Sports hall of fame wins trophy

Mike Schaper, V.I. Raiders alumnus, accepts the 2011 Wally Buono Award on Wednesday at the Nanaimo Museum
Mike Schaper, V.I. Raiders alumnus, accepts the 2011 Wally Buono Award on Wednesday at the Nanaimo Museum's Sports Hall of Fame.
— image credit: GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

The city's sports hall of fame added a prestigious piece of hardware to its trophy case.

The Nanaimo Museum's Sports Hall of Fame held a press conference today to announce that it is the new, permanent home of the Wally Buono Award. The bronze statuette is presented each year to Canada's top junior-aged football player.

"It's a huge win-win for us," said Mayor John Ruttan at the unveiling. "We are a sports community."

Vancouver Island Raiders owner Hadi Abassi was the one who led the push to bring the award to the Nanaimo Museum. He gained the support of the award's patrons, Christina Saint Marche and her family, of the Saint Bernard Pass Charitable Foundation.

Wally Buono is in Toronto for Grey Cup festivities, but has indicated he will visit Nanaimo's sports hall of fame in January for an official dedication ceremony.

He gets the final say on each year's winner of the award. Moving forward, Canadian Junior Football League players, Canadian Interuniversity Sport players and Canadian-born players at U.S. colleges will all be eligible, said Saint Marche.

"Our sole purpose in all of this is now to find the most outstanding Canadian football player in North America, whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with honesty and honour and integrity," she said.

The Raiders have had two winners in recent years. Andrew Harris won the Wally Buono Award in 2009 and Mike Schaper was selected in 2011. Schaper hadn't been officially presented with his trophy until this week, and it turned out that wasn't an oversight – Saint Marche was waiting for this particular occasion.

Schaper said his coaches and teammates should share in his award.

"I hope years down the road when I come in here and I see this trophy in here and I see the Raider heritage on the walls, it's not just going to be for me, but my brothers can come in and be as proud as I am," he said.

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