Sommer West inducted into sports hall of fame

photo courtesy of Canadian Women's Hockey League

Sommer West. Photo courtesy of Canadian Women's Hockey League.

Local resident Sommer West is an athlete for all seasons. With a record of excellence in both softball and hockey, West’s accomplishments will see her inducted into the Clarington Sports Hall of Fame this Saturday.

In softball, West was an All-Star short stop at both the 1997 and 1998 women’s Nationals. She helped earn a silver medal for Canada at the Pan Am Games in 1999, and was part of Team Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She also played first base on the 2002 National Team.

As a forward in hockey, West was a member of the U18 National Champions, and the U22 National Team. Starting in 1996, she played in the National Women’s Hockey League, winning the NWHL Championship four consecutive years, and scoring four goals in one NWHL Final. As recently as 2006, she led the league in points and was voted NWHL Offensive Player of the Year.

Now 30 years old, West is not one to rest on her laurels. She continues to be active in both sports. She still plays Senior Women’s Fastball – the most competitive level below the Olympic level – as a member of the Kitchener Krush.

West started her baseball career playing lob ball as a child, progressing to fastball by age 13. She played for the Oshawa Double D’s, participating in the Oshawa Summer Games, before playing for the Port Perry Angels for about eight years. The 2000 Olympics was only the second Olympic games to include Women’s Softball, so there were few roles models for West to follow as she advanced. She and her teammates were pioneers and ambassadors for the sport on the world stage.

“There was only Atlanta in ’96, that was the only Olympics before I joined the team,” said West. “That was the first Olympics for Women’s Softball. There was no publicity, and nobody really before us.”

Looking back over her career, West said that participating in the Olympics was the highlight. “You don’t really know until it’s over. Now, I can sit back and realize it was the high point of my career. Having my family there – my Mom and Dad and my sister – every step of the way, to have them there to share that, nothing will ever compare to that. All the hard work and dedication you give to your sport, it does pay back.”

Although women’s hockey has been played for over a century in this country, it made its first Olympic appearance in the Winter Games of 1998 in Nagano, Japan. As a member of the 1999 National Team, West was one of the pioneers in this sport too. And she is among the first generation to play in the National Women’s Hockey League. Last season the league was restructured from the club-based NWHL to a corporate-based foundation in the new Canadian Women’s Hockey League, with hopes that this will expand opportunities for female players.

West is in her fifth year as captain of the Mississauga Aeros of the NWHL/CWHL. She cites fellow Aeros team members and two-time Olympic gold medalists Sami Jo Small and Jennifer Botterill as her role models. As a member of the NWHL/CWHL, West acknowledges she is also a role model for the younger generation.

“We’re taking on the responsibility of role modeling for the girls who are 10 to 12 years old. They’re going to have a great league, hopefully a paid league. My generation is paving the way for kids to have that, so they don’t have to worry about going to the States to play [at the university level], they can play here,” said West.

The left-winger, who works with girls’ teams in Bowmanville to help develop skills, said she has seen women’s hockey evolve over the last decade. “The game is faster. The girls are bigger and stronger, and the talent is just getting better and better by the year,” she said.

West comes by her hockey talent naturally. Her father is Peterborough native, and Orono resident Steve West, who played professional hockey in the 1970’s for the Winnipeg Jets and the Houston Aeros of the WHA.

She was born in Houston, Texas while her father was playing hockey there, and moved with her family to the Kirby area when she was still a toddler. She took figure skating in Orono when she was four years old, switching to hockey at age five to join the Orono Minor Hockey program. “My Dad taught me from there,” she said.

Attending school in Kirby, and then later moving to Bowmanville, West played on boys’ teams up to the age of 12. “There weren’t any girls teams. I was playing competitive boys hockey. But at age 13, I started with girls’ hockey. They didn’t allow girls to play where there was body checking,” she explained. After playing Bantam girls’ hockey in Newcastle, she started competitive girls’ Midget hockey in Kingston.

West credits her father with being her biggest mentor in hockey. “My father taught me a lot about hockey. He was my biggest influence until I was 16; but even at 30, he’s always giving me little tips,” she said.

A contemporary of Steve West’s in the WHA, hockey legend Paul Henderson will be the guest speaker at the Clarington Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “It’ll be neat to meet him,” said West, of the man who scored the winning goal in the 1972 Summit Series with Russia. “He’s been a great ambassador for Canada.”

As for her own induction into the Hall of Fame, the announcement came as a “huge surprise,” she said. “I think it’s a great honour to be recognized by your peers and your hometown. It really hasn’t sunk in yet. I think it will really hit home when I’m there.”

West said she is happy that quite a few of her family members will be coming to the ceremony. “I’d like to thank all my family and friends for always supporting me. Although Saturday will be my moment, I want to thank everyone because I wouldn’t have gotten there without them.”

The Sixth Annual Clarington Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex on Oct. 25th. Tickets for the evening are $55, and include cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 905-623-5728.

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