Essay submitted by Mark Chipman
Executive Chairman, True North Sports and Entertainment; Governor, Winnipeg Jets; Chair, True North Youth Foundation
I grew up in St. James, surrounded by dozens of kids my own age.
We played baseball in spring and summer, football in fall and hockey all winter long. When we weren’t playing on organized teams, we could be found in the open fields at Sturgeon Creek Community Club or on the street playing our favourite sports until we were called in for dinner, only to pick up where we left off as soon as we could.
As long as I can remember, sports have been a significant part of my life. Playing the games I loved rewarded me with lifelong friendships, a university education and invaluable life lessons. My father and brothers were all very good athletes and I looked up to them. I also looked up to the many coaches I was fortunate to have, most of which were volunteers, teachers and often neighbours. I think that is where I first began to understand the meaning and value of community.
After entering the business of professional hockey in 1996, and as my own children began to play our great game, I began to understand how less accessible it had become for many families in our community. We began to explore how we could change that and partnered up with the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre. Together, we started a modest program serving 25 elementary school-aged kids aimed at introducing hockey to families for which the participation was out of reach. Our objective was not to create hockey players, but rather to simply provide healthy recreation, a closer relationship between the kids and their teachers and ideally provide the same sense of the community that I and my friends benefited from.
Today, our program is offered to more than 900 students from Grades 2 to 12. It has evolved to include off-ice recreation and after school educational supports. Along the way we discovered the importance of staying connected to our kids all year. In 2014, we secured the ability to operate Camp Manitou, and are nearing completion of a $20 million investment in the camp to ensure it meets community needs for decades to come.
During the past 15 years many of our kids have excelled in the classroom and many have excelled on the ice, but what has been most gratifying is the number that have volunteered to help run the programs they once benefited from and for whom a sense of leadership and community has really taken hold. I’d like to share the story of a young man from St. James by the name of Ron Cailo.
Ron first joined the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy at Buchanan School in Grade 5. He is a terrific athlete and the first from our program to be sponsored into AA hockey, earning All Star and team MVP status at the age of 15. He is currently an honour roll student at John Taylor Collegiate and has been a volunteer counselor at Camp Manitou the past two summers. Together with his two younger brothers, this fantastic “new Canadian” family has become emersed in our national pastime and the gifts of friendship and community that come with it.
A good friend of mine once described Winnipeg as a “collective act of will.” He suggested that many of the things we enjoy, and often take for granted, from our cultural institutions to our hospitals, colleges and universities as well as the network of community clubs – like the one I grew up at – are all the result of the sheer determination of people who chose to make a life here and create this wonderful community. I suspect those folks all possessed the skill of selfless leadership. It is that very sense of community and those leadership skills we hope to impart in the youth we serve so they too can “will” us all forward. I have every confidence Ron will one day have the honour of sharing just how they did so.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Mark Chipman studied economics and played football at the University of North Dakota, where he obtained a law degree.
In 1996, following the relocation of the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix, Chipman began his work to attempt to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg, which started with the purchase and relocation of the Minnesota Moose, now the Manitoba Moose.
In 2001, Chipman and a group of local investors created True North Sports and Entertainment, and in 2004 opened Bell MTS Place downtown.
The only thing left to do was acquire an NHL team, which Chipman and True North did on May 31, 2011 with the purchase of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, re-naming the franchise to the Winnipeg Jets, and accomplishing what he had set out to do more than 15 years earlier.
While hockey naturally occupies a good chunk of his attention, Chipman is also a passionate advocate for Winnipeg’s communities, most notably serving as chairman of the True North Youth Foundation and the Downtown Community Safety Partnership.