Village teams up to send Olympian’s parents to Japan

They opened their hearts, they opened their wallets, and they raised enough money to send two of their own halfway around the world to the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano.

Amber and Jack McCormack of Blackville leave Friday for Japan to watch their 23-year-old daughter Kathy compete as part of the inaugural Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team.

The McCormacks are going because the people of Blackville – a village of 968 – decided they should.

Just before Christmas, Mrs. McCormack told Billy Walls of Blackville there was just no way they could afford to fly to Japan to watch their daughter play. The McCormacks live comfortably in their cozy, single-storey home near the end of the pavement on a side road in Blackville. But Mrs. McCormack has been off from her job as a nurse for some time while undergoing cancer treatments and her husband works as a trucker. Scraping together the money for the trip just wasn’t possible.

When volunteers offered to try to raise the money for them, Mrs. McCormack asked for a day to think about it. The couple decided if the community could raise some of it, they would borrow the rest. After all, the thousands of dollars needed isn’t easy for a community the size of Blackville to cobble together. It took about two years of determined work by a committee of volunteers to raise that amount for a local playground.

But in just 30 days, volunteers have raised the entire $20,000 needed to send the McCormacks overseas, something they thought might optimistically take months. In fact, the community raised more than the goal because money poured in so fast there was no way to call a halt to the fund raising in time, Mr. Walls said. “We’ve shut everything off now, we’re not trying to go for any more.

The hastily formed Proud Parents’ Committee began with a flag campaign right after the new year. Members of the committee went door to door with sheets of paper printed to look like stylized Canadian flags, complete with Kathy McCormack’s name and number – 14 – on it. The flags were free, but donations were accepted. Within days, the village was peppered with the flags and the avalanche of donations had begun, Mr. Walls said.

One day while getting the oil changed in his vehicle, a man simply handed over $100 for the cause.

A pair of bottle drives alone raised $1,200. Local bingos donated the proceeds of games. Tickets were sold on an Olympic hockey jersey autographed by all the members of the women’s team. Area musicians held benefit shows at local halls. When rain and sleet hammered the community the night of one dance, Mrs. McCormack thought organizers would have to cancel. Instead, performers came from as far away as Chatham and they raised $400 despite a small crowd.

See TEAM, A2 TEAM Continued from A1 Outside communities got involved too. The senior hockey team in nearby Miramichi raised money at their games to help the family. A village councillor in Doaktown went door to door asking for donations, Mr. Walls said. People who left Blackville 20 years ago sent cheques.

The community’s response leaves Amber McCormack speechless, well, almost speechless. She’s the first to admit she’s not shy with words. When a CBC reporter going to Nagano called to arrange to sit with her during a game, Mrs. McCormack had a warning. “I told him to bring his ear plugs because I tend to be kind of loud.

The phone never seems to stop ringing and people stop her in stores to talk about what has happened to her family, she said. “She’s my daughter, but they all feel like she’s part of them. We’re only a small community here, but the outpouring, to see people pulling together, it’s incredible. Thank you is such a measly little couple of words. You could never express the way you feel.

There’s just no way her daughter can understand the level of interest, said Mrs. McCormack. “People know me by name now. Actually, I don’t have a name anymore. People call me Kathy’s mother,” she said.

“If we win a gold medal, when we win a gold medal, on Feb. 17, can you imagine what’s going to happen in this area? Think about what’s going to happen in that little village. Kathy has no idea. She’s so focused on what they’re doing.

The rush to help the McCormacks is just the latest episode in a continuing love affair between this tiny village and its most famous athlete. More than 400 people jammed a local hall on Boxing Day to salute the hockey player. All of Blackville will be watching her play in Japan. Fundy Cable has agreed to hook up cable in a local hall so people can get together to watch the games. Most of the games are expected to air early in the mornings.

That’s not likely to keep anyone away, Mrs. McCormack said. “I had a lady tell me the other day she got up for Lady Di’s funeral, so she guessed she’d get up to watch the hockey games, too.

Mrs. McCormack expects she’ll be a nervous wreck during the games. “I’ll be dying. I’ll never make it. I keep thinking about it all the time. And Jackie, he gets so stressed he just sits in the corner.” She’ll be helped by her sister- in-law, Mary, who is paying her own way to the games.

The story of Kathy McCormack’s rise to fame would warm the heart of even that lovable hockey curmudgeon, Don Cherry. She comes from a hockey family. Her great-grandfather Page Corney coached the local team, the Blackville Aces, and sometimes skated to Newcastle, about 30 kilometres away.

Ms. McCormack practically grew up playing the game, starting on double-bladed bob skates on ice in a flooded ditch next to her home. Her talent was obvious early in her life.

She shot from rubbing her ankles on the ice of a nearby pond to wearing a ragtag collection of second-hand gear while playing on the local boy’s team. She began by competing on outdoor rinks where the only heat was in the dressing room.

The vice-principal and athletic director at the Blackville School, Eddie Pinder, remembers her as a quiet leader and a talented female athlete to attend the school in his 13 years there.

One night he watched her win a shoot-out competition held during the intermission at a senior hockey game, beating all the boys. “She’s quite modest, a person of very few words, not the rah-rah type, but she’s very competitive and very determined.

Ms. McCormack soon made her way to national level competition, playing in the Canada Winter Games in 1991 and at the Esso Women’s National Championships in 1995. She earned a degree in kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick along the way.

At a rookie tryout for the Olympic team last fall, she was considered a long shot. The left-winger credits her hard-nosed approach and size with making the difference. “My role is to play a physical game,” she said in an interview before leaving for Japan. “I’m one of the bigger players at 5’9” and 160 pounds. I forecheck, get in the corners, get in front of the net. I think they like that I’m low risk because I play pretty well defensively. I’ll throw the puck in once in awhile too, so they like my offensive skills.

She scored a goal and assisted on another in a Canadian victory over the Americans in the final warm-up game before the Olympics.

Whatever the outcome there, plans have already begun for a parade and celebration when she comes home.

the end ‘If we win a gold medal, when we win a gold medal, on Feb. 17, can you imagine what’s going to happen in this area? Think about what’s going to happen in that little village.

Kathy has no idea. She’s so focused on what they’re doing.’ Amber McCormick Kathy’s mom

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