New life for Peewee Jamboree tournament

Chilliwack Minor Hockey's Peewee Jamboree isn't what it used to be, but a group of volunteers is working to restore the glory.

The Peewee Jamboree hockey tournament was once one of the greatest minor hockey tournaments in BC, drawing the best teams and players from across the land.

Time has eroded the tournament to the point where it is a mere shadow of its former self. But a team of volunteers within Chilliwack Minor Hockey stand determined to restore it to its former glory.

They want help.

The tournament has been around for 54 years (or 55, depending on who you talk to), generating many memories.

CMHA wants to hear some of those stories and re-establish the sense of history that once made the tournament a go-to destination for visiting teams.

“This was the jewel of peewee hockey tournaments for Western Canada,” said CMHA’s Greg Wheeler. “We’ve had big players come through it. We’ve had multi-generational families, grandfathers, fathers and sons, come through it. At one time it was a huge source of community pride.”

There are many factors that have led to the decline of the Peewee Jamboree.

Once upon a time, the tournament was the only game in town on Boxing Day.

But other minor hockey associations have launched their own Boxing Day tournaments over the years, to the point where Chilliwack’s event is just one of a dozen-plus taking place the week after Christmas.

While Chilliwack operates theirs on a net-zero basis, other associations see tournaments as a cash cow.

“They are now viewed as a way for minor hockey associations to make money, and that’s why there are so many more than there used to be,” Wheeler said.

Another issue has been continuity.

It is the nature of minor hockey that parents come and go, arriving with their peewee-aged children and moving on with their bantam-aged children. As a result, year-to-year  continuity has been lacking.

“One of the things tournaments are judged on is how smoothly things run when you get there,” Wheeler said. “It doesn’t excite people, but it sure ticks them off if it doesn’t run smooth.”

For the incoming crop of parents who haven’t been involved before, it feels like they’re starting from scratch.

By re-establishing the tournament as a source of community pride, CMHA hopes to draw in a core group of organizers that will stay in place.

“Teams pay a lot of money to come to these things, and parents pay a lot of money to stay at them,” Wheeler said. “For a lot of families, these are the only vacations they get all year. We want ours to be an event they will remember.”

Solid organization combined with community support gives the perception of a first-class tournament. First-class tournaments draw top-notch teams, and that’s something else that’s been lacking in recent times.

The Jamboree used to be the top destination.

Not any longer.

“You want to draw people from as far away as possible so you’re not facing the same teams you see all season long,” Wheeler said. “They have one in Quebec that’s a really big deal and people come from everywhere   for that. Obviously we don’t have the same population to draw from, but for Western Canada we were there, and we want to get back to it.”

Big tournaments have draws beyond the tournament itself.

This year’s Jamboree will include a skills competition and an assortment of prizes and draws and tourney organizers are forging a relationship with sports equipment giant Reebok.

“We started working on this in May, where most of the tournaments are just starting up now,” Wheeler noted. “The parents doing it this year, this isn’t our first tournament because we’ve done them at the atom and novice levels. But it is our first peewee tournament and we want it be a good one.”

By putting out a call for stories and pictures, Wheeler and company hope to get people talking about the Jamboree.

The more buzz the better as work feverishly to make up for lost time.

“I want to hear, ‘I played back in 1982 and it was the greatest experience,’ or ‘It was the first time my Dad saw me score’ or ‘I still come to the rink and look up at the banner,’ Wheeler said when asked what he hopes to see. “I want to hear stories that make people care about the tournament and most of all I want stories from people who were in the tournament. We have such a strong tradition and you hate to see something like that slide away.”

Stories and pics can be sent to the Progress sports department by email at sports@theprogress.com or in person at 45860 Spadina Avenue.

Stories and pics can also be posted to the Peewee Jamboree Facebook page (search Chilliwack Peewee Jamboree 2012 to find it).

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