Ontario's Longest Running Annual Road hockey Tourney in Newmarket

                      Mulock Hawks 2006 Team
Sat March 15 2014 marks the date of the 10th anniversary of the Friendly Neighbourhood Youth Road hockey Challenge. NOTE: 2014 event at 395 Mulock Dr. Town Office parking lot. Registration 10AM. 289-221-0928. All Age groups welcome. Under 12 must be supervised.

The inclusive Newmarket activity event, first started to engage youth, and free to all participants, has become Ontario's longest running annual ball hockey tourney program - coming before any other similar ball hockey models such as the York Region Character group's after-school start up which uses a very similar program description, the St. Margaret's Hospital for Cancer tourney, Oakville's event, Niagara's, Waterloo's, Hamilton's or even the infamous Canada-wide PlayOn 4 on 4 tourney now billing itself as Canada's largest. Even Walter Gretzky's annual in Brampton - all came after ours.

In fact as I recall, while traveling Ontario to various poverty reduction forums and social networking groups on behalf of PACC which took over the event at the time when the community development project ended, explaining excitingly the virtues of road hockey and telling how it was not only a great cause, but a natural  event for marketing as well, being a Canadian "tradition". People asked a lot of questions and wanted know more always it seemed. " It teaches newcomers a Canadian tradition", I'd said. It kept a Canadian traditions alive we wrote. It made kids active and taught responsibility. and on. It was an easy sell. For others too it would seem.

2013 M.T. Award Winner Tyler Gray, 18
Our Challenge format was even borrowed for ice hockey's local Aurora - Newmarket Junior A Team games to incite rivalry and boost attendance shortly after I mentioned it to one of their sponsor's reps - at the time telling him I'd like to see a team from Aurora challenged to play in our tourney - after which exclaimed, "A Challenge, what a great idea!". Two months later they were billing their own as " The Yonge St Challenge" or " Battle of Yonge" or something to that effect as I recall seeing in the papers. We didn't get any sponsorship money, but they did give us some free tickets for the new challenge games to give to some youths. Ha.

Obviously they all saw the value too. No worries, we see it all as a compliment.

First recipient Mike Thornhill Award
When we first started holding the F.N. Youth Road hockey Challenge out of a small mixed-income neighbourhood, we took the model of when we were kids growing up, challenging another team to play, but what we found was times had changed and finding another neighbourhood street hockey team would not be so easy, so we settled on playing against a church youth team that first year.

Over the summer, one of the youths who'd begun coming out to community meetings and volunteering to assist in youth outreach was killed across town outside a local Tim Horton's donut shop. The younger youth in the affected community who had befriended this guy, Mike Thornhill on a path to changing his life, received no grief counseling and so, again, we of the community development committee had a dilemma, and created "the Mike Thornhill Memorial Award , a cash / scholarship donation (amount changes each year) presented to a team nominee participant chosen as showing outstanding community leadership.

News coverage begins
The next year there were 4 teams, then 8, then 12. As the event grew, we'd added a kit to assist youths in forming their own teams, and a "Council's Challenge", and it was moved near Newmarket's Main St. with hopes of actually getting on it in order to realize the events full potential, stay truer to the "roadhockey" theme, and where it would garner more coverage, sponsorship, and ultimately attendance. These were tough objectives to achieve on a limited budget and although the event managed some sponsorship funds, always in smallish amounts, allowing for only minimal marketing. Still, the little tourney that could chugged along.

Three or Four years ago, I thought we were on our way. We'd finally convinced the Main St. businesses that having an event mid-march, in winter, attracting families to Main, was good. As well we'd set up deals with the local vendors to ensure sales by including the restaurants as options ( via tickets) for the players meals which we reimbursed them after the event. I also managed to get a page 3 Toronto Sun article written by a prominent columnist, Joe Warmington, bragging about how great a town we were for embracing it on our Main St., whilst Toronto tried to ban it.

That year we had a tough time getting excess volunteers, and when the booth tables were not delivered - as can happen when relying on volunteers - we scrambled for an alternate location to post info to, a theme which seemed to follow us the whole day. A Murphy's law year. It was fun though, and becoming what we wanted with live entertainers on the streets and inside cafes - to again assist business - and the atmosphere was great, with one of the sponsors Newmarket Mitsubishi's cars strategically placed to separate play areas. We just needed more of a budget to let more people know!

Electric sponsor in 2013
Sponsorship on a higher $ level was tough for some reason, although we had good mid-level support. For a few years I approached the Tim Horton's outside of which Newmarket's community member had died who we give an award out in homnour of, leaving a package of sponsor info for them to participate with Mike Thornhill Award, or offer out the free hot chocolate we give out but no one ever replied, and another I'd approached ,Canadian Tire, instead had started a "Start Up" type program of their own to help kids play sports.

What we needed was someone big to grab on to us - instead of the new trend of corporations trying to create their own in-house "programs" and charities.

Something for all ages
The following year we fully expected to be back on Main St. but were pushed back to the parking lot again when we received no replies to our request for repeating. Rumour had it some merchants were against events on the street, which is understandable i suppose, so off we went even though we had scads of support to remain. At any rate, it was definitely tough to get jacked up for a parking lot again after experiencing it on Main St. but we plodded on, having been sold on the new Riverwalk Commons which was to replace our former location in the parking lot. At the time of its development, we were led to believe we could ultimately play right there around the community centre, but the town's parks & rec depart wouldn't allow it for "safety" reasons and so the event remained mostly in the back parking lot.

In 2013 not one politician showed up for the event even though all locals were invited to or got back to me, including the Mayor for the past couple of years - and if not for Newmarket Councilor Joe Sponga, who took from his own budget to help pay for temporary fencing we were told we apparently needed for "safety" for the first time in 9 years at an extra cost of $700, we wouldn't have even held it!

It felt like almost nobody but the kids wanted it.

So with 2014 on the horizon and the event mired in a back parking lot again, estranged from Riverwalk Commons but with all the costs, I wondered about the feasibility of putting it on for 2014. It was tough to get sponsors excited about a back parking lot, even if it was near a community hall and outdoor stage and it's a lot of work - especially to do it semi-right - and more than volunteers alone are needed in order to organize, coordinate, and market the event properly. Then I got a call from Councillor Joe Sponga with a game saving proposal.

"What do you think about moving to the Newmarket Plaza' he'd said,

Bradford Rampage won in 2013
"Hear me out", continued he, sensing the meaning of my silence and going on to explain that there may be business development funds available for businesses development, and with construction,  Shop Davis Dr. stores have been severely affected, and therefore need something there to attract and promote business, like the road hockey event. Further, he'd already had interest from All Pro Source For Sports' store owner,  Gerry Ertl, who also has been affected by all the construction, having had to move from a visible long time location to a ' back door' location, at the back of the Newmarket Plaza And He's going to work on bringing the Stanley Cup to the event!

So we three met to get the car rolling! Gerry, below, had to move his store due to construction.


Car!!Viva Transit was also onboard Joe'd said, and could offer prime ad spot locations perhaps, and maybe dish out the free hot chocolate. The more we talked the better it sounded even though we were back in a parking lot, and as we walked the area inspecting it for feasibility, I began to get excited again..starting to visualize where things could be, and how we could include the businesses in promotions, and expand the format to include younger kids!

Former location spot for All Pro
And heck, maybe we'll even resurrect the Councilor's Challenge in some form and expand the Opening Face-Off Party to include more public attendance. Looks like The Yappers will perform and we can perhaps have sidewalk musicians performing, as well and some fun, interactive activities and I'm sure Jazzled will want to get involved!

Anyone know where we can get a "slapshot speed detector" with netting for an activity booth?

The Newmarket Plaza has been an area staple for a long time, having been the area's biggest for many years prior to the opening of the Upper Canada Mall, and it maintains a cozy small town feel to it as you stroll it's outdoor walkways, the piped out music adding to the experience. As well I have some personal attachments there, with my mom having run a store some years ago, Oscar & Felix Cookies along with my brother inlaw, and as well one of the events first sponsors, Newmarket Young Drivers of Canada, is also located in the plaza. In fact Joe Sponga, myself and others formed a non-profit group there, where we would meet often ( I chaired for 4 years) while creating and running Operation Sparrow, a forum for kids without means to play organized activities free alongside their peers.

Yes Sir, Ma'am! I needed a boost like that to get motivated and I look forward to the 2014 event at 130 Davis Drive Newmarket Plaza, and to continue to make a difference in young kids' lives, at least for one more year....

UPDATE!!!!unfortunately the Newmarket Plaza's Management nixed the idea last minute, even though the merchants were all for it. Shame. 

Location will be Sat Mar 15 2014 at The Town office  - 
395 Mulock Dr Newmarket

ALSO Watch for the Opening Face Off Party also, Fri Mar 14  at Big Daddy's 446 Davis Drive featuring live entertainment (19+)!

If you'd like to be part of the organizing committee, or ref, or form a team or sponsor / donate, let us know!
Join the friends of road hockey on  on Facebook
Game on!

TP out