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Athletes, coaches receive their dues

Peter Cassidy remembers that when he first went to hang a volleyball net, he wasn't sure if the white strip or the black strip went at the top. More than 30 years later, his efforts in that sport and others have led to induction in the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame.

Peter Cassidy remembers that when he first went to hang a volleyball net, he wasn’t sure if the white strip or the black strip went at the top. More than 30 years later, his efforts in that sport and others have led to induction in the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame on Friday at an awards ceremony at the Whitehorse Westmark. Athlete and administration awards were also given out.

“When I got to Mayo, it wasn’t my sport,” said Cassidy. “Nobody was coaching the sport, so I said, ‘I guess this is my baby, I’d better learn all about it.’”

Cassidy moved to Mayo from Tweed, Ontario, in 1977 to teach phys-ed at JV Clarke School, soon finding the job entailed more than just gym class. He had to coach a multitude of sports.

“In Mayo you’re hired as the phys-ed teacher, the math teacher and the typing teacher, and if you’re the phys-ed teacher, you’re doing it all, sports wise,” said Cassidy. “If you have two weeks without snow, you can do track and field.

“It was quite an experience up there, for sure.”

Cassidy then “inherited” the volleyball coaching position when he transferred to FH Collins Secondary in Whitehorse two years later as head of the P.E. department.

“Years went by and a fellow came up to me and said, ‘The teachers are going to scrimmage with the kids,’ and I said, ‘You don’t want me out there!’” said Cassidy. “He was amazed that I never played. I said, ‘I don’t play the sport, I only coach it.’”

From the humble beginnings of telephoning around to learn the white strip goes at the top of the net, Cassidy was eventually at the helm of a team he was confident would produce something special.

“That particular year I knew I was in trouble because I stood behind them once and I could hardly see the end of the gymnasium,” said Cassidy. “So I thought, ‘These guys better win something or I’m the problem.’

“It seemed to me I finally had the height, the size, the talent and a bunch of smart boys.”

In 1987 Cassidy took his tall Yukon team to the BC Northern Games where they took gold.

“I know we played Prince George and I think they were kind of ticked because they didn’t expect to lose,” said Cassidy with a laugh.

Because of the Northern Games, Cassidy’s team was invited to provincials that year where the team was “supposed to be a filler,” but managed to secure a bronze medal.

Later the same year the team finished 10th at the Canada Summer Games in Nova Scotia.

For the last 15 years Cassidy has been a director with Sport Yukon and a member of the Games committee. Almost half that time he has been a board member and vice-president of the Glacier Bears Swim Club, of which his son Tanner is a member.

Throughout his involvement with athletics, Cassidy has believed in the simple philosophy that sport builds character.

“For all those people who win the game or the event, there’s hundreds and hundreds that don’t, but they don’t quit,” said Cassidy. “There’s all types of failure in sports - it doesn’t make you quit, it just makes you work that much harder. You may go through a whole sports career without winning a championship or a medal, but the rewards of it is that you don’t quit.

“And you can take that philosophy into life.”

Easily the surest bet of the night, Glacier Bears swimmer Alexandra Gabor was named International Female Athlete of the Year.

With so many highlights from throughout the past year, it’s difficult to say which accomplishment of the nationally carded athlete should go first.

On the international stage, Gabor, 16, qualified for the World Aquatic Championships in July at the Senior Nationals meet in Montreal, taking second in her strongest event, the 200-metre freestyle.

At the Worlds in Rome, she finished 20th in the 200 free and helped the Canadian relay team to an eighth place finish.

More recently in November, Gabor won bronze medals at two World Cup events in Sweden and Germany, both in the 200 free.

On the national stage, Gabor is, flat out, a force to be reckoned with.

Just two days after winning the Sport Yukon award, Gabor became the first member of the Whitehorse Glacier Bears Swim Club to become a national camp, taking gold in the 200 free at the Canada Cup in Toronto. In August, swimming for the Yukon at the Canada Summer Games, she won four medals, including two gold - the first ever gold medals for the Yukon at the Summer Games.

National team cyclist Zachary Bell, for the second year in a row, was awarded International Male Athlete of the Year. Bell became a household name in the Yukon last year when he travelled to Beijing for the Summer Olympics, finishing seventh in the points race and 12th in the Madison event.

As much of an honour it was to win in the wake of the Games, Bell is even prouder of his accomplishment this time around because he was recognized without all the extra attention that comes with the Olympics.

“Last year with the Games, my profile was elevated a little bit,” said Bell. “It was easier to get recognized with something like the Olympics.

“This year, it’s a reflection of people recognizing the achievements I made in this sport this year.”

Just weeks after winning the awards last year, Bell began the season in Colombia winning his first World Cup race. He followed up his Colombia performance with a second-place finish at the Track Cycling World Cup in Beijing. He then won silver at the Track Cycling World Championships in Poland in the omnium event.

“I think that’s why I won the award - that was the big one,” said Bell. “I also did a full professional season again with my (road racing) team in the US, Kelly Benefits Pro Cycling. I race with the Canadian national team on the track.”

For the national/territorial award Whitehorse’s Dahria Beatty, 15, was named Female Athlete of the Year.

At the Haywood Ski Nationals in Collingwood, Ontario, in March, Beatty won two gold medals (five-kilometre classic and the 800-metre classic sprint), a silver and a bronze in the juvenile girls category. The previous month at the Western Canadian Championships, Beatty skied to two gold medals.

“I was quite surprised - it was a great honour,” said Beatty of the award. “I’ve known some skiers who have gotten it in the past and I was just excited to be nominated even.”

In the Canadian Orienteering Championships in August, Beatty won a medal in each of her events, taking in a silver and two bronze. She also played on Team Yukon’s girls basketball team at the Canada Summer Games in PEI.

For his on-ice successes with the Moncton Wildcats in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Whitehorse’s Ted Stephens, 19, was named National/Territorial Male Athlete of the Year.

After producing only five points in 42 games of the 2007/08 season, Stephens showed great improvement last season, racking up 12 goals and 29 assists in 53 games as the Wildcats won their division and finished second in the league. Saving the best for last, in the playoffs Stephens registered 11 points in 10 games.

Because of his play last season, the Wildcats centre received an invitation to the drafting camp of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, but unfortunately could not attend.

Unlike with the awards for the athletes, for Coach of the Year and Administrator of the Year, Sport Yukon takes into account the individuals’ history in the sport beyond the last 12 months.

Named Coach of the Year was Nick Stratis, for his work with the Whitehorse Cross-Country Ski Club and Cross Country Yukon over the last 15 years.

“The 10- and 11-year-old kids are who I look after, so I’m not one of the competitive or elite coaches, I just happen to have been there for quite a while,” said Stratis. “I happen to enjoy working with youngsters. That’s where I started and that’s probably where I’ll finish.”

Stratis is a “mentor coach” for Cross Country Yukon and has Level 2 status in the National Coaching Certification Program.

“Cross Country Yukon is such a big program, they couldn’t do it without him,” said Tracey Bilsky, executive director of Sport Yukon.

Taking the administration award was Canadian Ski Patrol member Don Wilson, for his work with Yukon Zone, a ski patrol for in and around Whitehorse, in which he is a First Aid instructor-trainer, examiner and alpine ski patroller, among other things.

Wilson established the ski patrol at Mount Sima when it first opened in 1993 and has since won appreciation awards for his zone, division and even nationally. In 2007 he won the Canadian Ski Patroller Award, the highest national award a patroller can receive. This year he was only the second ever to receive a Life Member Award from Yukon Zone.

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