2021 comm central york en

Paying it forward

It was a simple request and one that was even simpler to fulfill, since the Central York Junior Panthers were giving back all along

Wendy Graves
May 14, 2021

When the Provincial Women’s Hockey League season shut down in mid-December, Steve Dempsey, head coach of the Central York Junior Panthers, needed ways to keep his players engaged.

He started with Zoom workouts. Wanting another weekly meeting, he began inviting guest speakers, such as U SPORTS coaches, onto the calls. He connected with other PWHL coaches to compare notes. That’s how he learned Melody Davidson had been doing sessions with teams across the country since the COVID-19 pandemic changed everyone’s schedules.

Davidson is a summer-sport advisor with Own the Podium, but spent most of the previous 26 years in various roles – including head coach, general manager and scout – with Canada’s National Women’s Team. On a Zoom call at the end of March, she spoke to the Panthers about training, team culture and bringing out the best in your teammates.

At the end, she mentioned how she declined Dempsey’s offer to be paid; instead, she asked the players to pay it forward in their community.

When Dempsey followed up with his players a few weeks later, he learned of their good deeds, including:

• donating no-longer-needed clothes and hockey equipment;
• picking up garbage at parks and on hiking trails;
• running errands for older family members, and for neighbours who tested positive for COVID-19;
• volunteering for groups dedicated to empowering young girls;
• helping neighbours clean their property;
• being a mentor to younger women’s hockey players; and
• going on walks with a blind gentleman whose guide dog recently passed away.

Having been a caregiver to both his parents, Dempsey was touched by his players’ efforts to help others. In reality, he never needed to check up on them. His players were giving back all along.

For Dempsey, it brought to mind John Wooden, the legendary coach who led the UCLA men’s basketball team to 10 national championships but never judged his success in titles.

“[Wooden believed] when all the accolades are gone, the reporters aren't around and the TV cameras aren't on them, that's when you see the true character of people,” says Dempsey. “So to see that my players were doing these things without any fanfare before Mel even asked, I thought it was really special.”

“We want to not only give back to the community but also inspire others to give back and be role models,” says Alexa Giantsopoulos, a Panthers forward. Giantsopoulos had already helped with She Shoots, She Saves, a Central York Girls Hockey Association (CYGHA) campaign to raise funds to buy automated external defibrillators, and made skills videos for younger players. In July, she’ll run a safety campaign for her local fire and emergency services, and next season she’ll be a volunteer coach for the U11 Panthers team.

“Coach Steve always says that he wants good people who happen to play hockey,” she says. “I think he nailed it with this group. There’s tremendous character. We want to leave our mark with the Central York Panthers. We want to inspire others to go above and beyond. It’s important to us to help people and do things that aren't asked of us so that we can be role models for younger players.”

Dempsey started a book club with his leadership team, with Legacy, about the New Zealand All Blacks, being the focus. “We talked about what we could use from it to build a better team culture and a better hockey experience, and to be able to bring out good life skills. We're trying to use sport as a vehicle for them to be stronger female voices in the community and to be leaders.”

In March, the Junior Panthers were a driving force in She Shoots, She Saves, creating skills videos and trick shot videos to generate excitement for the fundraiser.

Earlier this year, Dempsey, who is also the coach mentor for CYGHA, heard how younger players were having a tough time mentally because social-distancing restrictions prevented them from hanging out with their friends. “My players came up with an idea on their own to make these kids feel connected among one another.” They created a weekly video skills series. The videos also encourage players to challenge each other with trick shots. “It was something our players took on not necessarily to make them better hockey players, but just to make them better with their mental health.”

The Panthers will continue to give back. It’s the legacy they want to write for themselves.

“We want the kids that come through this program to always be a positive impact on the community,” says Dempsey. “As much as the pandemic has been a tough situation for everybody, we’ve had more time to give back. It’s allowed us to entrench that pay-it-forward mentality into our culture that hopefully will continue forever.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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