Thunderhawks honour memory of Ronny Betterley with special jerseys

The Wallaceburg Thunderhawks wore special jerseys with the ‘Fight DIPG Childhood Cancer’ ribbon logo in honour of Ronny’ Tuukka’ Betterley at a recent Provincial Junior Hockey League game.

The Thunderhawks honoured the Ridgetown area youngster who died at seven years of age on Jan. 29, 2018, about a year after being diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a rare brain cancer.

The Betterley family – father Jeff, mother Anita, daughter Emmy and son Joe – participated in a ceremonial face-off before the Thunderhawks’ game against the visiting Amherstburg Admirals on Feb. 8.

“Words cannot express our appreciation for all those who came out and supported the first annual Fight DIPG game in memory of Ronny,” said Anita Betterley, Ronny’s mother. “A huge thanks to Wallaceburg Thunderhawks who did a tremendous job on the players’ sweaters, the fight DIPG decals, and supporting funds raised.”

The Thunderhawks are making ‘Fight DIPG Childhood Cancer’ an annual fund-raiser and wore the special jerseys that night. Donations collected at the game went to The Sick Kids Foundation in Toronto, which is currently in the midst of clinical trials for a world-renowned new treatment for DIPG.

“This is a huge advancement in the treatment of DIPG, and we are thrilled to be a part of support,” Anita said.

Joe Betterley was in uniform at the Feb. 8 game, but not wearing the black and red jersey of the Thunderhawks, but the black and white striped linesman’s sweater.

Betterley spent the last three years of his junior career playing for the Thunderhawks as he was third in team. The stay-at-home defenceman had four goals and 17 assists in 100 regular career games in his three seasons in Wallaceburg.

Betterley spent his first year of junior hockey playing with the Blenheim Blades in 2017-18.

The 22-year-old Betterley joined the Ontario Hockey Association officials’ corp after his overage year as he has been handling the lines not only in the PJHL but also in the higher-level Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Betterley admits it has been an interesting adjustment officiating games with former teammates and opponents on the ice.

“There have been some good conversations,” Betterley said with a laugh. “It actually helps because I know who some of the troublemakers are and how some of them act since I played against them or with them over the years.”

Interestingly, Betterley has had to break up fights involving players he once fought.

“Essex was in Dresden one night, and one of the guys who I fought last year was in a fight,” he said. “That’s who I had to tackle when we broke up the fight. There were a couple of chirps and a chuckle ... it was all good humour.”

Betterley started refereeing when he was 14, following the skates of his older cousin Mike Boersma who also got into officiating at a young age.

“I love hockey. I want to be in the game as much as I can, whether it’s playing, reffing or watching,” he said.

Along with calling the lines in junior hockey, Betterley wears the referee’s armbands in minor hockey.

“I could do games seven days a week if I wanted,” Betterley said, as he typically officiates five games a week between minor and junior hockey around his work schedule at the family Ridge Valley Farms on his mother Anita’s (Boersma) side.

Betterley has been encouraged by the local OHA supervisor to attend the Ontario Hockey League officials’ camp in the spring, which he is eager to participate in.

“It would be an awesome opportunity,” said Betterley, who hopes to wear the stripes in the ‘O’ and pro hockey someday. “I’d like to move up as far as I can.”

Betterley said he is honoured by the Thunderhawks’ gesture to make ‘Fight DIPG Childhood Cancer’ an annual affair in honour of his little brother. He was happy to be doing the lines for the game and take part in the ceremonial face-off, just as he did when the Blades honoured Ronny’s memory in their Jan. 29 game against the Thunderhawks in Blenheim.

“It was a cool and awesome moment,” Betterley said of the Blades’ tribute, which came on the fifth anniversary of his brother’s death. “It’s funny how things worked out, the two teams I played for playing on the day of Ronny’s death.”

He was also happy that his long-time friend and former teammate, Josh Remsik of Blenheim, took part in both ceremonial face-offs as the Thunderhawks’ co-captain.

The Thunderhawks, however, lost on both of Ronny’s tribute nights – 6-5 in overtime against the Admirals despite two goals by Remsik and 7-3 to the Blades as Remsik had a goal in that game.

Meanwhile, plans are underway for the fourth Tuukka Cup road hockey tournament at the East Kent Memorial Arena this summer. Last summer’s tournament raised $11,250, as three of Ronny’s charities – ChildCan, Ronald McDonald House and Make-a-Wish Canada – each received $3,750.

Michael Bennett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News