Hockey’s Volunteer: A family affair

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When Connie Mitchell moved to the East York neighbourhood, her husband’s first order of business was getting their son enrolled with the East York Hockey Association. After all, his father had coached and volunteered with the organization, and he, alongside his brother, played there as well. Connie had married into a hockey family and felt, now, it was her turn to give back.  

“We spent his first season there as parents in the stands, and then immediately decided that we wanted to volunteer for the next year because we’re like, ‘Okay, we’re here all the time, we’re going to just sit in the stands and do nothing, we’re going to start volunteering’.” 

Eventually, Connie graduated to become a member of the executive committee, first as convenor, then as special events coordinator, and finally as president, a position she has held since 2013. Her volunteering journey is not a unique one, but rather a template followed by many families, spanning multiple generations across organizations in the GTHL.  

That same family connection can also be found within the Toronto East Enders Hockey Association where current President Mike Fitzpatrick has been volunteering for over 40 years. His father John first coached at East York while Mike played, before moving on to be the founder of the Toronto East Enders in 1972 alongside Rod Young, providing an outpost for east-end kids looking to play ‘A’ and ‘AA’ hockey.  

“I could never play for the East Enders because I was too old, so I was on the bench right away,” Mike remembered. “I hung up the sweaters, did the water bottles, and collected the pucks at the practices – that was my earliest time volunteering. As I got older, of course, I took on my own team.” 

When his father John passed away in 2012, Mike transitioned into his father’s role, working alongside Bruce Secord, another pillar in the East Enders hockey community. They, along with Connie, realized a need to reorganize and restructure east-end hockey. The East York Hockey Association was, and still is, a House League and Select organization, while the Toronto East Enders operate teams at the competitive (‘A’ and ‘AA’ levels). An affiliation between the two groups was the logical solution to give players and families a straightforward path from recreational to competitive hockey, if desired.  

“People are already thinking when they’re six or seven, where am I going to play [next]? So it just made that transition so much easier,” Mike explained of the development path created. “We’ve kept [our] whole community together. We have the East York community and the East Enders community, and we’ve grown that team together.”  

The result has been self-fulfilling – players not only starting, but finishing their minor hockey in the East End community. Fast forward to these players now adults with kids of their own starting hockey journeys, they are not only enrolling their kids in the very same organization they played for, but volunteering their time to that community as well.  

For organizations like the East York Hockey Association and the Toronto East Enders Hockey Association that are entirely volunteer-run, this generational volunteerism is vital to operation. For Connie and Mike, it’s what makes their tireless efforts so rewarding. 

“It’s not just about throwing kids on a team and sending them on the ice to play hockey,” Connie shared. “It’s about helping them grow and mature and become good and valued members of society, and instilling these values like giving back and volunteering.” 

“They had a good experience as a kid, so now they’re going to go back and volunteer and help other kids have that same good experience.”

Check out the 2024 Winter Breakout Magazine for all these stories and more! 

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