Community contributions

For a trio of Gaels, the volunteer experience with youth sports is an enriching one

Men’s rugby forward Brendan Sloan coaches a special needs basketball team at KCVI.
Men’s rugby forward Brendan Sloan coaches a special needs basketball team at KCVI.
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Women’s volleyball setter Shannon Walsh volunteers as a coach with the Kingston Pegasus volleyball club and various local high schools.
Women’s volleyball setter Shannon Walsh volunteers as a coach with the Kingston Pegasus volleyball club and various local high schools.

Three years removed from her final game, Liz Kench still maintains a Queen’s connection.

A former women’s hockey forward, Kench is one of several Gaels to volunteer as a coach in Kingston youth sports. This year, she took over the reins of the Kingston Ice Wolves intermediate AA team, coaching 16 to 18 year old girls at the province’s highest level of girls’ hockey.

Her coaching staff with the Ice Wolves includes former teammate and current Gaels captain Morgan McHaffie. Kench said she receives input from Queen’s head coach Matt Holmberg when it comes to practices and drills.

The association with her former team, Kench said, gives her additional opportunities as a coach that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

“It allows me to bring in players to help out, allows me to bring in player mentors, to have new drills and keep the practices exciting,” she said. “Without playing at Queen’s, I don’t think I would be as successful as I’ve been.”

A Gananoque native, Kench tallied 124 points in five seasons with the Gaels, the fourth-highest career total among women’s hockey players at Queen’s.

Coaching the Ice Wolves lets her provide a different coaching experience than the one she had growing up.

“I found that when I was growing up, I didn’t have a young female mentor. I certainly didn’t have someone who was actively playing, or just recently out of playing or was playing at a high calibre,” she said. “I can give them something I didn’t have, to me that’s a great thing.”

Like Kench, women’s volleyball’s Shannon Walsh also hails from the Kingston area. Since high school, Walsh has volunteered as a coach with the Kingston Pegasus Volleyball Club, as well as with local high school teams in both volleyball and track and field.

Additionally, Walsh volunteers during the summer at volleyball camps in both Kingston and her hometown of Sydenham, just outside of Kingston, including The Training Centre volleyball camp held at Holy Cross Secondary School.

The fifth-year setter said she draws on her playing experience if she feels there’s a similarity between the Gaels and her youth team.

“I find that sharing similarities between varsity teams and the team I am coaching empowers the athletes, rather than having them realize more of a contrast between the varsity level and a level of their own,” Walsh told the Journal via email.

She added that being a varsity athlete has benefitted her coaching experience, as she gets the opportunity to talk to young athletes at camps and games and create a relationship between the varsity program and local athletes.

“The opportunity to converse with youth volleyball enthusiasts in the stands after games and during weeklong camps is absolutely priceless,” she said. “I encourage all varsity athletes to do so when they can.”

While Walsh and Kench both coach the sports they played at Queen’s, one men’s rugby forward goes a different route with his volunteer work.

Brendan Sloan has coached KCVI’s Special Olympics basketball team for the past four seasons. Like Walsh, he started volunteering in high school, coaching another team in Peterborough.

“As soon as I came here in first year, I kind of missed it so I contacted the [KCVI] teacher at the time who ran it and he just kind of took me on and helped out there for a few years and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Over the last few years, Sloan has started bringing in his rugby teammates and other Queen’s students to help coach the team. He hopes Gaels men’s rugby will continue to work with the KCVI team after he graduates.

For Sloan, the biggest takeaway from his experience comes from the relationships he’s formed with his players.

“It’s honestly the highlight of my week, and I think I take as much from the whole experience as the players do,” he said. “[It’s] pure enjoyment and it’s great just making friends with these guys.”

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