BY KATHRYN HRYCUSKO
Special to the VOICE
Friends and family of Jeff Yungblut came together this past weekend at the Thorold Arena to participate in a memorial hockey tournament held in his name. Nearly six years ago, Jeff passed away suddenly, on May 11, 2013, while at a hockey tournament with his son Cole. His passing left a hole in the hearts of everyone who knew him. Family members say that Jeff was an active member of the community and always ready to help those in need. He operated a construction business, helped with the family farm, and was a volunteer fire captain for Thorold Station 4. Jeff also loved hockey and in his free time he coached minor hockey and played hockey himself.
This past weekend, Jeff’s memory brought this community of people together once again. Family and friends from all parts of his life gathered at the 4th Annual Jeff Yungblut Memorial Tournament. The tournament is an occasion for those who knew Jeff to play the game he loved. The idea to hold the tournament was conceived by Jeff’s cousin Kory Yungblut four years ago, and has grown substantially since its first year. Initially the tournament saw six teams compete. This year 26 teams entered, stretching the games over four days. The family expects that next year they could even see as many as 30 teams competing.
The teams are made up of people from all parts of Jeff’s life, many of whom did not know one another prior to the tournament.
“The common denominator is they’re here because of Jeff,” said his widow, Nancy.
Because many of the teams come back year after year, “friendships are made.”
Jeff’s mother, also named Nancy, said, “There were people there that have known Jeff since the day that he was born. There’s kids that are coming back and volunteering that he coached. There are children there that are friends of his children. The firefighters have all came and helped, whether they’re playing or working or selling tickets.”
(For clarity, Jeff’s mother will be referred to as “Mrs. Yungblut.”)
These people all came together to help the Yungblut family organize and run the hockey tournament.
“There were people jumping in everywhere,” said Nancy. “If you needed a break they’d jump in, and clean up, and set up, there was always people there saying let us help, let us do this. It was just amazing.”
They helped sell tickets, organize the raffle, score keep, and sell custom Jeff Yungblut Memorial Tournament apparel, many of them sporting it themselves.
Jeff’s children, Kaileigh and Cole, also played an active role in organizing and running the event. Kaileigh organized the volunteers from Denis Morris and Thorold High who came to help with scorekeeping and timekeeping, ensuring every game was covered and that the students received their volunteer hours for their help.
Mrs. Yungblut said that the family left that to Kaileigh, “that’s her baby, that’s what she does and she’s really good at it.”
While Kaileigh took on the task, Nancy said that her son Cole helped with a little bit of everything and that he was their go-to guy when they needed a helping hand. Unfortunately a broken knee kept Cole from playing this year. Instead he coached his team, the boys under-19, this time around. The team arose victorious as the winners of the tournament.
New to the tournament this year was the addition of a parent-children scrimmage. The idea for the game, which allows kids from ages 5-11 to scrimmage with their parents, came from cousin Kory Yungblut. Kory’s young son had been eager to participate in the tournament but was too young to play with the other teams. The parent-children scrimmage offered an opportunity for him, and other young children, to safely participate. Mrs. Yungblut said that the game went “extremely well” and that they are always looking for ways to “try to include everybody.”
Beyond coming together to help put on the event, Jeff’s family and friends came together to share stories and memories of him. Mrs. Yungbluy said, “It’s amazing, to sit back and to listen to the stories, the funny stories about Jeff, and just it’s a wonderful feeling, it really is,” adding, “He would be overwhelmed.”
Nancy said, “We celebrate his life and it’s awesome, because there’s so many people that come and share stories, and they make sure they tell my kids the stories, or they share it with Jim and Nancy, or Jennifer, or me.”
This tournament also serves as a way for the family to raise money for the educational bursaries that they provide to high school students in Jeff’s name. Every year two scholarships are given to students of Jeff’s old high school, Thorold High. An additional two are also given to students at Denis Morris, the high school that Jeff’s son Cole attends, and that his daughter Kaileigh graduated from.
Among this year’s graduates and potential recipients of the bursaries are Cole’s friends, many of whom Jeff coached in hockey. For the family, the bursaries are an important way to give back to the community.
Both Jeff’s mother and wife stressed that they wish to “pay it forward” as much as they are able to. As a result, both women hope that they will continue the tournament in the years to come. “It’s the perfect way to celebrate his life,” said Nancy.
“It’s a really beautiful thing, it’s powerful and makes you feel really good.”
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