Written by: Matt Johnson for Sask Sport
Two prominent figures in Saskatchewan sport are among the newest members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Three-time Olympic pentathlete Diane Jones Konihowski and former NHL player and Respect Group Co-Founder Sheldon Kennedy are two of the 11 inductees in the Hall’s 2021 class.
While the pair of former athletes are known for their achievements in their respective sports, it’s perhaps what they’ve done as figures around sport that they are being recognized for.5
Thanks to a recent change from the Hall, there is now a focus on honouring those who create social change within sport.
It is a shift welcomed by Jones Konihowski, who has spent more than 30 years volunteering in a multitude of roles including with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Coaching Association of Canada, Commission for Fair Play, KidSport and Huskie Athletics.
“They’re looking beyond what I did on the track and on the field, and they’re looking at what I did to give back to the community,” said Jones Konihowski. “It’s a real honour to be recognized for that kind of contribution.”
“If people see Sheldon Kennedy when they’re going through the Hall of Fame and they see my name and they wonder why I’m there, I want them to know that I’m there not just for the safety of our children and the betterment of sport organizations across our country, but because we stuck with it.”Sheldon Kennedy on what his induction to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame means
That sentiment is echoed by Kennedy as well, who played parts of eight seasons in the NHL but might be known for more than his career on the ice. Since his playing days, Kennedy has become an advocate for safe sport, after he was a victim of sexual assault by his former junior hockey coach.
As co-founder of the Respect Group, an organization created to help train coaches, parents and activity leaders to keep sport safe from bullying, abusive, harassing and discriminatory behaviour, Kennedy hopes this honour is another step toward awareness and the continued shifting culture in sport.
“If people see Sheldon Kennedy when they’re going through the Hall of Fame and they see my name and they wonder why I’m there, I want them to know that I’m there not just for the safety of our children and the betterment of sport organizations across our country, but because we stuck with it,” said Kennedy.
Getting the call to the Hall for Jones Konihowski was one that she didn’t expect to receive.
“I got the call last April and I was really surprised because I have sat on the selection committee for the Hall of Fame for over 10 years and I just knew how hard it was to get in and I thought ‘oh, even if you win an Olympic gold medal, you’re not going to get into the Hall. There is not gonna be enough room,’” said Jones Konihowski.
And while it’s perhaps because of those contributions that she earned the call to the Hall, it’s important to also recognize the shine of her athletic career, which all got started in the prairies.
While Jones Konihowski was born in Vancouver, she grew up in Saskatoon and spent 22 years in the city, including her time at the University of Saskatchewan where she starred on the Huskies track and field team and graduated with a degree in education. That connection to the province is something she takes pride in.
“I’ve always been proud to come from Saskatoon. It played a real role in my development as an athlete. I still call it my home, even though I’ve lived in Alberta for longer than I’ve lived in Saskatchewan”.
“And I’m still a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan,” joked Jones Konihowski.
During her time in the city, Jones Konihowski trained under a pair of legendary Saskatchewan coaches in Bob Adams and Lyle Sanderson – who are each members of the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame – and she credits them with getting her to where she ended up in her athletic career.
“They were the reasons why I was named to three Olympic teams and was No. 1 in the world twice. They were very much a part of the reason why I was so successful,” said Jones Konihowski.
Like Jones Konihowksi, Kennedy’s connections to the province run deep.
He played junior hockey in Saskatchewan, suiting up for the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League (WHL), winning a Memorial Cup with the Broncos in his final season in the league, before turning pro. He now farms on land south of Saskatoon.
Kennedy’s tie to the town of Swift Current may be most well-known due to one of the darkest moments in the town’s history. Nearly 35 years ago, Kennedy was aboard a bus along with his Swift Current Broncos teammates that crashed just outside of the city. The accident killed four of his teammates.
For people in Saskatchewan, Kennedy will also be remembered for the role he played in healing when tragedy struck the prairies again in 2018 when the Humboldt Broncos bus crash stunned Saskatchewan.
“We had a lot to offer and I just thought that we needed to go there and we just needed to bring some hope to show and to be able to speak a language that was very relatable to not only the families, but to all those that were involved in that accident,” said Kennedy.
“We weren’t scared of those conversations because we’d been there. I think people don’t know what to say in a tragic accident like that. One thing that I knew that what we had to offer is we knew what to say. We knew the struggles that were ahead for those individuals that were still alive and that had lost loved ones, teammates, sons, and daughters.”
The 2021 class signified a change for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. It displays to those in sport the significance of creating change themselves — and not just change as an athlete. Other inductees included Willie O’Ree, John “Jackie” Barrett, Sonja Gaudet, Lorie Kane, Eric Lamaze and Hickstead, Steve Nash, Duncan Campbell, Judy Kent and Ross Powless.
Visit sportshall.ca for more information.