You may have heard about the stolen Gordie Howe jersey. The framed Detroit Red Wings sweater, signed by #9 Mr. Hockey himself, was stolen in a break-in from the arena in Asquith, Saskatchewan. It was how the Asquith Arena was raising the money it desperately needs to keep its arena running. What you may not realize is how important fundraisers like this is for small towns throughout North America, and how they can be the difference between keeping their doors open — and shutting them forever.
The Asquith Arena‘s board were hoping to raise between $20,000-$30,000 from the proceeds of the sale of raffle tickets, with the framed-and-signed Gordie Howe jersey going to the winner. When I talked to board member Brandi McTavish about the break in, she told me they’d sold just over half of the 3,000 tickets they’d had printed. Tickets were going for $10 each, or 3 for $20.
How was that stolen Gordie Howe jersey going to help?
The money would be used in a few different ways. To pay bills. Patch up the roof. And maybe buy a used score clock if there was any money left over.
“That money was going to help keep the doors open for another year,” McTavish tells me. “Just to keep the lights on is expensive.”
Since the news of the theft broke, there’s been an outpouring of support from strangers all over North America — many with offers of replacement jerseys.
What the Asquith Arena really needs, though, is money.
There are less than 300 houses in Asquith, a farming community half-an-hour’s drive from Saskatoon. Their arena isn’t like most arenas. They don’t even have artificial ice.
Every winter, the arena becomes a community project to build a rink with natural ice. When the weather gets cold enough and the ground finally freezes deep enough, that’s when they start building their ice. This year, their season opened on December 8th. Last season, it wasn’t cold enough until January. Three years ago they opened in November. Weather dictates when the season begins, and when it ends too.
This is all done by volunteers. In fact, practically everything is done by volunteers: building and maintaining the ice, teaching learn-to-skate and learn-to-play hockey, coaching, scheduling and even flipping burgers at the canteen. Everything is done by an army of volunteers. Except for a cleaner who comes in after games, that is.
A League of Their Own
Even the way their minor hockey club works isn’t traditional. The Asquith A’s run an initiation program, teaching kids how to skate and how to play, for free. And their three different age groups of hockey – Novice, Atom and Pee Wee – practice a lot and play some exhibition games. Those games are held mostly on home ice in Asquith, against other teams from the surrounding area who are looking to get a bit of extra ice time. For kids from Asquith Minor Hockey who want to move on and play for teams in Saskatoon, there’s a one-time transfer possibility.
“We don’t want to hold anyone back,” McTavish says.
“I’m a fan of small town rinks,” McTavish tells me. “It’s a second home for our families. It’s the center of our community. It’s the source of our great community spirit, and maybe most importantly, it gives our kids something to do.”
McTavish has been on the Asquith Minor Hockey board for the past seven years. Four years ago, the board questioned their arena’s sustainability and thought about putting a chain around the front doors with a note telling the parents to take their kids somewhere else.
But then something happened.
More kids started enrolling.
“And although we don’t have teams just for girls, we started to get more girls coming out to play hockey.”
I asked McTavish what would be on the arena’s wish list, if they could have anything they wanted. Here’s her rather humble list.
- Replacing our very old score clock. It doesn’t need to be new, but it needs to be working
- Fixing the roof
- Stronger doors
- And what we would really love is fake ice we could flood over top of to build real ice when it’s cold enough. That would extend our season.
McTavish and the others on the Asquith board are a grateful for the support that they’ve received, especially with several offers of signed Gordie Howe replacement jerseys. They don’t want to turn anyone away, but their board needs to decide what to do with what they’ve been given.
“It all comes down to the same thing: getting the fundraising machine running to raise the money we need,” McTavish says. “We need money.”
McTavish knows her community isn’t the only one with an arena in need.
“There are arenas in small towns all over with the same problems we have,” she says. “We’re so lucky there’s all this interest in our arena because of the stolen Gordie Howe jersey. But I’m sure there’s a need in a small town, maybe in your own backyard that’s just like ours, struggling to keep a place open for their kids. It would be great if people opened their hearts and their wallets to those rinks, to help keep them, and their communities, alive.”
If you would like to send money to the Asquith Arena — or buy a ticket for a signed Gordie Howe jersey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gordie Howe was born on March 31, 1928 in Floral, Saskatchewan and passed away last summer. He was 88. Howe had the most amazing professional playing career ever, which began in 1946 and ended in 1980.