Sport Renfrew disbanding after 46 years of supporting local athletes

·5 min read

Renfrew -- Sport Renfrew, a non-profit group that has provided financial support to area youth so they can participate in organized sports, will cease operations at the end of 2021.

The decision was not one the remaining members of the organization wanted to make, but according to one of the founding members, M.J. Blimkie, it came down to a question of physically being able to devote time and energy to various fundraising events. Now he is concerned there will be a generation of children unable to be part of a sports league because they can’t afford the costs and there will not be another group willing to step in to help these children.

“It’s a darn shame that some boys and girls in Renfrew and area might not get the chance to play hockey or soccer or join the wrestling club or any other sport,” Mr. Blimkie said. “There really is no feeling like it when we are able to help kids join a team and they quickly learn it’s a lot more than just playing a game. It also teaches them about what it means to have teammates and how you grow and understand why it’s important to be part of group. They learn the value of why it is important to play as a team and be able to support each other.”

Formed in 1975, Sport Renfrew made it their mandate to help any child, or group, promote sportsmanship through involvement. That devotion translated to more than one million dollars raised through events. Sport Renfrew was known as the bingo charity at the RCAF Wing in Renfrew.

The weekly bingo actually started at the Renfrew Armouries after the annual Renfrew Fair and alternated between the Armouries from late September to late March or April and then back to the Wing after the ice was removed from the indoor rink that met the town’s needs until Mateway Activity Centre came along in 1988.

“It was a fun and affordable game and our group was very dedicated to the cause,” he said. “We got to know all the regulars and the game of bingo helped thousands of kids play a sport they might not have been able to afford.”

He said the desire to help local kids is something the remaining eight members, including himself, still have. But like an aging athlete who knows when the time has come to walk away from something that has been a major part of most of their lives, the small group of tired volunteers saw the writing on the wall.

“We are all getting up there in age and one of our group is 90 and although he really wants to help, his physical limitations won’t let him do it,” he said. “Even before COVID shut us and all the other groups down, we were getting tired.”

The last time a bingo number was called was 18 months ago and in that time a few group members have passed away while others have serious health concerns. Those factors, along with the physical stamina needed to work the event in the age of COVID, was the final factor that led to the group decision to dissolve the group.

“Since we last got together to run a bingo night, our numbers have really shrunk and asking our elderly members to meet all the COVID requirement including checking everyone’s vaccine status and enforcing health protocols was just too much to ask of them.”

Walking away from helping others is something Mr. Blimkie is not used to. After he finished playing with the Renfrew-Shawville Combines in 1975, he went on to be part of the legendary Flying Fathers from 1976 to 2006. The group travelled to all parts of Canada, in the U.S. and internationally and along the way they raised close to $4 million for worthy causes.

“Having played hockey more than half of my life, it was really tough to walk away from something you love,” he said. “But a person knows deep down when the time comes to leave, and when Sport Renfrew met last week, we all knew we reached that point.”

All members agreed the commitment and desire to devote countless hours to raise money or promote one’s community has become less important to the younger generations and he doubts there will be another Sport Renfrew going for 46 years. His observation is not restricted to his group.

“Some younger people say they don’t have the time to volunteer or they say they work out of town and by the time they get home and look after their own families, they don’t want to go out and spend several hours operating a bingo game.”

Mr. Blimkie is disappointed the decision had to be made, but said several factors are at play.

“The members got too old and wanted to retire and we couldn’t get any new recruits so we had nobody to run the bingos,” he said. “Right now, the kids are the ones I feel sorry for; they’re going to need money for hockey or other sports and who will they turn to for financial help? There is no other group that does this.”

Mr. Blimkie said the remaining members (Mary Blimkie, Karen Godda, Michele Miller, Lou Belleville Chris Lambert, Marilyn Robertson and Pat Holmes) have mixed feelings about attending the final Sport Renfrew Bingo on December 5 at the Wing.

“It is not going to be a fun time for us, but we are proud of what we accomplished over the years. We have helped thousands of kids live out their dreams and we made friends and had a lot of laughs along the way.”

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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