By Michelle Praymayer
Photos By Laurie Guild
Like a phoenix, the Waterloo Siskins have risen from the ashes and it is all thanks to their many passionate volunteers.
The passion begins at the top with Nelson Leite, president of the Junior B team and part of a group of local businessmen who see themselves as a volunteer leadership group. They did not buy the team; it is a community organization that needed rejuvenating and reviving.
“I don’t have a Siskins’ ring, and I’ve never worn a Siskins’ jersey, but I’m proud of the hockey heritage Waterloo has,” he says.
Players he had once coached asked Leite to intervene in the team’s declining situation because of his experience in dealing with difficult business situations.
“It was a very viable organization,” he explains. “Although there were some glaring mistakes being made, there was a lot of very good things; very positive things that they were doing.”
Because of his “community team” philosophy, Leite and his staff were able to sell Waterloo Council on giving the organization a $15,000 grant. It was then cut back to $14,000 to show that the organization was doing everything in its power to minimize the loan.
“We won’t move forward with a plan to fail,” Leite argued. This idea swayed the votes in his favour as council recognized the new leadership was approaching the situation with a solid business plan. “We’re genuine because none of us played for the Siskins. So we’re doing it because we feel it’s an important part for Waterloo.”
Leite had to literally start from scratch in rebuilding the failing franchise. Former president Tim Fedy resigned, but supported the new team and provided them with as much information as he had access to. Like Fedy, other past presidents are currently still involved. The team is also getting great support from competitors and other franchises in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Some organizations are even going as far as offering up their budgets to assist in the rebuilding.
The Siskins are very appreciative of the community’s support thus far, with over half of the sponsorship budget already being met by people asking how they can help. As a result, the Siskins are giving back to the community as a show of their gratitude. The team has offered their services on multiple occasions to different events around the region without being asked. Players and even some who have not made the team are eager to help out.
“We’re looking at it that the more help we can get from the community, the stronger we’re going to be as an organization and the by-product of that is going to be a stronger hockey product on the ice,” Leite says.
There are still many opportunities to get involved in resurrecting this franchise this coming 78th season. The Siskins need plenty of game day staff to sell 50/50 tickets and merchandise, run intermission games, give away prizes, and do “all the fun stuff”. Outside of the rink, the Junior B team will also need people to proudly march alongside them in the Oktoberfest and Santa Claus parades this year. This wide range of opportunities is available to people of all ages.
Advertising with the team is valuable and the Siskins have attractive sponsorship opportunities for local businesses looking to provide their support to the franchise.
“We must get that idea instilled in people, that it’s your team. We’re not making money. We’ll be happy if we just get the money back that we put in. But we’re not making any profit from it,” explains Leite.
So if you were to venture out to the Waterloo Rec Complex this season, what can you expect?
Camaraderie. Chemistry. Character. Work ethic.
“We might not win every game, but no one’s gonna outwork this team,” Leite states. “They’re going to put all their efforts out on the ice and it certainly would be nice for them to turn around and see people in the stands.”
The Waterloo Siskins’ home opener is Sunday September 11th at 1:30 p.m. against the Brantford Golden Eagles.
For volunteering, sponsorship, advertising information or general inquiries, contact Nelson Leite at firstname.lastname@example.org. And to follow the Siskins’ progress this year go online to www.waterloosportsxpress.ca for more coverage.