Merchants recognized for inclusivness
Hockey team receiving award from Alberta Association for Community Living
Wednesday, Apr 02, 2014 06:00 am
Christian Bayus isn’t just someone who helps out the St. Albert Merchants – to the players, coaches and management, he’s part of the team.
“He’s a big part of our team. He does a lot of little things that may be kind of a nuisance at times,” said team captain Kurtis Watts, noting Christian does tasks like fill their water bottles and get their jerseys ready.
“He’s a huge part of our team. I mean, without seeing him on game days, right away if he can’t make a game the kids are asking where he is,” said team general manager Glenn Harrison.
Christian has been with the Merchants as a dressing room attendant for the past couple of seasons. He is 23 and has Down syndrome.
He attends MacEwan University, often riding the bus and eating lunch with his friends from the Merchants.
“He’s one of the guys and he always will be,” said Watts.
It’s that kind of inclusion, both at the rink and in their personal time, that led Christian’s mother, Karen Bayus, to nominate the team for a community inclusion award from the Alberta Association for Community Living. The team will be presented with their award April 11 in Edmonton.
“These guys don’t even know it, they don’t even realize … it’s amazing for Christian,” said Karen.
While Christian has helped out the team in other seasons, this year he’s been “an integral member of the team for the whole year,” Karen said.
After some troubles last season, the Merchants were still willing to give Christian another chance.
“I think what really struck me was last year ... there was some issues … but they still this year said ‘let’s see if we can give it another go,’” Karen said. “They just sort of went over and above to put things in place to make sure he’s successful.”
And while Christian is an integral part of the team, with his own jersey, getting rides to every game from his teammates and even part of the team’s calendar photo, it’s their treatment of him off the ice that inspired her to nominate them.
“They’re just wonderful guys,” Karen said. “Nominating them for the award was one way of letting them know what a huge difference they are making in Christian’s life. And they may not know that, so I think if there’s a message in all this, it’s for them to know that all of what they are doing is huge for Christian.”
Merchants’ head coach Scott Rodda noted the credit belongs not just to the players, but everyone involved in the team.
“This started before I became coach,” he said, noting the team also volunteers and fundraises for organizations like the food bank and Special Olympics.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am,” Rodda said.
Rodda, Watts and Harrison all noted how honoured the team is to receive such an award.
“It’s nice that getting the award can kind of go hand in hand with us receiving benefits from him and getting recognition for it,” said Watts.
“Everything Christian has got from our guys, our guys have got 10-fold from him. He is one of our guys, he is part of our team,” said Harrison.
Harrison said Christian is the first special needs person they’ve had involved with the team.
“It’s been great, it’s been nothing but positive,” he said.
The organization and management made a commitment to be community-minded, Harrison said, something the team members embrace.
On and off the ice, “they done our community proud,” Harrison said.
“The Merchants are very humbled and honoured by the AACL award,” he said.
For Christian, he likes working with the Merchants because “they’re first in the league.”
The best part of working the team, he said, is talking with the guys – all of them are his friends.
“They care about me,” he said, adding they offer him support.
Christian said he’s happy they’re getting an award for supporting and caring about him.
If he had the team handy right then, Christian would have told them “they are the best team” and are part of his family.
Both Watts and Harrison noted Christian is the team’s No. 1 fan, always up in the stands cheering them on once the puck drops.
“At the end of the day he’s No. 1 in our books,” Harrison said.