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Special Olympics Games Manager is a role Merv Shantz will never forget

When the games began, we could not believe the communities support. The gym at the University was packed.

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home

The 2015 Special Olympics Ontario Winter Games was one of the biggest multi-sport competitions the Gateway City has ever hosted. At the time, North Bay Police Constable Merv Shantz was on hiatus from his regular duties as an officer so he could focus on putting together this event as the Games Manager.

“For a full year I was dedicated to putting a committee together in order to run the games here and it was a great success,” says Shantz.

“I enjoyed that time, meeting all different types of people and being involved in the community in a different type of context. We have a great Special Olympics community here in North Bay and the leadership here is very dedicated. When we worked together with them it was seamless and it was a great opportunity. It was great to see our local athlete shine at the provincial level right at home.”

It is just one of the many ways Shantz has immersed himself in a local event or had a hand in helping a local organization.

In this particular case, it all started when Shantz was asked to be involved in the local chapter of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

Shantz says, “Chuck Seguin was heading that up and he encouraged me to take more of an involvement in that and after a few years I took over that. It’s a way to get the Special Olympics community and law enforcement together to raise funds for Special Olympics. But from there, former Police Chief Paul Cook decided that we’d like to have the Ontario Provincial Winter Games in North Bay. So, we put in our bid and ended up getting them and I was designated as the Games Manager.”

Shantz says the role of the Games Manager for one of the biggest sports events his home town had ever hosted, was in itself a full-time job.

“Working with local groups and fundraising and a lot of those things that allowed me to broaden my career and work with many of the awesome people in town that I never would’ve had the opportunity to work with. They were people that really care about the community and really interested in seeing this community thrive, especially with Special Olympics.”

Shantz adds, “It was really neat for me because a lot of the times when you’re in law enforcement, you are dealing with negative things and this was a real positive situation where you are really bringing joy to the athletes and something to the community that people can really enjoy.”

The games themselves were a big hit, with more than 400 athletes competing in six different events over a weekend that was bookended by opening and closing ceremonies that took place inside the Robert Surtees Athletic Centre at Nipissing University. Shantz says the turnout and support was bigger than many of the athletes and organizers had ever experienced.

“With the team that we put together, we really started to build momentum in North Bay,” says Shantz. “So, when the games began, we could not believe the community support. The gym at the University was packed. A lot of the parents that normally come to these games usually arrive just before everything gets started and they did that with the expectations that there would be somewhere to sit, based on their experience of these events in other cities. But the place was packed out and there was standing room only by the end of it.

"And for the few days that the games were on you really saw the community spirit. There were signs around town and banners supporting the athletes. The media did a really good job of covering it. The local athletes were just beaming with pride from the coverage. The adopt an athlete program was incredibly successful as we had people on a waiting list to give their support. Again, it was just incredible.”

He says it was an event that couldn’t have happened without the hundreds of volunteers that aided during the games, but he also credits his wife Jennifer for being a strong worker behind the scenes that helped him see this year-long project come to fruition.

“She’s been great to support me over the years and lots of people see my face out there, but she is the one a lot of the times in the background supporting me in everything that I do. She’s also very involved with the North Bay Youth Volleyball Club and making sure that organization runs smoothly.”

That club is something Shantz dedicates a lot of his free time to. It is a club that competes throughout the province against other clubs and in 2019 they had over 100 athletes and nine teams comprised of players ages in the U11 age bracket right up to U18.

Shantz says, “This year the COVID-19 situation has postponed our season until at least January, but we have our coaches in place for the year. It’s a great opportunity for kids and parents to be involved in something so positive. We have a great executive and we’re always working behind the scenes to make the club run smoothly.”

A player himself in high school and college, Shantz got involved with this club through another North Bay Police Service connection. He says, “Over the years our kids started to play, and Greg Randle was the president and he encouraged me to come on the executive and get involved. I was vice president and moved up to president and that was four years ago, and I have another daughter coming up, she’s in U16 this year, so I’m probably going to be doing this for a few more years,” he says with a laugh.

The North Bay Youth Volleyball Club is now in its 15th year and Shantz says the sport of volleyball is something that is continuously growing in North Bay, especially among female athletes. Shantz says, “Once they get to the high school levels the boys' side is usually competing against football and basketball and a bunch of other sports so we typically get one boy's team, but the girls seem to really love the sport, its an awesome sport, and we’ve increased our teams over the years.”

Shantz also says as police officers they want other residents to know that they want to be involved in their community even when they aren’t wearing the uniform.

Shantz says, “We’ve got a lot of officers that are involved in hockey, soccer, and baseball and sometimes people don’t see that part of us. It’s important to be involved in positive things in the community personally for all of us, but it's also important for the community that we are out there as moms and dads and aunts and uncles and just supporting kids.”

He adds, “I’ve met tons of people who I wouldn’t normally have met by being involved in the community and in local sports. As well as being involved in church mission trips and meeting people through that. It’s all those things that I think makes me a better person in terms of keeping things in perspective, but also allows all of us officers to see all the positive things going on in our community and in the world and it's important for us to be involved in things outside the job.”

Shantz is also looking to spread that positivity around the globe with those mission trips. He says, “Through my local church I helped out with a trip to Los Angeles to help feed the homeless there and that helped me gain a different perspective on the homelessness issue in the United States and Canada. In 2011 I went to Kenya and we helped out with some building projects there.”

Shantz also says there was a trip to Belize in 2015 to work on different projects that would help children and in 2020 they were lining up to go to Costa Rica for Operation Christmas Child, but those plans are now on hold until 2021. He says these trips are always so rewarding, “You always love putting smiles on kids' faces and especially for kids in some of these places that don’t have much to begin with. It’s just another experience that has a positive outcome.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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