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Sports Wall of Fame 2023 honourees an elite group

Five more remarkable individuals and teams inducted

The five newest additions to the North Cowichan/Duncan Sports Wall of Fame each hold a special place in the remarkable sports history of the Cowichan Valley.

Two teams, two athletes and a builder were inducted into the Sports Wall of Fame during a ceremony Saturday night at the Cowichan Golf & Country Club. The Class of 2023, joining the previous 57 inductees since the Sports Wall of Fame program began in 2008, includes: Helen Gosnell; Ernie Mansueti; Jason Sandquist; the 1959 Duncan Little League All-Star baseball team; and the 1982-83 Cowichan Thunderettes girls basketball team.

Related story: Newest Sports Wall of Fame inductees honoured

The proud tradition of recognizing excellence in the community continued, with a huge crowd of family members, friends and supporters of the inductees in attendance. The program was emceed by Cowichan Golf and Country Club’s Norm Jackson, a tradition in itself for the Sports Wall of Fame function.

“It’s heartwarming to see such a tremendous crowd here,” Jackson said.

“This year marks the 150th anniversary of North Cowichan,” added Mayor Rob Douglas. “This is a good time to reflect on the contributions of our sports community.”

Garry Bruce served a dual purpose at the ceremony as both a member of the 1959 Duncan Little League team being honoured and as the City of Duncan’s representative in the absence of mayor Michelle Staples.

With what’s going on in the world, “for a few hours we can forget all of that and celebrate our athletes and making the sports world happen and alive in the Cowichan Valley,” said Bruce.

The committee that makes the selections is chaired by North Cowichan Councillor Tek Manhas and includes: Jason Adair, Don Bodger, Martin Cameron, Bob Court, John Elzinga, Joanna Lord, Deb Melnyk and Jim Nugent.

It’s always difficult to narrow down the nominees to the select few for induction due to the high calibre of athletics over such a long period of time in the valley.

The crowd heard just a snippet of the contributions made by the 2023 inductees and viewed a brief video on each one that provided some highlights.

Gosnell is in her 90s, but showed she still has plenty of spunk and took great delight in being part of the proceedings. She was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley, but as a youth played high level softball in Edmonton and was part of the first-ever Canadian Senior Women’s Softball Championship team before eventually returning to the valley for a long teaching career.

Mansueti is the creator of the Sports Wall of Fame concept and has an abundance of accomplishments to his credit both in his professional life as the longtime director of parks and recreation for North Cowichan plus in many volunteer capacities.

“It’s so good to see this continuing on,” he said.

KidSport Cowichan has been near and dear to Mansueti’s heart for the organization’s efforts in making sure economic situations are not a barrier for any child wanting to play sports. And, of all his coaching assignments over the years, “nothing was more rewarding to me than coaching my kids,” Mansueti added.

Sandquist’s triathlon resume is lengthy since his first race in 1989 and he’s still going strong today.

“This is a dream community for a triathlete,” he said.

Sandquist noted the combination of running and biking trails, facilities, the ocean and the lakes, combined with the weather makes it the ideal spot to train.

Over the years, he has done 28 Ironman races, including 10 World Championships.

The Duncan Little League team’s claim to fame was simply winning every game it played until a loss to Vancouver, Washington ended its hopes of playing in the Little League World Series.

“It was 65 years ago that we won these championships,” said Bruce. “It’s so nice to celebrate it now and I can’t remember it.

“We were 12-year-old kids and it was so exciting to get down to that ball park every night.”

The 1983 Thunderettes became the second Cowichan Secondary School girls basketball team that decade to win the provincial AAA high school championship. It hasn’t happened again since.

The Thunderettes knocked off No. 1 Penticton in the semifinals and then throttled Abbotsford in a very aggressive final at Simon Fraser University. Coach John Hart and a gritty girls team were not to be denied.

“Our friends came and cheered for us every single game,” said star guard Kim Orr (Poland). “We packed the gym for feature games because we were way better than the boys teams.

“Yes, we were the tallest and we were the most skilled team,” she added. “But we were a team.”

Members of both the Duncan Little Leaguers and Cowichan Thunderettes made it a memorable reunion weekend by also getting together the night before. Some haven’t seen each other literally for decades.

The next Wall of Fame induction ceremony will be in 2025.

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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