Young players battle for the puck during one of Chilliwack Minor Hockey’s Peewee Jamborees. This is the 55th year for the storied tournament

Peewee Jamboree a Kemp Christmas tradition

Chilliwack's Kemp clan has been involved with Chilliwack's Peewee Minor Hockey Jamboree for several decades.

Jennifer Kemp was 16 years old the first time she helped out at the Peewee Jamboree hockey tournament. A spectator up to then, her dad talked her into volunteering and plunked her in the time-keeper’s box.

From six in the morning to six at night, the teenager sat shivering in her little spot, running the clock whilst jotting down goals, assists and penalties.

Traumatic stuff, surely.

“I definitely messed it up, and my penmanship was pretty sloppy back then,” she laughed.

Jennifer made it through that first year, and inexplicably was back for the next. And the next. And the next.  This week, she’ll be back in ‘her office’ for a 14th year as Chilliwack’s flagship tournament celebrates its 55th year.

“These little kids are out there playing their hearts out, and in their eyes they’re going for the Stanley Cup,” Jennifer grins, when asked why she keeps coming back. “The stands are packed with parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. You see their faces when they look at the crowd, and when they score a goal, they have the biggest smiles on their face.”

There may be no family with deeper ties to the Jamboree than Jennifer’s Kemps.

Her grandpa did her job in the early 1970s, sometimes sliding over to keep order in the penalty box.

Her grandma served food at Evergreen Hall, dishing up three meals a day to anyone involved in the tourney — back in the days when the local army base supplied the chow and visiting teams slept in the Evergreen Hall gym.

Jennifer’s dad, Doug, got involved in the early to mid 1970s, first as a coach and later as an official.

He helped out with his little brother’s peewee B team, but his true calling was as a referee. Forty-three years ago, he put on the striped jersey, grabbed a whistle and skated onto the ice at the Chilliwack Coliseum.

He’s been around long enough now to be supervising a third generation of Jamboree players.

Doug’s son and Jennifer’s brother, Jason, played in the Jamboree in 1994 and 1995. In one of those years his team made it to the tournament final before falling in heartbreaking fashion to a team from Hope.

“I remember being really young and going to the arena to watch the games that my dad was reffing,” Jason said. “Then, having a chance to play in it a few years later was special.”

When he was finished playing, Jason followed in his father’s skate-steps, becoming a referee when he was 20 years old. He’s reffed the Jamboree many times since, and viewing it through adult eyes has made it no less special.

“What’s funny is that I’m a teacher, and a lot of the players have been my students,” he chuckled. “When I send them to the penalty box, I hear about it Monday. And now, I am find myself reffing alongside a lot of the kids I taught.”

Jason has a son now, two-year-old Tyler.

The kid’s expressed a love for hockey, and is on track to be the next Kemp to skate in the Boxing Week tourney.

Collectively, the Kemps have seen it all with the Peewee Jamboree.

“You used to have all the good teams from the Lower Mainland, the Burnaby and North Shore Winter Clubs and teams like that,” Doug said, fondly remembering the Peewee Jamboree’s heyday. “The tournament ran like clock-work, and for a small community, everyone got involved. It was a real close-knit kind of thing, and a big thing to be at the Peewee Jamboree.”

Gradually, that heyday fell away, replaced by a two-decade decline. But now, the Kemps believe they are witnessing the Jamboree’s resurgence.

Last year’s tournament had one of the biggest fields in recent memory, to the point where Doug had to come out of ‘retirement’ due to a referee shortage.

A small army of volunteers seems intent on restoring the Jamboree to its former glory.

“You have to take your hat off to the new committee who’ve gotten it back to this level,” Doug said. “There were over 100 games last year. When Jason played, they were lucky to have 50. They’ve gotten the Jamboree back to being something you want to see.”

Having it at this time of year has always made the tournament extra special.

The Kemps make a point of keeping their schedules clear, making the Jamboree a part of their holiday experience.

“All of the kids have their new sticks  that they just got for Christmas and they’re going to score 10 goals with those sticks,” Jennifer laughed. “The older kids are trying some of the moves they see on TV with the World Juniors. It’s just such a wonderful Christmas tradition.”

l This year’s tournament runs from Dec. 27 to 30, with 40 teams and 675 youths participating.

All four ice sheets at Twin Rinks and Prospera Centre will be used.

Teams are coming from the Lower Mainland, Interior, Vancouver Island and United States.

Tournament info can be found on Facebook.

Search Chilliwack Peewee Jamboree 2013 for tournament schedules and venues, parking locations, restaurants and accommodations, as well as information on other scheduled events.

During the Jamboree, the Facebook page will have game results, 50/50 draw updates and more.

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