PARK CITY, Utah.— When the talk of the town in the aisles of the grocery stores last week was, “What will you be wearing?” It was apparent that something big was happening. It was last night’s 41st Jans Winter Welcome, the pre-season, black-tie gala put on by Park City’s Youth Sports Alliance (YSA) to raise funds for local youth athletes.
Jan Peterson of Jans passed away years ago, and his daughter Abbey Peterson Cordery passed away months ago, making this year’s event bittersweet but a fine time for everyone to reminisce about those they miss.
The preteen athletes who belong to one of YSA’s seven-member snowboarding teams, figure skating, luge, speed skating, nordic, freestyle, and alpine, escorted donors as they arrived at the Stein Erikson Lodge at the Deer Valley Resort. YSA Board president and Olympian Trace Worthington told me, “It’s great to be here tonight with so many familiar faces who team up with YSA to grant athletes after-school opportunities, programming, travel, equipment, and competition registration fees without which they wouldn’t be able to continue in the sports that change their lives for the better. That’s what happened to me as a kid, and I’m lucky to help provide that experience for so many amazing Park City families.”
The teenagers offered an opportunity to donate money towards the night’s opportunity drawing while guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres. Online silent auction items were on display while donors rubbed elbows with Olympic gold and silver medalists Bill Demong and Derrek Para. Olympian and President and CEO of US Ski and Snowboard Tiger Shaw talked to me about Olympic gold medalist Makaila Shiffrin’s world cup win in Austra earlier in the day before, saying, “YSA is invaluable to the sports community of Park City. There were four US women in the top 20 today in Austria, as many as any other country. Exciting results like those don’t happen without the important and impressive work that YSA does on a year-round basis.” Around us were silent auction items from around the country, including Rossignol gear and one highly sought-after local experience. The Park City Fire District fire truck ride to school for one little local and all their friends, valued at $300, ultimately received donations of $3,000.
Twenty-something, Olympic hopefuls, and YSA Ambassador-athletes included Casey Dawson, who had stood atop the podium earlier in the day. James Kanzler, Karenna Elliot, Alli Macuga, and Sydney Palmer Ledger, who had, just hours earlier, narrowly been beat by Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins in a race at Olympic venue, Soldier Hollow (SOHO). This group of VIP athletes talked to me about the fact that training in the pandemic has indeed posed challenges. They are emerging as stronger competitors from it and are looking forward to an action-packed year appreciative to have YSA in their corner.
Formal dinner was served as coaches and athletes sat dispersed in the ballroom to enjoy it alongside attendees. The year-long, dedicated organizational work of the YSA staff was evident to all who were there.
Olympic storyteller Tom Kelly introduced to the stage YSA Executive Director Emily Fisher, who delivered an impassioned speech, the high point of which mentioned some low points in some scholarship athletes’ lives when it comes to resources for sports. Included were student-athletes within the Get Out and Play, Active 8 after-school programs, and Stein Eriksen Dare to Dream Fund whose parents may have passed away, lost their jobs, experienced the “devastation of divorce,” shifted monies to aging grandparent care, or serve overseas thus rarely around. Then Fisher’s final story turned any tears of sad realities right into tears of pride. She shared the Native American athlete who was a bit nervous before his first snowboard lesson but was quick to communicate right after how it was now the best day of his life. Donors and staff expressed pride in knowing that they had everything to do with that.
Rob Zarkos, a Real Salt Lake management team member, caught glimpses of his soccer team’s live away game on tv between duties in the volunteer staging area. All the volunteers were led by his wife, JWW Volunteer Coordinator Allison Zarkos. Perennial YSA volunteers Kristen and Jason Berry and Muggins, and Chris Haereter ended up having their names drawn as the recipients of some coveted experiences on offer.
All-inclusive trips to Africa and Belize and customized ski days at Park City Mountain attracted a lot of interest in the live auction. Another local experience, however, was the one to grab. Coach Dar Hendrickson’s offer of his professional chef services to donate towards his famous Dar-licious, in-home group dinner was valued at $3,000, which ultimately received donations of $13,000.
This was the first year in which cowbells were given to everyone. Everyone approved, in this particular crowd, for which the repetitive, rowdy ringing is music to their ears after years spectating European-style sporting events. 41 years of past traditions were welcomed, and it was declared that future YSA Jans Winter Welcomes gotta’ have that cowbell.