ST. STEPHEN – The fourth annual Rod Wilson Memorial Golf Tournament took place on Monday, August 2, and this year saw the tournament host its largest ever number of players. Not only is this tournament a memorial to a St. Stephen sports legend, it is also a chance to give back to the community with all proceeds going directly to St. Stephen High School to fund sports and other activities for students. This year, St. Stephen High School will receive a cheque for $8,500, the highest amount raised by the tournament to date.

Co-organizer Don Walker said there were so many players this year that instead of everyone beginning at 1 p.m., they had to set up an early morning start time in order to be able to accommodate everyone who wanted to play.

“We had 41 teams,” said Walker. “It was 164 for the number of entrants. The club obviously gets money for the green fees, and we get a certain percentage of that back, and that goes toward what we’re trying to do.”

Walker spoke about Rod Wilson, a former resident of St. Stephen who was well-known as a “long-time baseball coach”. Walker said Wilson was one of the most prominent coaches from the area, and the organizers of the tournament decided they wanted to use his name, both in his memory and to have a well-known name associated with the tournament so people would be encouraged to take part.

“When we were looking to do this, we wanted to associate a name with this tournament that everybody would know and want to take part,” said Walker. “I think one of the reasons it has become so popular is because of who this individual was. He meant a lot to a lot of people. He coached senior baseball in the province. His boys were two very prominent athletes in our community. His wife was a prominent coach in the community. It was the right person to be associated with this event. It was the right name; an acknowledgement of who he was. That’s why the tournament has been very popular. It’s one of the most popular tournaments we have here, and the numbers would justify saying that.”

As mentioned, all proceeds from the Rod Wilson Memorial Golf Tournament are given to St. Stephen High School for sports programs. Principal Krista Amos said the school would also be putting some of the funds into other extra-curricular activities to ensure that students who want to take part will be able to. Many people make cash donations for the tournament, and most of the items, from food to prizes and more, are donated. Not only will the funds be used for sports throughout the school year, students who are taking part in sports programs in the summer will also be able to get some funding to help with expenses.

“Rod would have been my uncle, so there’s a family connection too,” said Amos. “Rod was just so influential with young adults in this community. Mainly for him it was around sports, and providing high-end opportunities for kids to be part of. I think some of his former players, people who would have been connected to him, decided to honour his name to have this golf tournament to be able to provide bursaries and funds for high school kids to be part of all of those things.”

Walker said there was a free-will hotdog stand at the event, and people were paying a lot more than a hotdog would normally cost, because they knew the money would be going to help kids be able to take part in sports and other activities.

“Because of this tournament and the cause that we have for it, it’s easy for people to say, ‘I want to be involved in this’,” said Walker. “That’s why we have this person who wrote us a cheque for $2,500 American. All that money goes back to St. Stephen High School. It’s two-fold. It’s sometimes people just need assistance during the year to pay for things that become expensive. You think of any program at the school, it’s expensive to play. We have very few expenses because people have donated.”

So, who benefits from the funds raised through this golf tournament? Walker said it will be given to students in need during the year who want to take part in sporting activities but need help with expenses. Amos added that some of the funds will also be used to help students take part in non-sports related activities as well.

“Originally, it was for sports, but they do such a good job fundraising that we’re able to spread it out a little more to help kids in all areas of their passions,” said Amos. “It is mostly sporting events because they do seem to have more opportunities and they are a little more expensive. But, we have fees for all of our clubs and sports teams to help us run them. We would also give kids money to be able to cover those fees to be part of anything at school. It gives kids a chance to do what they love to do and help take some of the financial pressure off.”

This summer, there are four students involved with Team NB, either as players or trying out to become players. Amos said funds raised annually through the tournament will be used to help these students achieve their athletic dreams.

“This summer, we have two kids that are trying out for Team NB rugby. We’ve got one playing for Team New Brunswick soccer, two that are doing tryouts for Team NB basketball, and one for hockey. It just helps the family with gas, registration fees, to buy the equipment needed for that sport,” said Amos.

Amos said there are many extra-curricular programs at the school, and she hopes to be able to use some of this funding for other sports. If a student wants to “extend their learning or their passion” for activities beyond what they can do at the school, they will be able to receive financial help.

Walker was excited to talk about another area that some of the funds will be used, which is to purchase a batting machine for the St. Stephen High School baseball team. He said this machine costs approximately $1,000, and they will be able to purchase it thanks to proceeds from the tournament.

“We’re hoping to be able to do that, to give them in the vicinity of $1,000 that they need for it,” said Walker. “The neat thing about that is that Rod was just a fabulous baseball coach. His passion was baseball. To be able to take part of the money that we raise today and put it towards the baseball program is pretty significant also.”

Most of the prizes for the Rod Wilson Memorial Golf Tournament are donated, and there are often some big-ticket items up for grabs. This year, two of the biggest prizes that were raffled off were a jersey and hockey stick used by Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen, who is originally from St. Stephen. Other items raffled off included oil changes, St. Stephen Golf Club green fees and products, and a package of four rounds of golf from the Algonquin.

There are several different divisions for players in the tournament. There is a fun division, a men’s competitive division, and a ladies’ division. Walker said he and the other tournament organizers would love to see more female players get involved. After all, it isn’t just boys who enjoy school sports, so it only makes sense that girls be involved in the tournament and get out there to play, have fun, and raise money to help kids stay in sports.

“We’re just trying to generate interest with the event,” said Walker, adding that the more women who want to take part, the better.

Amos said she is “super-grateful” for the funding raised through the Rod Wilson Memorial Golf Tournament each year, because it helps students to stay connected, which is important, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For us being in rural Charlotte County, to be part of those things that happen sometimes in cities is very costly, so it’s just a fantastic fundraiser for us to be able to help families keep their kids involved. It’s mainly sports, but we use it for other extra-curriculars too. I know Rod would appreciate that.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca