Two rowers who won a total of 13 gold medals and a wrestler who went undefeated at both the Canadian and Ontario university championships are the Niagara Sport Commission athletes of the year for 2015.
Also singled out for praise at the region-wide sports promotion organization’s annual awards breakfast were the outstanding parathlete and Special Olympian of the past year, as well as the top coach and event of the year.
In all, nine awards were presented Thursday at the Holiday Inn in St. Catharines in a ceremony that featured one-time Canadian boxer and current Niagara Falls city Councillor Mike Strange as keynote speaker.
St. Catharines Rowing Club member Daniel De Groot was selected male athlete of the year, topping a nomination list that included his brother and fellow rower David and Evan Littlefield of the Niagara College golf team.
Daniel, who competes for Princeton University at the post-secondary level, won three golds at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta, two at the RowOntario Championships and one at the Head of the Welland, all while overcoming a serious injury.
David, the Ontario University Athletics rower of the year, was a double gold winner for Brock at the Canadian University Rowing Association championships and at provincials. He won a bronze medal at the world under-23 championships and was named Brock’s top male athlete.
Littlefield led Niagara to the team title and topped the men’s leaderboard for an individual gold medal at the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association championships head at Hunters Pointe in Welland. He was the college’s top male athlete for 2015-16 and was named an academic all-Canadian.
Brock wrestler Olivia Di Bacco pinned down gold medals at provincials and nationals to earn Sport Niagara female athlete of the year honours. The silver medallist at the Canadian senior national championships won bronze at Olympic trials and also finished third at the Torneo International Tournament in Italy.
Brock selected Di Bacco as its top female athlete.
Golfer Lorelle Weavers, the region’s female athlete of year in 2014, won the gold medal for Niagara at the provincial championships and earned all-Canadian as well as academic all-Canadian honours. She is the college’s top female athlete for 2015-16.
Rower Janet Lancaster received the award as top female athlete in the masters category for competitors 55 and older. Duathlete and triathlete Lynda Lemon of Welland was also nominated.
Lancaster won seven gold medals, four silver and three bronze for the St. Catharines Rowing Club. She was in the stroke seat for several first-place finishes, and each of her medals was won in a crew event.
Lemon, a two-time Niagara masters athlete of the year, paced the women’s 71-74 division at the world dualthlon championships in Australia.
Shelley Gautier, a cyclist from Niagara Falls now living in Toronto, is the region’s parathlete of the year for 2014 after placing first in the time trial and third in the road race at the Canadian championships. She placed second in the time trial at the Toronto 2015 Parapan Games at well as at the world cup in Italy.
Niagara’s top Special Olympian in 2015 is Thorold swimmer Julia Longo. She was won four medals – two gold, two silver – at nationals in Vancouver and represented Canada at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
A two-day charity tournament that gave people the opportunity to play with – and against – NHL alumni was recognized by the commission as Niagara’s sporting event in 2015. A total of 220 players participated in the Meridian Celebrity Cup, and $115,000 was raised for the Hotel Dieu Shaver Foundation.
James Davis, who led the host team to the gold medal at the sixth annual Brock Niagara Penguins Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, is 2015’s top coach. Living by the motto “if I can do this, you can do this,” Davis has become an inspiration to his players after overcoming his own physical challenges.
Co-coaches Kristen Baldenelli and John Marino, who now offer Little Kickers Soccer in Niagara Falls on a year-round basis; Brock wrestling coach Marty Calder, who led the Badgers to their sixth national and 15th provincial championship; Little Kickers Soccers co-coaches Albino Periera, whose Eden senior boys volleyball team won its ninth Ontario championship in 10 years; and Niagara College golf coach Cameron Thin, whose team took three of the four gold medals awarded at the Ontario championships, also were nominated.
Sharing the Sport Niagara Champion of Sport Award for 2015 are Mike Hurley of the Pelham Panthers Minor Basketball Association and Sharon Stewart of the Niagara Olympic Club for track and field athletes.
Hurley dedicated more than 1,2000 hours to youth basketball. In addition to his work off the court on the association’s behalf, Hurley coached the girls under-10 team to a Division 1 title at the Ontario championships and a boys under-13 squad that placed 12th in the province.
Over the past five years the Pelham native has helped 45 athletes get scholarships to post-secondary institutions in Canada as well as the United States. The E.L. Crossley graduate played two years of university basketball with the Brock Badgers.
Stewart led the club in its quest for improvements to the facility adjacent to the former West Park Secondary School in St. Catharines, and she was instrumental in attracting events to the region, such as the Canadian Junior Masters Track and Field Championships.