While Newmarket’s Kirk Kelly takes pride in the many championship-winning teams he has coached, his true joy lies in knowing the life lessons he shared with his players have had a meaningful and lasting impact.
“I had a few players that went long distances in hockey,” said the longtime coach who is being recognized for giving back to his community with a Portraits of Giving Award. “It’s the fact that they still call me, still want to talk to me, say ‘I always feel better after I talk to you, coach’, those are the important things.”
“I am humbled to be recognized for my involvement in a game that I loved, for volunteerism that I never saw as being any burden whatsoever,” said Kelly, who first began coaching in 1998 for his son’s house league team in Richmond Hill.
He was being honoured, along with NewRoads Automotive Group president and CEO Michael Croxon, at a ceremony at the Region of York Administrative Centre April 24 for the Newmarket recipients of the 10th annual Portraits of Giving awards.
When the Kelly family moved to Newmarket, they joined the local league, where he coached rep teams from minor bantam to midget AA, continuing after his son moved on to higher divisions.
As a midget AA coach, his teams won the York Simcoe championship six out of 10 years.
“That being said, that’s not what it’s about,” he told the audience of local dignitaries, sponsors, friends and family gathered to celebrate his volunteerism.
“Particularly when young men find themselves in transition in their lives, I always found it most rewarding when I was able to have input into their life and do something that would make some difference for them. It’s proven itself, by the number of times, now that I’m an old man, that I’ve been paid back by my (former) players who when they (see) you, the very first thing they want to tell you is something that you taught them.”
He recalled one of his former goaltenders who came up to him at the rink, shook his hand and said, “Coach, you can do anything if you put your mind to it, and you taught us that.”
“I don’t think my feet touched the ground the rest of the way back to the bench,” Kelly said with a large smile. “I thought to myself, if that young man used that axiom in any application in his life, he’s going to win if he puts his mind to it. And that's where the reward comes for me, in the people contact.”
SummerSkates president and CEO Kevin Hennessy, sponsor of the sports award, acknowledged the important contribution Coach Kelly has made to the lives of many through volunteering with the Newmarket Redmen, as well as the Kidney Foundation of Canada and his church.
“From all my chats, each time I had one with Kirk, he would inspire me to be a better person and give a lot more of myself, if I could,” said Hennessy, adding he has had many rinkside chats in the decade he has known the coach.
“You always hear in sports about (the importance of) player development … but I think Kirk brings a completely different side, which is person development. I always took that in and thought that was very impressive that you cared more about what people would do as they go along in their life, through sport, and that has always been special to me,” he said, with emotion evident in his voice. “For me to be your sponsor here today is awesome.”
Kelly coached for 16 years, even though his diagnosis with renal failure required kidney dialysis. He has had three renal transplants, the most recent kidney donated by his son five years ago.
Founded 10 years ago by York Region photographer Karen Merk, Portraits of Giving has honoured 103 individuals who have inspired and improved our communities through social responsibility across the region.
With the support of sponsors, more than $60,000 has also been raised for local charities since its inception.
Each year, an exhibit of the portraits of the honourees — photographed in a place related to their story — tours the region.
Merk said she chose to photograph Kelly at Ray Twinney Recreation Complex, in front of the photographs in the local Sports Hall of Fame, which includes some of the players he has coached.
“Kirk is about people,” she said. “His portrait was inspired by what he told me: ‘Hockey shouldn’t just teach kids how to be good players, but it should teach them how to be good citizens’.”
Michael Croxon was photographed at his NewRoads Newmarket dealership, holding a painting of a car presented to him by Community Living that “touched his heart” and now hangs in his office.
Jim VanDusen, first vice-chair of the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the award, acknowledged Croxon’s “generous heart”, telling the audience, “When people talk about (NewRoads) giving back, he is the cornerstone … it all comes from him.”
“What I find wonderful about him is his giving starts with the people that are close and around him and then moves to all of our employees and all of our associates — we have about 450 now. He often talks about how it’s not 450 associates but 450 families. And that ties in with how much he cares about people,” said VanDusen, who is COO of NewRoads.
“I’m really humbled by the portrait … and the honour,” Croxon said, crediting his father, Noel Croxon, founder of the business, “as the ultimate role model when it came to giving back to the community”, and his employees.
“It’s easy for some of us to write cheques, but I think it gets most meaningful when you can engage a group of associates alongside you to participate in community initiatives,” he said of his leadership team and associates. “It’s really through their efforts that we are able to give back in the capacity that we do.”
“We really believe the community is the cornerstone of our business and we believe strong communities make for strong businesses and vice versa,” he said.
NewRoads community initiatives include the LakeRide in support of Southlake Regional Health Centre, Girls Night Out in support of the Women's Centre of York Region, the Charity Classic Car Show in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Big Bike in support of Heart & Stroke.
At the April 11 anniversary celebration hosted by sponsor Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel, former York Regional Police deputy chief and now Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique received the police award.
Referring to YRP’s vision to make a difference in our community, he said of Merk, “I want to thank you for what you do because you truly do make a difference in our community. You inspire community leaders to do more, you inspire our community to try harder, and with those two ingredients, our community is better.”
For a full list of the 2019 Portraits of Giving recipients, click here.