Brenda Sawatzky

Nighthawks Red Carpet Gala a Dazzling Success

Ty Dilello – The Niverville Citizen

The first annual Nighthawks Red Carpet Gala kicked off in style on February 23 at the Heritage Centre in Niverville. The fundraising event brought 270 attendees out on a bitterly cold night to meet and celebrate their MJHL home team and demonstrate support for the nascent franchise’s future.

Guests were treated to a full course of appetizers, entrees, wine, and desserts, not to mention an evening chock full of entertainment. The evening’s keynote speaker was Andrew Harris, four-time Grey Cup winner.

To date, $30,000 has been raised from the event, which will provide operational funding for the team and assist with infrastructure improvements at the home rink.

Much of the night’s proceeds were the result of a rousing live auction with hot ticket items. Among the auction items were a signed Andrew Harris jersey, a catered barbecue for 20, a guided Lake of the Woods fishing excursion, and a custom pair of CCM skates with an autographed Frank Mahovlich framed print.

Nighthawks president Clarence Braun was pleased to welcome attending dignitaries Ted and Irene Falk, Kelvin and Kim Goertzen, and Ron Schuler.

Vice-president Ray Dowse greeted the guests on behalf of the team’s board of directors.

Looking back at the Nighthawks’ inaugural year, Dowse recounted the story of a recent road trip he made to the small town of Melville, Saskatchewan. Upon arriving, he realized there was only one thing he knew about Melville—it was the name of their Junior A hockey team, the Melville Millionaires.

“It’s true for so many communities across this country,” Dowse said. “They are typically identified by their respective Junior hockey teams. It’s very much a Canadian thing.”

The Steinbach Pistons, he added, are another perfect example of what an MJHL team can do to bolster a community’s national visibility and recognition.

And while Dowse recognizes that many local businesses and events have already put Niverville on the proverbial map, he believes the Nighthawks can only further the town’s notoriety for being a progressive place to live.

“The Niverville Nighthawks add one more piece to the fabric of this really awesome community,” Dowse said. “Being season number one, they are still very new. We are learning and we are building. And at this stage, I don’t think many people realize the impact the Nighthawks will make on our town’s identity into the future. And that is what is really exciting.”

Dowse reminded those gathered that the team was structured as a non-profit organization in order to provide complete transparency, leaving no question about underlying motives or true ownership rights.

“The money raised by the team doesn’t benefit one person, or an ownership group, or an offshore corporation in the Caymans,” Dowse said. “It’s for all of us. The team, the players, the residents, the region, and our community.”

When Andrew Harris took to the podium, he held the audience’s rapt attention. At just 35 years of age, he boasts a remarkable career with the CFL.

Harris took the crowd back in time to his career’s early beginnings. The game of hockey, he admits, was his first love as a child, but he was raised on a single parent’s income and money stood in the way of pursuing that dream.

Later, his family moved to Steinbach where Harris took up football with the Eastman Raiders. Eventually, he moved on to play Junior football in Winnipeg, and later in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

“Junior football changed my life,” Harris told the crowd. “Some of my best friends to date are from my junior football years… The brotherhood we had together, we really just bonded over a common cause.”

In British Colombia, Harris’s team went on to win three national championships, which led to his signing with the B.C. Lions. There, he quickly found his place as starting running back.

In the 2011 West Division Final, Harris was named the Canadian player of the week for his performance over the Edmonton Eskimos. A week later, he was named Most Outstanding Canadian during his team’s Grey Cup win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Harris’s career has continued to be prolific, setting records year after year.

In 2016, Harris came back to his roots when he signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. With the home team, he continued his record-breaking streak. In 2019, the Bombers took home their first Grey Cup in nearly 30 years.

Last year, Harris signed with the Toronto Argonauts, but he continues to make Winnipeg his home during the off season.

In front of the gala crowd, Harris openly recounted the many occasions over the years when he’s felt challenged to his very core. One such occasion meant taking on the responsibility of fatherhood while he himself was only 21 years of age.

Given the choice of fight or flight, he says, and regardless the circumstances, he has always chosen to stay and fight. Today Harris is the proud father of two.

The gala continued as broadcast announcer Kevin Dunn introduced each player of the Nighthawks, all dressed in suit and tie for the occasion. Radio and TV broadcaster Kevin Pauls then invited MLA Kelvin Goertzen, Andrew Harris, and MJHL Commissioner Kevin Saurette to the stage for a hot stove panel.