Ken ‘Jiggs’ McDonald spent five decades as the play-by-play man for various NHL teams – including Stanley Cup wins during the New York Islanders’ dynasty years – and earned his profession’s highest honour when he won the Foster Hewitt Award in 1990.
While he travelled far and wide and rubbed shoulders with hockey’s greatest athletes, he has never forgotten his roots and those who helped him along the way.
“Those 50 seasons around the NHL made for some great friendships and some great memories, but the best memories I have are from right here in Orillia,” McDonald said Saturday night as he was inducted into the builder’s category of the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame.
McDonald recounted stories from his days at Orillia’s CFOR, calling Orillia Majors games from the Lions Oval ‘booth’ and hockey games at the old Orillia Community Centre. He recalled fond memories from covering his “first major sports event” when CFOR sent him to Calgary to cover the Orillia Sputniks, a men’s foursome who competed at the Brier, Canada’s curling championship.
He thanked the CFOR brass for supporting his ambitions and also applauded the many businesspeople that sponsored those efforts and allowed him, eventually, to chase his dreams to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Long Island, Florida and Toronto.
His heart was always in Orillia and, many years ago, he and wife Marilyn built their dream house here; this is home, he told the packed house inside the ballroom at Casino Rama. For good reason, he noted.
“If you continue to treat everyone in this community as well as you have treated me over the years, Orillia will continue to be the best place in this province, in this entire country and this world to live, to work, to raise a family and be part of the community,” said the legendary broadcaster.
Joining McDonald as part of the Class of 2018 inductees was fellow builder Toben Sutherland and two women’s field lacrosse stars, Jayme Davis and Brittney Fess.
“It is fitting that both Brittney and Jayme are entering the hall of fame together because they have been joined at their lacrosse hips for many years and have been instrumental in putting Orillia women’s field lacrosse on the map,” said John Mayo, the commissioner of Ontario Women’s Field Lacrosse.
Mayo, who nominated Fess for the prestigious honour, said she was a natural from the moment “she traded in her tap shoes for a lacrosse stick.” He noted that in her first year, she helped a fledgling Orillia team win a provincial championship and went on to shine for Team Ontario and Team Canada.
She was instrumental in starting the field lacrosse program at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School and went on star at Wilfrid Laurier University where she helped the team compile a 43-1-1 record over four years, winning four Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships. In 2007, she was the OUA’s outstanding defensive player.
“But when I think about Brittney, I think of all the things she built and the legacy she left in Orillia,” said Mayo, noting her lobbying efforts at Patrick Fogarty, how she returned each summer to Orillia to coach, how she launched the local house league program and initiated the Little Lady Kings program and helped organize the Lax for a Cure event that raised more than $50,000 for breast cancer.
“I am deeply humbled by this recognition,” Fess said. “I’m so proud to be an Orillian, to be a female athlete and to go into Orillia’s Sports Hall of Fame. It is an incredible honour.”
She thanked coaches and volunteers and builders such as Mayo for their support. And she also thanked Joanne Stanga, who pioneered women’s lacrosse in Orillia and, as coach of Team Canada, helped Fess develop into a world-class player. She also became a mentor and someone she turned to countless times. “She defined all the traits of being a mentor and taught me lessons I want to each my own children,” said Fess.
Jayme Davis was side-by-side with Fess throughout the journey. She was a driven young athlete, said her uncle, Stu Burnie, who nominated Davis for Hall of Fame consideration.
“When I watched Jayme play (at the world championship in Peterborough), I was amazed at her extreme determination, how she chased every loose ball,” said Burnie, noting that though she was disappointed to lose in the bronze-medal clash, she took home MVP honours and was named to the All-World team.
Davis was Orillia’s athlete of the year in 2007, was named the OUA rookie of the year for Wilfrid Laurier and then transferred to Ohio State, where she excelled on a scholarship, capping her NCAA career with a coveted ‘four-year letter’.
Like Fess, she coached Orillia teams, lent her support to the launch of new programs, served as a mentor and was the driving force behind Lax for Cure, which hit close to home for Davis. Her grandmother, Pat Burnie, lost her fight to breast cancer in 2007.
“Two weeks later, I stepped on to the field to compete in the World Championship at Trent. It was one of most challenging times of my life, but what came out of that grief and heartache was nothing but good … The Lax for a Cure was born.”
The highs and lows on the field and off would not have been possible without those who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, she said.
“None of those memories would exist without the countless coaches and mentors who volunteered their time so us kids could play sports and develop skills we will carry forward for the rest of our lives.”
Unfortunately, Toben Sutherland was unable to attend Saturday night's event. The Orillian who starred as a youth on the World Cup ski circuit before turning his passion to coaching, was in Mexico where he was best man at a friend’s wedding.
His family was there to accept his award and, thanks to technology, Toben was able to make a brief appearance via a live video call. When he appeared on the big screen, he received a large ovation.
Sutherland, who was selected as the coach of Canada’s new slopestyle team prior to the Sochi Olympics, helped establish the Olympic program and participated in meetings around the world to help define the new entry into the Olympic realm.
He said he could not have reached the pinnacle of the sport without the “unwavering” support of his parents; he also thanked his two older brothers for “blazing that trail for me.”
“What a year it's been,” Sutherland said. “A month ago. I was watching one of my skiers win a bronze medal (at the Olympics). Four years ago, I watched our athletes win a gold and bronze at Sochi and here I am today. To me, tonight means just as much as those moments.”
This year’s group of inductees represents the fourth class of inductees into the Orillia Sports Hall of Fame, which will have a permanent place in the new Orillia Recreation Centre.
The five inaugural recipients – Elaine Thompson, Cam Devine, Jake Gaudaur, Walter Henry and Walter Knox – were inducted in 2015.
In 2016, Brian Orser, Rick Ley, Harry Gill and Jacob Gaudaur Sr. joined the elite group of Orillia athletes in Orillia’s sports shrine.
Last year, Rob Town, Jerry Udell, Terry Bullen and Lawrence Mervyn McKenzie entered the hallowed hall.
The annual event is organized by Sport Orillia.