The Neepawa Natives didn’t just struggle on the ice this season, they’re not doing very well off the ice, either.
The Manitoba Junior Hockey League club, which finished last at 14-41-5, had a net loss of over $51,000 last season and is in danger of folding or moving to a different community. As a result, the team, which is community-owned and has been run by a handful of volunteers the last few seasons, held an emergency meeting earlier this week in Neepawa.
Board members explained that despite drawing nearly 355 people per home game, the team has been carrying debt since 2007, has almost maxed out its credit and that the current volunteers are getting tired. The goal of the meeting was to get the 100 people who attended to spread the word or step up themselves in new fundraising and volunteer roles.
Natives president Dave McIntosh was impressed with the turnout.
“We need some help and some guys came forward with some real good skill sets that will help us at the board level, which is really important,” he said. “The other thing we wanted to do was find a way for somebody to help if they don’t want to go to meetings. We’ve always had committees, so we’ve given an invitation for people to help us out for committee work without having to be board members and go to the those boring meetings.”
In order to survive, McIntosh pointed to a need for more volunteers, more sponsorship and advertising, and new fundraising opportunities. He admits that more wins would help as well, but he feels the addition of head coach Dwayne Kirkup this season has the team on the right track.
One new fundraiser the board is looking at is a crop project, which would get the large agriculture community around the town even more involved in the team. For it to work, the team would need land donated and volunteers to plant and look after the crops during the summer, with the proceeds from the crops going to the team.
“There’s a willingness for farmers to help, but we just had to brighten up and say this is how you can help,” McIntosh said. “Let’s get a crop project. We need a committee to oversee it, and you sure wouldn’t want me to do it.
“If we can get a quarter of land, we might make $25,000. If we can get two quarters of land, we might make $50,000 and boom, there’s the magic number.”
While the team isn’t in great shape, McIntosh feels there’s still time to bail the organization out, but they need people to step forward.
McIntosh has invested a lot of his personal and printing business’ time and effort into the Natives and he would hate to see the team leave the community after 25 years.
“We want to get ourselves back on the winning track and we want to keep going because it’s a great thing for us to have,” he said. “I know in my case, I don’t know what the heck I would do in the winter if I didn’t have 20-something home games to go to and have to sit on the couch for another 29 evenings in the year, eh? Especially in these winters.”