Mary Ellen Clark has been chosen as Neepawa's 2012 Sportsman of the Year.
The tireless volunteer for the Neepawa Natives organization was nominated by the Junior 'A' hockey club for her work as a billet and 'mother-away-from-home' for young hockey players coming to the community.
Over the years, Clark has been a billet for more than 40 Natives players and she now acts as a billet coordinator for all players coming to the community. She is also a big part of the Natives' annual cash drive.
“She exemplifies hard work and...it takes people like her to operate a junior hockey club in the smallest market in Canada,” Natives president Dave McIntosh said of Clark. “It's a daunting task she takes on, and she is very dedicated to it.”
McIntosh added Clark even still gets phone calls from many of her billet children on Mother's Day.
In 2010, Clark received the RBC Hockey Leader Award for the Manitoba region for her work with the Natives. As part of that award, she received $10,000.
“She donated the $10,000 to the Natives,” McIntosh pointed out of her selflessness.
For Clark, she said when she first started into being a billet for the Natives she was hesitant, but she is now glad she was talked into it.
“My son told me I should be a billet and my immediate reaction was, 'I'm not doing that',” Clark said with a chuckle. “I tried it for a week and now I've have 40 plus boys come through my home.
“It has been a huge success being able to make a difference in these boys' lives...and I'm accepting this award on behalf of all of you who billeted and have done something with the Natives hockey club. We would not be 23 years proud without you.”
The annual Sportsman of the Year award aims to acknowledge people who have made great commitments to the sporting and recreational community in Neepawa through their time and volunteer efforts.
Following the presentation, former Canadian Heavyweight boxer George Chuvalo gave a sombering recollection of how he lost his three boys and wife all in part due to drug use.
“What happened to my family shouldn't happen to any family,” Chuvalo pointed out.
The former boxer warned that for youth, smoking cigarettes can be a 'gateway' to getting into drugs.
“When I talk to kids, I say when you're tempted or flirting with drugs, think of me, think of George Chuvalo's life,” Chuvalo said.
Following his talk about his family, he went on to talk about his career as a boxer, his legend as having one of the toughest chins in boxing and never being knocked down in 93 professional fights, his bouts with the great Ali, and the influence the mafia once had in the boxing community.
He also added in a bit of humor to his speaking; when asked what the hardest hit he ever took was, Chuvalo smiled and said, “When my wife hit me over the head with a glass pitcher”.
David Merry came on and added to the laughter to close out the night, while leisure services department manager Amanda Cathcart talked about some of the recreational additions being planned for Neepawa such as further development in The Flats area.