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Jim Harrington thrilled to drop puck at Atom Fiesta
Jim Harrington confesses he has “no idea” why he was asked to drop the ceremonial puck to kick off the weekend Atom Fiesta minor hockey tournament on its 40th anniversary.
He feels honoured nonetheless.
“I was thrilled,” he says, adding that he and his wife June Harrington, a local school board trustee, often go away at this time, but he made sure to be in Osoyoos for the tournament opening.
The well-liked local sports personality was probably being modest when he says he’s not sure why Brianne Hillson, one of the event organizers, asked him to do the honours.
Harrington has been an important figure in the local sports scene since he first came to Osoyoos in 1978 to take a new job as the town’s recreation director.
It’s a position he stayed in for 26 years, working in an office at the Sun Bowl Arena, across the street from his home.
Even after his retirement in 2004, Harrington remained active in sports, serving ever since as a vice president for the Okanagan-Shuswap Conference with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL).
In that role, he visits arenas of the 10 teams in his division, getting to know the officials, and monitoring discipline of players who find themselves too often on the wrong end of referees’ decisions.
He was also the chairperson for the Spirit of B.C. committee in the lead-up to Vancouver’s successful bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Harrington grew up in Fernie in a family of seven children. He worked for Canadian Pacific Railway for 11 years before returning to school and getting a recreation diploma to start him in a new career.
After graduating, and having married June, a nurse, he took his first recreation job in the little community of Canal Flats, north of Cranbrook.
There he was involved in the opening of a rink in Invermere just to the north.
After a year and a half, he learned of a job opening in Osoyoos and came down for his interview. He stopped at the Anarchist Mountain lookout and was immediately struck by the beauty of the location.
“I said that if I get this job, I’m not moving,” Harrington recalls. “I was lucky enough to get it and I started in ’78. And I wasn’t moving.”
When Harrington started work in Osoyoos in 1978, the town’s recreation system was organized differently. It wasn’t a department of the town, but rather a non-profit society.
Harrington was a working manager who ran recreation programs in the summertime and then put the ice in and ran the arena in the winter.
Among his sports accomplishments was bringing the Davidson Murdoch hockey school to Osoyoos, which helped to train a number of excellent players over the years.
He also helped to organize the Oliver-Osoyoos B.C. Winter Games in 1985 and to start a ringette school around the same time.
His position put him in regular contact with all the sports organizations, including minor hockey, and through his work, he was involved in previous Atom Fiestas.
This year’s opening ceremon was kicked off by pipers and a colour party from the Royal Canadian Legion and began with speeches from dignitaries.
Doug Eisenhut participated, representing his late father Paul Eisenhut, who was instrumental in previous Atom Fiestas.
Players from 14 teams throughout the province and beyond skated out, accompanied by team officials, and they faced a filled arena.
Still, Harrington recalls that in the event’s early days it was considerably larger, mainly because the event in Osoyoos then was unique and there were few other competing tournaments.
“It was in the fourth year when I came,” he says. “When I arrived, it was a community event where all the motels supplied helpers to run it, whether cleaning the stands or the dressing rooms… It was the elite tournament in British Columbia and we always had 16 of the top teams in B.C. and Alberta. Edmonton came. Calgary came. It was the number one atom tournament.”
The event coincided with the Easter weekend and ran from Thursday to Sunday, Harrington says.
“I remember business people in town said it was the busiest weekend of the year for them,” he adds.
There were pancake breakfasts, dances and the bar was open at the curling club.
The event changed as other communities began hosting other atom tournaments, and now the focus is more on the children and hockey, which Harrington says he thinks is probably a good thing.
Ironically, the Harringtons didn’t have minor hockey players among their two daughters.
On the weekend, however, he was watching with pride as two of his grandsons played – Grady Pearson in the Atom Fiesta and brother Caleb Pearson with the peewee rep team at the provincials in Nelson.
The dropping of the ceremonial puck was brief and almost over before it started.
Soon the South Okanagan Junior Coyotes were out on the ice, skating around a less experienced team from 100 Mile House.
And Harrington was among the many parents, grandparents and fans watching his grandson and the other atoms play.