Gayle Wilson, daughter of inductee Richie Nichol, and Kara and Tianna Smith, sister and mother of inductee Steve Smith, chat after the Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday at the Nanaimo Museum. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame adds star players and champions

Steve Smith, V.I. Raiders, Aaron Guiel and Richie Nichol part of 2017 induction class

Community members had a chance to see four new sports hall of fame plaques and hear the stories behind them.

The Nanaimo Sports Hall of Fame inducted its class of 2017 on Saturday at a ceremony at the Nanaimo Museum.

Mountain bike racer Steve Smith, basketball player Richie Nichol, baseball player Aaron Guiel and the 2009 V.I. Raiders junior football team were added to the hall of fame.

Smith was a world champion downhill racer and considered Canada’s best ever in the discipline. He died a little over a year ago after a motorcycle crash.

Coun. Jim Kipp said in an induction speech that Smith was a world-class athlete and a champion who represented Nanaimo unbelievably well.

“It’s supposed to be a happy occasion and it is,” said Tianna Smith, Steve’s mom. “He is being inducted, he is being acknowledged for what he accomplished in such a short life.”

She said Steve was “extremely passionate” and would try to set that example when he talked to young athletes, which he often did.

“It was always, ‘Live your dream; do it. If it’s what you love, if it’s your passion, you do it and you go for it.’ Because that’s how he lived his life,” Tianna said. “He just went for it. He did not waste a minute. He just went for it and as we’ve been saying, it was an awesome ride.”

Coun. Bill Bestwick inducted the V.I. Raiders and praised them for bringing Nanaimo national recognition and setting the bar “extremely high” in their sport and their league. The 2009 Raiders went undefeated and won the national championship, defeating the Edmonton Wildcats in the Canadian Bowl at Nanaimo’s Caledonia Park.

Hadi Abassi, who was president of that 2009 team, said he and the Raiders are truly honoured to be inducted.

“Nanaimo is an amazing city … with an amazing sports background and they have the most amazing sport fans and sports volunteers in the whole world,” he said. “I want to thank the city of Nanaimo and … everybody, all of the citizens for supporting us from Day 1 and empowering us to build a championship team.”

Nick Woznesensky, a defensive lineman with the 2009 Raiders, said it’s unbelievable and humbling to be inducted into the sports hall of fame.

“[2009] was a special year for all of us and to be recognized and grouped in with such an unbelievable cast of athletes that were inducted today is truly something special,” he said.

He remembered the 2009 Raiders as the right mix of guys to excel.

“We were a reckless group of hooligans that all came together and we were confident…” Woznesensky said. “We didn’t want to be just the best, we wanted to go down potentially as the best ever.”

Guiel played for the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees before finishing his career with five seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He also represented Canada at the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

“It’s not just his ability and his talent that’s got him here. It’s his attitude, his determination, his positive outlook and his hustle,” said Coun. Ian Thorpe, who inducted Guiel.

Nichol was inducted in the pioneer category as he played in the 1930s and ’40s, playing for and against the Harlem Globetrotters – he was the first white player to play for the Globetrotters – and going on to star with the UBC Thunderbirds.