Special ride for champs
MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES Orillia's provincial champion U19A Lady Kings field lacrosse team was treated to a ride through town on the 1968 Lafrance fire truck Thursday.
For many years, when a local sports team won a provincial or national championship, its players were honoured with a ride on a fire truck through downtown Orillia. However, in the late 1990s, that tradition ended as newer fire trucks were no longer manufactured with running boards players could stand on and concerns were raised about insurance and liability issues.
"I had an opportunity to ride on a fire truck with my coach, Hoppy Hopkins, and my dad in the 1970s," said Pat Morris, the Orillia OPP commander who coached Orillia's U19A women's field lacrosse team to a provincial championship last Saturday. "I really wanted our girls to have that opportunity."
So, in an effort to revive the tradition and to give a new generation of deserving athletes the opportunity to be feted on a fire truck, Morris met with officials from the Orillia Fire Department to see if there was a way to make it happen.
Fire Chief Ralph Dominelli wanted to help -- he understands the value of recognizing hard-working athletes, said Morris. Dominelli contacted retired firefighter Joe Duff, a long-time member of the Orillia Shrine Club. The fire department gave the Shriners a 1968 Lafrance truck -- "Pumper 2" -- in the 1990s. The vintage vehicle is maintained by the Shriners and Dominelli believed that truck would be perfect for this celebration.
"The Shriners were happy to try to help and they acquired permission from Shriners headquarters at the temple in Toronto" to use the vehicle Thursday evening to ferry the players from the Champlain Monument, up Mississaga Street, then up West Street to the Hawk Ridge Golf and Country Club for the Orillia Girls' Field Lacrosse year-end banquet.
"I spoke with some old firefighters and they have long felt it was important for the city to recognize the accomplishments of its young athletes," said Morris. "It is great to be able to bring back that tradition. We couldn't have done it without the help of Dominelli, Shriner Shawn Hewlett and Duff. They made this happen because they wanted to recognize the accomplishments of these girls, which is fantastic."
The squad went 14-0 in the regular season and won all five of its games at last weekend's provincial championship to become the first team from Orillia to win an Ontario crown in this division -- the highest in the province.