Ninety-four-year-old Howie Meeker was back at Storey Creek Golf Course Saturday afternoon for the 30th time, marking a milestone for his annual namesake golf tournament that raises funds for Campbell River Special Olympics.
But change has to come and the venerable Meeker is passing on the torch, somewhat, for the Howie Meeker Charity Golf Classic which provides the funding for Campbell River’s Special Olympics program. The annual event will continue on, as will Meeker, and it will still keep the same name but it will be co-hosted by a new personality.
It was announced at Saturday night’s post-tournament banquet and fundraising auction at the Thunderbird Hall that veteran NHL defenceman and North Island product Clayton Stoner will come on board as a guest co-host of the Howie Meeker Golf Classic. Born in Port McNeill, Stoner, 33, played junior B hockey for the Campbell River Storm and was drafted by the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in 2004. He played junior A hockey for the BCHL’s Powell River Kings and major junior hockey with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. He played most of his NHL career with the Wild and the Anaheim Ducks.
Meeker was recognized at the banquet by Campbell River mayor Andy Adams for his service to the community.
“In the States they have keys to the city but in Campbell River we don’t have keys for the city, we’re in Canada, but we’ve got something else for you,” Adams said before presenting Meeker with a City of Campbell River Certificate of Recognition.
The Howie Meeker Golf Classic is the signature fundraiser for Special Olympics in Campbell River and allows the Campbell River local of B.C. Special Olympics to operate a generous and expansive program for Special Olympians in this community.
“It never ceases to amaze me how well this golf tournament turns out,” Maureen Hunter, Campbell River Special Olympics president, said. “Four years ago we were at a hundred golfers. Today we are at 164, so thank you very much.
“I would like to thank the sponsors because without you we wouldn’t have one of the most successful (Special Olympics) locals in Canada. And we truly are one of the most successful locals in Canada.”
She told the crowd that six of the Campbell River local’s athletes attended the national Special Olympic games earlier this month in Antigonish, N.S.
Hunter paid tribute to Meeker and his support of Special Olympics. Special Olympics Canada is, coincidentally, celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Special Olympics movement was created from the research by Dr. Frank Hayden showing the benefit of physical activity for persons with intellectual disabilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver picked up on Dr. Hayden’s proposal of a national games in Canada and turned it into the Special Olympics concept in the United States.
“Fifty years ago the first words out of doctors’ mouths were ‘put that person in an institution. We don’t want those children. Lock them away. They will never be anything,’” Hunter told the banquet and auction, which is held after the day of golfing.
Shortly after Kennedy launched Special Olympics, a group of men got together and created Special Olympics in Canada. One of them was Harry “Red” Foster, former NHL referee. Another man he brought on board with him was Howie Meeker, former NHL player and coach and hockey broadcaster.
“Fifty years ago, people didn’t care. Fifty years ago our society didn’t know about inclusion. We knew nothing, nothing about the great joys and pleasures and talents and gifts that our athletes bring to us every single day. But this group of people did.
“And Howie stood among this group of people and said, ‘Yes, we can create this program.’ So for 50 years he has believed in our athletes.”
Thirty years ago, Meeker came on board to help Campbell River Special Olympics which, at the time, didn’t have a fundraiser. At the time, the Campbell River local wanted to fundraise to attend the national games. Meeker was contacted to help with obtaining a NHL player from the Vancouver Canucks to lend their name and support to a fundraiser. Eventually, it ended up being Meeker himself who lent his name to the golf tournament and he has attended everyone of them.
“And he still stands up for what he believes in because Howie knows the athletes that we support and are privileged to coach and be a part of, he knows what a contribution they make to our society so thank-you very much for believing in our athletes when no-one else did. Thank-you.”
And while the Howie Meeker Golf Classic is marking its 30th anniversary, the Campbell River local of Special Olympics is marking its 35th anniversary and at that point in the evening, Debbie Lowery, one of Campbell River’s original Special Olympics athletes from that first group of athletes, presented a commemorative watch to Meeker to mark the occasion.
Stoner’s participation in the classic as co-host with Meeker will keep it going for many more years to come. The name of it won’t change but Stoner is happy to come on board to help promote it and keep the Special Olympics effort moving forward.