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SJHL Assistance Program not just in place for the present, but is to benefit the future as well

By Dave Leaderhouse, 05/09/18, 11:00AM CST

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It is just over a month since one of the darkest days in recent memory occurred when a tragic crash claimed 16 lives and injured 13 others as the Humboldt Broncos were travelling to Nipawin to face the Hawks in Game 6 of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s semi-final round.

The utter disbelief, shock and pain were overwhelming and affected people from around the world. Bus travel is a way of life in so many sports so the reality of the situation hit home for many and immediately after the tragedy the unity of grieving brought many people and organizations forward to ensure that those most affected can cope with the after-effects of something so devastating.

“I think it was the next day that we recognized that this is something that could be needed; if not now, but down the road,” explains SJHL president Bill Chow on how the league’s Assistance Program came into being. “It has been supported by everybody and has just grown.”

Federated Co-Op and its retail stores kick-started the program by contributing more than $500,000 and the Red Cross jumped in by creating a computer program that was available to SJHL players and coaches, billet families and the families of those affected most by the tragedy.

The Red Cross program is set up to provide self-assessment for those seeking assistance and, if needed, referrals to professional counsellors are then offered. Chow says that there has been moderate usage of the program to date, but now that the hockey season has formally been concluded in the SJHL there could be a spike as people have more time to reflect on what happened just over a month ago. There are also expectations that when play resumes in the fall the need for assistance could rise to another level.

Chow says that initially the program was established to provide and create awareness for mental health, but that has been expanded to also offer scholarship opportunities for graduating players in memory of the 16 lives lost in the accident. The continued support from generous donors has allowed this to occur.

"I’m hoping all of this is in existence long after I am involved in the league,” notes Chow. “We will not solicit for funds, but our expectations are that we have long-term commitments to the program from a number of corporate partners."

The growth of the program has obviously made it more than just a single step following the bus crash. The complexities of the program have risen to the point that legal guidance is being provided by Burnett, Duckworth & Palmer (BD&P) while Meyer Norris Penny (MNP) is also on board to offer accounting advice. Together they are in the process of making the Assistance Program a registered charity and Chow says this will allow more transparency for donors to see where the funds are being distributed.

The mantra immediately following the tragedy was ‘the power of healing is in the game.’ Continuing with the game was and always will be important, but to make sure that everyone involved in the SJHL recovers from what has occurred, the league has moved forward with its assistance initiative. Thanks to the generous support shown by so many, and the leadership displayed from the league itself, it is hoped that everyone is in a better place now and in the future.