A former player and president of the Sarnia Saints Rugby Club is inspiring a major fundraiser to recognize local military sons who died in Afghanistan.
Errol Cushley, father of Pte. William Cushley who was killed in action in 2006, was a longtime member of the rugby club through the 1980s and ‘90s. He often brought his son, who became a familiar face at the games.
“We knew Will as a little kid when Errol played with us,” said Jon Palumbo, also a former player, former First Hussars reservist, and now a Saints committee member.
“Errol would bring his son out all the time. We remember Will well.”
When the club began making plans for its upcoming Play It Forward fundraiser, it seemed a natural fit to support a local memorial for Afghanistan vets.
“We saw that the First Hussars and the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 62) were making this memorial happen in Veterans’ Park here in Sarnia,” said club president Chris Groombridge.
“Every year, we like to get behind a different cause and this one makes really good sense for us.
“It’s unique and it will mean a lot to one of our past members,” he said.
The First Hussars and the Legion are in the midst of a campaign to raise as much as $60,000 to pay for a decommissioned light armoured vehicle, known as a LAV III. It will be transported from London and placed on a cement pad in Veterans’ Park behind the library to honour the 159 Canadians killed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014.
Pte. Cushley and Cpl. Brent Poland of Camlachie, were among them.
The Saints anticipate raising as much as $10,000 toward the cost if Play It Forward has strong community support, said Groombridge.
“As a club, we like to raise money for a third party to support the community that supports us,” he said. “One hundred percent of what we raise at Play It Forward will go to the memorial fund.
“If there is extra, they can keep it for future maintenance.”
Play It Forward is held this year on June 22 and 25. Twenty-five game jerseys, each with multiple sponsors, are auctioned off at a dinner June 22 at the Gateway Room in the St Clair Corporate Centre.
The club is looking for sponsors. Anyone interested can contact Erin Esplen at [email protected].
The special game jerseys are worn during three men’s and women’s games at Norm Perry Park on June 25. Admission is free.
The rugby club was established in 1958 and is one of Sarnia’s oldest sports groups, said Groombridge.
Registration is ongoing for the coming season that runs from late May to October for kids, youth and adults.
About 150 members sign up every year, said Groombridge, and a surprising number become good enough to play at the national level.
“For a small town like Sarnia, we’ve had a lot of national representation in rugby,” said Palumbo. About a dozen players have played nationally in recent years, including 24-year-old Julie Greenshields, who is a reserve player for the Olympic team going to Rio this summer.
“It’s a real feather in our cap,” said Groombridge. “Our players pay dues, we work bingos and we raise money for our club to stay in the black.
“But Play It Forward is something we want to do for the community.”