It was something that was unbelievable, but at the same time, somewhat not surprising, given the type of people they are.
As many of you may-or may not-know, I am a committee member for a charity golf tournament held each summer in Strathroy, Ontario in support of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Â Last year we raised $5,000 in our first year of the tournament, and yesterday, June 5th, was the second annual event.
Eight months of hard planning, a delicate high wire act of balancing teams, sponsors, donations, and other variables that you undoubtedly run into along the way, and it was all coming together on this day.
And everything was aligning itself to be a special day.
The tournament is played in memory of my uncle, Shawn Wade, who passed away a few years ago as a result of complications of a stroke. Â Among the many ways you could describe him, all of them positive, he was also a huge hockey fan. Â Having played competitively when he was younger, my uncle attached himself to the Detroit Red Wings, amazed by Gordie Howe and his skill and dogged determination.
He followed the Red Wings throughout his whole life, and when he met and eventually married my aunt, Mary, the two took great pride and enjoyment in frequenting “The Joe” and cheering on the famed Winged Wheel. Â And cheer they did.
They attended games live, and lived and breathed Wings hockey throughout their time together. Â A past time of faith which was rewarded to the tune of a few Stanley Cups along the way.
With the tournament about two weeks away, we had an idea, which in hindsight looked completely out to lunch.
As we were brainstorming ways to make the day extra special, a committee member brought up the idea of perhaps involving the Detroit Red Wings in the actual days events. Â After all, it would be a fitting way to honour to the life of my uncle.
I placed a call to the Detroit Red Wings earlier this week. Â With only four days before the tournament, I realized that I had painted myself into quite a corner, and while the idea was good, the implementation simply may be flawed based on the amount of time we had to make this happen.
After talking with Todd Beam, the Red Wings PR man, and a very kind one at that, I hedged the idea of bringing Jason Williams, a Red Wings player, and one of my aunt’s favourites, to the event as a special surprise for her. Â I thought if I could talk to Jason somehow, perhaps he would understand the story, and make a few minutes of his time available.
Again, I realized it was a total long shot, and with the players enjoying their summer after another hard fought year, I realized the chances of pulling this together were not likely.
To my unbelievable surprise, the aforementioned Todd Beam told me he would speak to Jason this week personally to see if there was any way something like this could be done.
I had to sweat it out. Â It wasn’t until Friday, one day before the tournament, when I got the email I had been waiting for all week. Â I studied the words over and over again, to make sure I wasn’t missing a key piece of information, or interpreting it wrong.
Jason Williams, forward for the Detroit Red Wings, a guy who grew up not far from where the tournament was being held, and a personally favourite of my aunt Mary, was going to take time out of his hard earned summer vacation, to stop into our tournament, to make the day of people he had never even met.
The day of the tournament arrived, and we got everything we could have asked for and more.
First and foremost, the weather. Â With one eye on the weather network all week, it appeared divine intervention had pushed the clouds and brewing storms overhead right over top of us, making for a perfect day for golf as the sun beckoned overhead, making the water and finely manicured course sparkle like tiny diamonds.
The culmination of a long planning process, the tournament was our day to enjoy the weather, the company of good friends, and honour the life of my late uncle, while raising much needed funds and awareness for a great cause.
And the day itself went without a hitch.
We missed the storms, we had a great auction (including a ton of great signed NHL stuff from official teams) and lots of local business items as well. Â We also had a great day of golf, and shared a lot of laughs.
Right around 1PM, as scheduled, all the teams were in their carts, getting ready for the starter to set them off in motion, buzzing and weaving their way through the course to their designated start hole that a shotgun start provides. Â Seeing all the carts lined up at the beginning of the course, and seeing them filled with faces of friends and family, is quite humbling.
The golf course manager was just finished giving his speech, and the event was minutes from beginning, when things took a bit of a swerve, at least from my Aunt’s angle.
“And now we have a surprise for my aunt Mary” yelled my brother, so excited he forewent the microphone in favour of bellowing the announcement as loudly as possible.
Jason Williams had arrived. Â He was actually at our golf tournament. Â And he definitely made it a worthwhile experience for all involved.
As the announcement rang through the air, the crowd began to roar with applause while some, my aunt certainly included, reacted with a shocking gasp. Â She was speechless, and as she turned around, she could not believe she was standing face-to-face with one of her favourite NHL players, Jason Williams.
The meeting itself was very special to her, and everyone who got to witness it as the tournament was set to begin. Â There were even some onlookers close by who were overcome with emotion at the surprise, and a few tears could be seen throughout the crowd.
As for Jason himself, we couldn’t have asked for a better guy.
For starters, he took time out of his summer vacation to stop at our tournament for a few minutes, a move that made my Aunt’s day no doubt, and made for a moment at the tournament none of us will ever forget.
Even spending a few minutes of his time with us, it was very clear the type of person Jason is.
He was very polite, shaking our hands and genuinely pleased to be spending time with us on this special Saturday. Â He was smiling, laughing, and chatting with my Aunt as if the two went back years. Â He gave her a hug when he saw she was shaking a bit from being so surprised and star struck. Â He posed for photos and even signed an autograph or two as well.
As for the day itself, it looks like early returns have us pulling in over $7,000 of pure donation for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which would give us a two year total of $12,000, though final numbers wont be released until later this week. Â After only speaking with him for a few minutes, it’s easy to see why hockey players have the reputation of being among the nicest, down to earth people going.