Attendees of the 12th Annual Red Wings Sports Dinner and Auction packed into McKenna Hall Saturday night to support the Weyburn Red Wings and hear from three professional athletes who left a strong legacy in their respective sports. The speakers were Kory Sheets, a running back for the Roughrider 2013 Grey Cup team; Duane Ward, from the World Series winning 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays baseball team, and Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, retired NHL star goalie and gold medal Olympian with the 2002 Canadian men’s hockey team.
Sheets broke the Grey Cup rushing record with 197 yards, shattering a 57-year-old record, and was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 Grey Cup game. Sheets played college ball with Perdue University before playing for three NFL teams and eventually signing with the Roughriders in 2012. He spoke about the 2013 season leading up to the Grey Cup victory and how it didn’t immediately ring true for him.
“It actually sank in about three days after the Grey Cup,” said Sheets and explained it was a long, tough season and there were points at which he wasn’t even sure they would make the playoffs, especially when a knee injury in September sidelined him.
“I thought it was all over. I thought the season was done, my career was over and I’d have to find another job,” said Sheets to laughter from the audience.
Sheets healed from the strained knee and he brought the Roughriders roaring back to victory against the B.C. Lions with his first game back on the field. He said it was an effort from the whole team which turned the Riders around from their losing streak and a fiery speech from head coach Corey Chamblin.
At the Grey Cup game, the players were originally supposed to enter the field one-by-one and be introduced.
“We said ‘this is our house. We do what we want in our house’,” said Sheets of the team’s decision to rush the field together as a show of solidarity.
During the Grey Cup game, Riders quarterback Darian Durant fumbled the ball three times and Sheets was there to pick it up.
Sheets joked that Durant “pitched it back to me” and said the quarterback had supported him throughout the season when he called for it and this was just returning the favour.
“Literally, he’s been like a big brother to me. … He’s been a tremendous help on and off the field,” said Sheets of Durant.
Duane Ward, who helped lead the Toronto Blue Jays to two World Series victories, took the stage next. The retired pitcher spoke about the baseball programs he is active in now and why he feels it is important.
“Any chance I get to talk to people about sponsoring kids, believe me, I still talk about sponsoring,” said Ward.
Almost four years ago, the Blue Jays started offering baseball camps using strictly alumni as trainers. The camps started off in 10 locations across Canada and has expanded to 25 camps planned for this coming summer. There will also be six girls baseball camps held for the first time.
He was also instrumental in arranging Tournament 12, which will be held for the first time this summer in Toronto. Top draft-eligible baseball players from across Canada will play in front of scouts from all Major League Baseball teams to give Canadian players more exposure.
The baseball program which Ward said is closest to his heart, though, is the Rookie League Program which sponsors children from families with limited means.
“The reason this is so near and dear to my heart is, when I was growing up in Farmington, New Mexico, I was a sponsored kid. I’m proud to say that I was,” said Ward, who said it would have been impossible for him to play the sport without the support of people who cared.
He also works with the Challenger Baseball program to give handicapped children a chance to play the sport.
Ward said he attends many banquets, many of them awards banquets, and that he wanted all the athletes present to know that success is not defined by awards.
“Your success is going to be defined by the respect you gain from your peers. Awards will come and go, but the respect from your peers will never leave,” said Ward.
Curtis “Cujo” Joseph, a retired NHL goalie, gave the final speech of the evening and he told the story of his own life and progress through his sports career to emphasize the importance of sponsoring children in sports.
“I was always embarrassed of my childhood growing up and it was a little different path I took to get to Notre Dame and then the NHL, but it’s one that I’m very proud of and I’m glad to tell the story,” said Joseph, who was born in a small town in Ontario to a 16-year-old mother and immediately given up for adoption.
A nurse at the hospital, Jeanne, took him home where she and her husband, Harold Joseph, raised him. Joseph said he knew from an early age that he was adopted because Harold was a black man and Jeanne was a First Nations woman and both were in their 60s when they adopted him. The Josephs also ran a mental institution home.
“So, there were 20 mentally ill patients added to that mix,” said Joseph.
His first chance at hockey came when he was a child. A family in his town was moving away but had already paid the fees for their son to play and told Joseph that he should take their son’s place in the league. Joseph said he couldn’t skate so the team made him a goalie and it stuck. He said the experience was great and that he always wanted to be part of a team after that.
“That’s how I expressed myself — through sport. I wasn’t really a talker,” said Joseph. He advanced to junior B and then junior A hockey, but still had no scholarship offers.
Another man in his small Ontario town, “another angel”, offered to help get him into Notre Dame and pay his tuition. Joseph said his time at Notre Dame is what led to his professional career.
“If I didn’t go to Notre Dame at age 20 as an over-ager, there’s no way I’d be the best men’s league goalie to ever play in Ontario.”
Joseph got a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin Madison and was later drafted into the NHL and played for six teams.
“If I hadn’t come to Saskatchewan, I never would have made it.
I’m certainly proud of how I got there and once I got there I wasn’t going to let go. I played till I was 41 years old. They had to rip that jersey off me,” he said.
“My parents never took me to one practice or saw me play. It was the people in the town who saw the good in me. It really does take a village to raise a kid,” said Joseph of the people who helped him become successful.