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Runway of Recognition a ‘labour of love’ for late co-founder

Bob Elliott leads 2024 induction class to Thorold institution he helped create; 'Bob would be truly humbled being remembered this way tonight'

It was an emotional evening, as the Thorold Runway of Recognition honoured its new inductees at John Michael’s Banquet Hall on Monday night.

Deb Elliott fought back tears as she spoke about her late husband, Bob, who helped establish the Runway.

“On behalf of the Elliott family. I'd like to thank Tim [Whalen], Cindy [Dickson] and the runway recognition committee for this amazing award in Bob's memory,” she said.

It was Bob Elliott, along with the late Wilf Slater who approached then-Thorold Mayor Robin Davidson back in 2007 about the idea of creating a platform to recognize athletic achievements by the city’s residents.

The Runway of Recognition was born, and now the man who helped create it is a permanent member, sitting alongside all the other athletes, builders, coaches, and teams to be recognized in the 17 years since its inception.

“Being chairman and founder of the recognition committee was truly a labour of love for Bob and I might think — and I know in my heart — that Bob would be truly humbled being remembered this way tonight," said Deb.

Bob Elliott, inducted under the builder’s category, was one of five names added to the Runway. Others included skeet shooter Gary Mills (athlete), rower Nicole Vendetti (athlete), hockey player Sean Bentivoglio (athlete) and figure skater turned competition judge Andrew Bosco (builder).

Mills, among his achievements, won 23 Ontario skeet shooting championships between 1981 and 1996, and he was part of six doubles championships between 1981 and 1989.

Vendetti, meanwhile, said lessons she learned as a rower in high school at Denis Morris Catholic High School, Ridley College, The St. Catharines Rowing Club and at Brock University have helped her in her life outside of the sporting realm.

“These skills have served me well beyond the water, helping me navigate various aspects of life in my professional career with confidence and clarity,” Vendetti told the gathered crowd. “Maybe one of the most important lessons I learned is the ability to bounce back from failure. Not every race ended in victory, but each setback was a steppingstone towards growth.”

When it was Bentivoglio's turn at the podium, he shared his gratefulness for all the support he received over his hockey career, which included stops in the American Hockey League, as well as numerous cities in Europe after getting his start with the Thorold Blackhawks Jr. B team.

“This is a testament to the unwavering support of my family and the guidance of my coaches and the camaraderie of my teammates to my family,” he said. “Thank you for your constant love and belief. And to my coaches and teammates, your guidance and friendship has been instrumental in my journey.”

Bosco, meanwhile, said it was his poor skills as a hockey player that led him to becoming a figure skater, a sport where he excelled and in which he later went on to become a an international and Olympic-level judge. He was awarded Skate Canada’s National Elizabeth Swan Memorial Award in 2022 and he now serves on Skate Canada’s operational committee.

“I did not know how to stop, and I did not know how to skate backwards so I would fly down the ice with the puck on my stick. I would shoot at the net; I would look at the boards and just drop and slide into it.”

In addition to the inductions to the Runway, several awards were handed out in different categories.

The Female Athlete of the Year Award went to Grace Pyatt, a member of the Brock Badgers women’s volleyball team. In the 2022-23 season, Pyatt appeared in 16 games for the Badgers, registering 103 kills, six assists, four service aces, 22 digs, 51 blocks and a total of 135.5 points. She was named an OUA All-star and a U-Sports second team All-Canadian.

“I know with the utmost certainty that without this community, my incredible family and my friends I would not be the athlete that I am today,” she said.

Male Athlete of the Year honours went to T.J. Woods, who in 2023 was the NCAA’s Grade 8 champion in both the 400 and 800 metres among other accolades.  The Denis Morris student also added a gold in the 1,500 metres and a bronze in the 800 at the recent OFSAA championships in London, Ont.

“Representing Thorold, Denis Morris to Ontario and Canada has been an amazing experience,” Woods said. “But the best is yet to come.”

Team of the Year honours went to the Scorpions Niagara Majors cheerleading squad. The team’s accomplishments in the past year included finishing first in the Youth Level 2 Division and earning a trip to the World All-Star Championships in Florida. Coach Anderson Cecchini accepted the award on the team’s behalf.

“I know better than anyone all the hard work these girls put in the entire season,” she said. “They blew me away on a consistent basis.”

Linda Saldarelli was named the Albert Ciancio Memorial Friend of Sport Award winner for her years of volunteer work with the Thorold Figure Skating Club.

“This award is very, very special to me and everyone here,” she said when accepting the award. “To be put on the Thorold Runway of Recognition is extremely special.”

The Daryl Mahler Excellence in Coaching Award went to Mike Bolibruck, a long-time coach with the Thorold Amateur Athletic Association’s minor hockey program. In addition to coaching, he has served on the TAAA’s board of directors. In 2024, he worked with Bauer’s First Shift Program, which introduces the game of hockey to children.

“Coaching is about building a lifelong love of the game,” he said. “But coaching also helps build a strong foundation for life. It's good for men and good for women because it builds skills that they'll carry with them forever.”

Rounding out the list of award winners were Reese Miatier, who won the Mike J. Egeroff Memorial Trophy for Junior Athlete of the Year and Easton Lynds, who won the James Whyte Memorial Award for Senior Athlete of the Year.

Two young athletes from Thorold Secondary School were also awarded $40,000 scholarships by the Whyte Foundation. Megan Leblanc, a synchronized skater, who will be attending McMaster University in the fall to pursue studies in Health and Society and Jack Drummond, a hockey player who has been accepted into Niagara College’s Pre-Health Sciences program.

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Richard Hutton

About the Author: Richard Hutton

Richard Hutton is a veteran Niagara journalist, telling the stories of the people, places and politics from across the region
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