Mark Zwolinski, sports reporter for the Toronto Star wrote a feature piece on the long-time NYBA volunteer Bill Down. Not just behind the scenes, Bill is a constant feature during the summer at Bond Park encouraging young players and their families.
This piece from Proudfoot Corner of the Star’s sports section is part of a series spotlighting people whose acts of kindness in the local sports community reflect the season’s spirit of giving.
The 87-year-old Don Mills resident was pounding the pavement to visit several banks, asking to see the branch managers about something he’s been doing for decades: seeking sponsorships for local baseball teams.
Down has been involved with the North York Baseball Association in many capacities for more than 50 years, helping in a process that allows more than 700 kids to play annually at Bond Park.
And he does it all as a volunteer.
Down is much like the Star’s Santa Claus Fund that way. Both have been around for a long time and rely on volunteer efforts to help kids.
Down has won several awards for his selflessness, including Ontario Baseball Association volunteer of the year in 2001, but he has given his time to other sports as well.
“I started at a young age as a volunteer … I lived in Calgary and I coached a house league hockey team, and sometimes it was minus-40 degrees out, but we loved it,” said Down, recalling how cold his feet got.
Doug Barkley, who coached the Detroit Red Wings in the 1970s after his NHL playing career, was also behind the bench with Down.
“We stood in snow banks along the side of the rinks; that was back in about 1958-59,” Down said.
He went on to work for Crown Life Insurance in Toronto until retirement in 1995. He never gave up volunteering and served as team liaison for the CNE peewee baseball tournament, which has run every summer for decades near the Dufferin Gates.
“I don’t know why I volunteer, I just do it,” Down said.
“I coached hockey in North York for 32 years and we had this player one time, and he was into some trouble back then. But he became our best player. He recently introduced himself to me and I didn’t recognize him. He was 13 when he played for us, and he’s 47 now.
But we talked and he got his life straightened around … so that’s part of the history (of why he volunteers).”
The Star’s Santa Claus Fund has been around since 1906. This year’s goal is to raise $1.5 million for 50,000 gift boxes that will go to financially vulnerable kids, ages one to 12, across Brampton, Mississauga, Toronto, Ajax, Pickering, Oshawa and Whitby.
The boxes will be delivered by a team of more than 1,000 volunteers. Each box contains a hoodie, hat, mittens, socks, book, small toy, treat, toothpaste and toothbrush. Infants will get clothing, socks and other accessories.
To donate visit www.thestar.com/santa-claus-fund
** reprinted from the Toronto Star. ‘Senior hits road to help kids‘.