Alysson Storey: CK Election & Sports Interview

Below are the Chatham-Kent Election and Sports interview responses for Chatham-Kent mayoral candidate Alysson Storey. Remember to vote October 22.

Name: Alysson Storey

Hometown and Ward: Chatham, Ward 6

What’s your sports/recreation background?

I was raised by two active and athletic parents alongside two athletic and active siblings. I grew up hearing stories of my dad Tom’s championship exploits at Tecumseh Secondary School and University of Toronto in football and basketball, and growing up going to Maroons games with NHL-calibre players as a kid. My mom Cindy was a lifelong tennis player, playing religiously for most of her life, starting at Grosse Point High School in Michigan. My mom, a University of Michigan student, also instilled in me a hardcore dedication to the Michigan Wolverines (which has provided me both joy and anguish over the years!). Meanwhile, my paternal grandmother and great-uncle went to Michigan State so there was always a battle for my Big Ten heart.

I grew up playing sports and involved in recreational activities of all kinds – it was great to have so many opportunities in Chatham-Kent. I spent every summer sailing, canoeing and swimming at the Rondeau Yacht Club, and in high school was a Canoeing Instructor at RYC. I was on the basketball and volleyball teams at McKeough Public School and CCI, plus badminton at CCI. I played beach volleyball for many summers in Chatham and Erieau, and YMCA-league volleyball as an adult when I moved back to Chatham. I’m also a certified volleyball ref and reffed the Y leagues for many years and assisted with SWOSSA and OFSAA tournaments when they were held in Chatham-Kent.

I’ve been an avid sailor my whole life, starting in Beginners Racing at the RYC with my dad as crew. Then Junior Girls Doubles (with longtime crew Ben Payne) and Singles, then Seniors Singles. I even spent a few seasons racing at Erieau Yacht Club with my dad. I also joined my dad as crew as he raced at the Thames River Yacht Club at Lighthouse Cove and now with the Erieau Sailing Club and competed successfully for many years in the prestigious CORK Regatta in Kingston. I spent a huge amount of time at the Wheels Inn (and Racquet Club as it was called way back when…). I played tennis from about the time I could walk, and also spent countless hours in the pool for swimming lessons achieving all the way to Bronze Cross. I loved swimming and even spent several years taking synchronized swimming lessons until I ran out of lessons to take!

If I had to choose, I would likely say volleyball has always been my favourite sport to play. I attended various volleyball camps every summer, and was a camper in the inaugural season of Volleyball Kent. This camp, founded by local volleyball guru Randy Bartlett, started with a small group of avid volleyball players and coaches and ended up as one of the most well-respected volleyball camps in the Province. I also attended the Y basketball summer camps for many years, attended Madawaska Volleyball camp and a York University camp run by Wally Dyba, a Canadian National Team volleyball coach. One of the highlights of my sports career was winning a silver medal in OFSAA Senior Girls Volleyball in Kemptville, Ontario. It was an incredible experience.

As an adult I don’t play sports as much as I would like, but I am still an avid fan. Locally I enjoy spending time watching family and friends’ kids sports leagues, and globally I love March Madness basketball and football, and Olympic Canadian sports. Many of my most memorable moments with my family involve celebrating big sports victories together. For example, being at the family cottage watching on the tiny cottage TV, Kirk Gibson winning the 1984 World Series. Or the back-to-back 1989-90 NBA championships by the Pistons. When The Microwave sunk that winning basket with 1.7 seconds to go I think the whole neighbourhood could hear me and my brother screaming with joy. More fond memories include being at Queen’s Homecoming in high school when Joe Carter won the World Series and seeing the massive street party that result in the student housing area in Kingston; and running up and down Yonge St hundreds of times when we won the 2002 Olympic Gold medal in hockey. These were moments of pure joy that I will never forget. Sports has brought me so much happiness and great memories that I am grateful for.

In terms of my leadership and involvement in creating sports and recreational opportunities in our community, as President and now Past President of the Rotary Club of Chatham, I’ve been involved in a number of projects. I have been part of several leadership teams that have supported sports and recreation throughout my involvement with the Club. This includes major investment over the last 20 years in Rotary Park, a gorgeous baseball complex that is considered one of the best in Ontario. We also created the Rotary Eco-Trail, a hiking, biking and walking trail (as well as accessible to those with mobility issues) in the O’Neill Nature Preserve.

What are your thoughts, or what value do you place in sports and recreation for the citizens of Chatham-Kent overall, and/or when showcasing Chatham-Kent to newcomers?

I place a high value in the opportunity for all citizens in Chatham-Kent to have access to sports and recreation. Sports and recreation amenities help create a healthy community – for both physical, social and mental health. Unfortunately, Chatham-Kent as a community ranks poorly in terms of our health – we rank number one in the Province in terms of heart disease and stroke, for obesity, for diabetes and other negative health indicators. We are a community that needs to be more active – and one way of doing that in an accessible way is providing more sport and recreational opportunities for all ages and income levels. I believe the same reasoning applies when showcasing Chatham-Kent to newcomers. I think a variety of sports and recreational opportunities is part of the overall package when trying to attract and retain newcomers, young professionals and more. This overall package includes job opportunities, educational and training opportunities, arts and cultural amenities, and much more. Sports and recreation is a key part of that.

One of the hot topics leading up to the election, and over the past decade has been a new twin pad arena for Chatham-Kent. Where do you stand on this? What thoughts do you have?

I think that a twin pad arena in theory is a great idea. Being a major sports fan I would be the first in line for tickets. I share the concern of many though, about our declining population, particularly in the 20-39 age group. A declining population means a declining tax base. A declining tax base means there are fewer of us paying for things like pipes, pavement and police. We need to get our finances in shape and on more solid footing. A project the scale of a twin pad arena would require a major investment from both the Province and the Federal governments, neither of which have indicated they are considering. Finally, I would need to see how this major capital expenditure in Chatham would affect capital and infrastructure projects in other communities of Chatham-Kent.

We also need to ensure once it is built, that we will be able to support it moving forward. Building it is one thing. Maintaining it is another. A good example can be seen just to the west of us in Amherstburg and the Libro Centre. They are facing serious financial constraints for this same reason. They are now having to consider raising rates for rentals on their minor hockey users for example, to pay to keep the lights on. We have seen the same type of decision making here in Chatham-Kent with large capital building projects involving large public facilities – we build it with great fanfare, but don’t build in the budget to ensure financial shortfalls are covered and regular maintenance can be continued. We do not need another large facility in our community that we cannot afford to maintain. We need our population to stop declining. We need more job opportunities and more people employed in full-time work. We need a much larger industrial and commercial sector. We need a tax base and a community that can afford a $60+million facility. Once we have all of these crucial elements in place, then we can consider committing to a project of this scale. A twin-pad arena is a result of our successful efforts in all of the above. It is a sign that our community is healthy, wealthy and growing. We are not there yet. But as Mayor, I will do everything in my power to get us there.

Do you have any other ideas or plans that would impact health, wellness, sports, or recreation in Chatham-Kent, and specifically in your Ward?

Chatham-Kent is a very large community, by geography. We are blessed with many natural recreational amenities like rivers and lakes, beautiful scenery and a flat landscape that allows for a wide variety of health, wellness, sports and recreational opportunities like boating, fishing, swimming, biking, motorcycling and so much more. Our climate allows for long seasons in sports like golf, hiking and more. Not many communities have all of these opportunities available so close by. We also have many municipal arenas, sports fields and trails around Chatham-Kent for our citizens and visitors to enjoy.

I would like to ensure the A.L.L. for Kids (Activities, Lessons and Leisure) program is maintained, and if resources permit, expanded. I believe strongly in the opportunities this program provides for kids from low-income families in Chatham-Kent. It gives them the chance to participate in a wide variety of sports, recreation, arts and cultural programs by paying registration fees.

What I would like to see is more investment in our many distinct communities. We have ten arenas for example in seven communities across Chatham-Kent. If we were considering investing $20million-plus in a twin pad, I would rather see even half of that amount invested in our community facilities like our arenas and recreational facilities. This ensures citizens across Chatham-Kent have access to sports and recreation in their community, without having to drive out of town. This gives kids in every community more healthy activities in their own backyard. It gives seniors, some of whom do not have regular access to transportation, more opportunity to stay healthy and active in their own community. I believe this gives more citizens more opportunities to enjoy healthy and fun sports and recreation. When citizens are healthy, our community is healthy. When our community is healthy, our economy is healthy. And when our economy is healthy, that’s when more people move to a community, invest in a community and stay in a community.

Anything else you’d like to tell our readers and voters?

My role as a leader is to listen. I’d like to hold community consultations to hear what you have to say. Are you satisfied with the recreational and cultural opportunities in your community? If not, why? And what could we do as a community to improve that? Chatham-Kent is a geographically very large community. We have a large number of sports and recreational facilities spread out across Chatham-Kent. We want to make sure our existing investments are serving your needs.

I’m running for Mayor because Chatham-Kent made me who I am. I’m running for Mayor because I love this community.

Why do I love this community? For me, it’s the memories and the connections I have made to the great people and places that make up Chatham-Kent. From early childhood I have had so many wonderful experiences, big and small, that grew my love for CK. Skating on the outdoor rink at McKeough Park. Delicious grilled cheese at the Plaza Grill in Morpeth. Joining Theatre Kent, or taking art classes at the Cultural Centre. Playing volleyball or basketball in school gyms from Tilbury to Ridgetown to Dresden to Wallaceburg. Performing in virtually every community as part of the Chatham-Kent Mountaineers, a local Celtic band. Chatham-Kent has provided diverse experiences that helped make me who I am today. Experiences like sailing classes on Rondeau Bay, blueberry picking at Pardoville, playing in the Kiwanis Music Festival and many more. Being from Chatham-Kent and growing up here gave me perspective. These experiences introduced me to lifetime friends, and gave me a life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It helped give me a strong foundation. It helped give me confidence.

About 25 years ago things started to change. Economically, things started to change. Socially, things started to change. And the way we saw ourselves and our home started to change with it. Business closures led to job loss. Job loss led to a decline in opportunity. The decline in opportunity led to a decline in morale, step-by-step, triggered by changing economic times. The end result has been a shrinking population. Families leaving for better opportunities. Our youth leaving with no plans to return.

We need to build a place where people dream of staying, not leaving. Where businesses open, not close. Where people feel heard, not ignored. Where our communities come together, not pull apart. A place where communication and collaboration thrive, and negativity withers. Proactive, not reactive. Doors are opened instead of slammed shut. A place that champions expertise not silences it. A place that respects diversity and equality. A place that is a true reflection of who we want to be.

I’m excited to help lead the way to a better future for all of us. But I need your help. If we work together, and listen to each other, there is nothing we can’t achieve.
The wait is over. It’s our time.

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