, the more they feel better."

"THE BEST PART about it is seeing the kids smile and having fun because that's what it's all about," says Jack Raymond.

 

  Raymond sees himself as an easy going guy, who demands fair play and respect from the players.  At the same time, he likes to keep things upbeat and fun.

  "My best teaching ability would be my openness with the kids and my fairness," said Raymond.  "I don't know everything so I will ask the kids for suggestions on how to improve the team.  I treat all the kids equal.  I want every kid to have the chance to play."

  Raymond knows the experience for the players is priceless.

  "It gives these kids self worth, camaraderie, team atmosphere and exercise," said Raymond.

  The Coach of the Year has been married for 12 years.  He has two children, Brandon and Jesse.  In the summer, Raymond likes to take his family fishing and camping.

  Raymond has made a difference in all the players' lives.

  "You can always count on Jack's sense of humour to lift a child's self-esteem," said Amanda Roach in a nomination letter.

  "Jack encourages each player to reach his or her potential and praises each player for his or her efforts.  He's respected by both the children and the parents."  "Jack will coach us if he's sick, tired of not even feeling the greatest," said Northern Sliders player Dennis Jones in a nomination letter.

  Jack gives it his all when it comes to coaching us.  If Jack could make us better players by finding a way, Jack will find the way and teach it to us."  Another player, Jenna Whitcher said, "Jack commits his life and time to the team.  I am speaking for everyone on this team when I say that we could have never got where we are right now without him."  "The part I like is that he always makes sure the players are having fun," says player Jamie Kilganon.  "He makes sure I understand and learn something new at every practice, says son, Brandon.  "He is the best coach and dad anyone could ever have."  The Coach of the Year wins a gift certificate from Play It Again Sports and a commemorative plaque.

  In a future issue, Northern Life will run the names of other outstanding individuals who received honourable mentions for Coach of the Year.

This article appeared in the Northern Life, Feb. 2004