“Haliburton doesn’t just play sports; it lives and breathes them,” student athlete Avery Degeer told a packed house at A.J. LaRue Arena May 25, as the community came together to celebrate the Haliburton Highlands Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2024.

Hundreds attended the event recognizing six athletes, four community builders, one historic team, and a non-profit organization.

Hall chair Roger Trull said the concept came together in 2019 after Scotty LaRue – one of this year’s inductees – proposed having a place to honour Highlands’ sporting heroes.

“The world has changed a great deal over the last five years, but the goal of the Hall of Fame has remained the same: to recognize excellence in sport,” Trull said.

The inaugural class was unveiled in 2022 with 17 entries.

Track star Kate Campbell – the only Haliburton Highlands Secondary School athlete to win gold at OFSAA reserved special praise for coaches Tim Davies, Walter Tose, and Paul Morissette.

“The experiences and lessons learned in competitive sports training within a supportive community have been immense. Experiences I have carried as I followed my career in the arts,” said Campbell, a producer, writer, and director.

LaRue turned heads as a young hockey player in Haliburton. At 13, he moved to Kitchener to play at a higher level. It paid off with LaRue scouted by the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.

He didn’t sign a professional NHL contract and opted to play junior hockey with the Whitby Dunlops – sharing the ice with Bobby Orr. LaRue later played professionally in Europe.

“I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed – when I was working on the concept for the Hall of Fame, I hoped it would take off. Seeing all the people inside the arena, the people who traveled from far away to be here, that tells me people want this,” LaRue said. “It’s all about encouraging and pushing that next generation.”

Mark Robinson returned to Haliburton from rural Virginia. The footballer remembered what it was like as a teenager at HHSS in the 80s.

“There was this aura around football, to the point where you were just dying to play,” Robinson said. “I remember the very first tackle I made after making the team. I was in Grade 9, just a little guy. So, of course, I got knocked out cold and sent to the hospital. But that wasn’t nearly enough to put me off.”

Robinson played four years at Queen’s University, where he won a Vanier Cup in 1992. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2010.

Brothers Greg and Colin Newell credited their baseball careers, which saw the pair play for several amateur and semiprofessional teams across North America, to their parents Gene and Gala, who transformed their backyard into a Field of Dreams-inspired ball diamond.

“It’s exciting that we get to share this together,” Colin said.

Greg added, “Our parents are gone now, but they would have been so proud of this. We have all those nights, all those hours on the field of dreams to thank. We’d be out there every night with dad as soon as he came home from work.”

The late Gary Vesey was a star player, and leading scorer, on the Minden Monarchs team that won three straight Eastern Ontario Championships between 1956 and 1958. He was inducted by his daughters.

Gary Brohman, Jane Heyes, Ken Rosenberg, and the late Mark Schell Sr. were inducted as community builders. Brohman, a long-time football coach, said he was honoured to be inducted alongside the 1974 HHSS Redmen, who went into the teams category, recognized for winning the COSSA Single A championship.

The Haliburton County Red Wolves received an outstanding achievement award for contributions to sport, while local youngsters Owen Nicholls, Cheyenne Degeer, and Evan Backus earned Rising Star awards.