By Martin Cleary
The Nepean Sports Wall of Fame recently cast search lights over its large, suburban community and pinpointed a record 12 diverse athletic honourees for its Class of 2023.
This is the largest group of inductees since 10 were welcomed onto the wall in 2019 and eight during a virtual ceremony in 2021.
Heading the group of inductees from five classes – athlete, builder, coach, team and media – are world champions Lisa Weagle (curling), Henry McKay and his coach Fernando Henderson (diving), and Special Olympian Ada Chan (rhythmic gymnastics).
Weagle, McKay and Chan are joined on the athlete side by Erika Hoffmann (auto racing) and Kaitlyn Youldon (ringette).
The Nepean Sports Wall of Fame board of directors also selected Gavin Leishman (former wall of fame administrator and volunteer), Agnes Laing (artistic gymnastics), Richard Fleming (rugby and diving) and Karen Butcher (figure skating) for the builders’ wing.
The group of prominent sports figures is completed by Gord Wilson (media, radio broadcasting) and the Nepean Knights Junior B lacrosse team.
The Nepean Sports Wall of Fame’s membership now sits at 94.
The in-person Nepean Sports Wall of Fame induction ceremony will be staged Oct. 26 at the Nepean Sportsplex, which also is the site of its user-friendly exhibit to pay tribute to Nepean’s extraordinary sports achievers.
Tickets for the induction are $95 plus tax and can be purchased through eventbrite.com by searching for Nepean Sports Wall of Fame.
“We are truly excited to hold an in-person ceremony again,” board chair David Rattray said in a press release. “Plans are well underway for what will be a memorable evening of celebrating and honouring sports achievement in Nepean.”
Here’s a look at the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame Class of 2023:
LISA WEAGLE represented Canada at two Winter Olympic Games, playing for the Rachel Homan rink in 2018 and the Jennifer Jones team in 2022. She won her first major curling title at the 2000 Ontario girls’ bantam championship with Granite Curling Club of West Ottawa skip Lee Merklinger and became the steadfast lead for Team Homan from the 2010-11 season through 2019-20. Weagle won three Canadian women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles as well as gold (2017), silver and bronze medals at the world women’s championships.
HENRY McKAY learned his springboard skills at the Ottawa-Nepean Diving Club and graduated to win the three-metre synchro gold medal with Victor Povzner at the 2018 world junior championships. Diving Canada’s outstanding junior athlete in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and the 2017 Canada Summer Games one-metre gold medallist, McKay also won numerous medals at the Canadian junior and senior winter and summer championships.
ADA CHAN was a dedicated athlete with the Special Olympics Ottawa Rhythmic Cats from 1998 to 2006, and remains connected to the club as an online mentor, while living in Toronto. Chan attended the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin and was the level 3 rhythmic gymnastics division A gold medal winner in ball as well as a double silver and double bronze medallist in the other disciplines. At the 2002 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games, she was the level 3 all-around gold medal winner.
ERIKA HOFFMANN won the 2022 Formula Woman International Driver Search competition, which attracted more than 1,000 drivers from 35 countries. Her victory allowed her to earn a seat racing a McLaren 570s GT4 car in the United Kingdom’s GT Cup Championship series last year. She was the only North American racing in the series. This year, she was selected by the International Automobile Federation and Canada’s National Sporting Authority to represent Canada at the International FIA Rallystar competition in Italy, where she finished third overall. The Ottawa Sports Car Club named Hoffmann its competitor of the year in 2022 and the Ottawa Sports Awards Dinner rewarded her with a special recognition award.
KAITLYN YOULDON is a graduate of the Nepean Ravens’ ringette program, having won eight Ontario championship medals, four Canadian championship medals and helping Ontario to a Canada Winter Games gold medal in 2007. She also is a five-time world ringette championship silver medallist, while wearing the Team Canada jersey. A top-level forward and goal scorer, Youldon has played for the Gloucester Devils, Gatineau Fusion and now the Calgary RATH in the National Ringette League. She was named the league’s MVP for the 2022-23 season, after being selected top centre in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and top scorer in 2017-18. As a coach, she was behind the bench for a number of Ravens teams when she lived in Ottawa.
GAVIN LEISHMAN is one of the pillars of the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame, having volunteered 36 years with the board of directors. The wall of fame started in 1985, but was idle for nine years from 2009-19. Leishman was passionate about reviving the wall and made it happen in a big way in 2019. He joined the Nepean Chamber of Commerce in the early 1990s and became chair in 2004. During that time, he volunteered countless hours to the Queensway Carleton Hospital, Scouts Canada and Children at Risk. He also was past owner and general manager with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Nepean Raiders and Pembroke Lumber Kings. The City of Ottawa named Leishman its Senior of the Year award winner in 2012.
AGNES LAING is co-founder of the Nepean Corona School of Gymnastics, which celebrated 50 years of instructing and coaching young children and youth in 2022. Before her retirement in June, Laing saw the club grow to having 2,000 students a week work on their artistic gymnastics skills in the 20,000-square-foot venue. Laing created a strong coaching staff, which helped develop many provincial and national medallists and NCAA athletic scholarship recipients. The gymnastics community gave her a recognition award for her successful work in lobbying the federal government for support while gymnastics clubs were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
RICHARD FLEMING was a passionate contributor to the Nepean sports and cultural scenes. Fleming, who passed away in November, 2022, served on the Nepean parks and recreation’s advisory committee, was a director with the Nepean-Ottawa Diving Club and a director for the Nepean Museum. His true passion was rugby. He served as president of the Twin Elm Rugby Park from 1992-2007 and attracted many provincial, national and international rugby matches to the largest rugby venue in Eastern Ontario.
KAREN BUTCHER has been a part of the local, national and international figure skating scene for more than 50 years. She competed as a skater with the Nepean Skating Club and started volunteering as an official as a teenager. Recognized as one of Canada’s top judges, Butcher was at ice level for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the team event (men’s singles and pairs). She also was on judging panels for numerous Canadian and world championships. Butcher received the Skate Canada Officials Award of Excellence in 2002 and the Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement Award for technical official in 2015. Currently, she is serving a four-year term (2021-25) as president of Skate Canada’s board of directors. She sat on the board from 2013-17.
FERNANDO HENDERSON is a native of the Dominican Republic and has been associated with the Nepean-Ottawa Diving Club for more than 30 years as an athlete and coach. After making the Dominican Republic’s Olympic team for the 1984 Olympics, he qualified for but didn’t compete at the 1996 Olympics, while starting his coaching career with NODC. Since being named the club’s head coach in 2001, he guided athletes like Jamie Bissett to two senior national titles, Henry McKay to a world junior title and medals at all four junior-age levels, and Kate Miller to a world junior championship gold medal in synchro diving with Quebec City’s Sonya Palkhivala. He also has helped other club coaches develop their skills in the sport.
GORD WILSON has been part of the Ottawa Senators hockey team from Day 1, serving as the colour commentator on radio to play-by-play announcer Dean Brown on CFRA, Team 1200 (now TSN 1200) and Sens TV. He was a reporter for CFRA in West Palm Beach, Florida, when the NHL announced the Senators had won a franchise. After graduating the radio broadcasting program at Algonquin College, Wilson worked at CKOB in Renfrew, and CFRA as a sportscaster and sideline reporter for Ottawa Rough Riders CFL games. Wilson also drove the Zamboni at the Nepean Sportsplex.
NEPEAN KNIGHTS JUNIOR B LACROSSE TEAM had an unprecedented season in 2022, winning its first Ontario and Canadian box lacrosse championships with an overall record of 35 wins and two losses. After storming through their Ontario junior B regular season with an 18-2 record in the Far East Division, the Knights went 12-0 in the provincial playoffs and 5-0 at the Canadian championship to win their first Founders Cup. Many of the players were together for about 10 years and remained with the team through the COVID-19 pandemic because of the innovative coaching from Matt Firth.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.