When Don Jones retired to 100 Mile House 13 years ago he wondered what in the world he was going to do for fun.
The former principal said that he and his wife Isabelle had moved back to the area to look after her mother Fernanda Batalha. After settling in, Jones heard about a new hockey team being brought to town by a group of volunteers led by Tom Bachynski.
Recalling his time volunteering with the Kamloops Blazers and Merritt Sentinels, he offered up his services and was warmly welcomed onto the board of the 100 Mile House Wranglers as its fifth member. It’s where he’s stayed for more then a decade through thick and thin.
“It’s amazing a town this size supports a Junior B hockey team. When I came on board those guys had certainly done their homework before they bought the franchise out of Penticton,” Jones, 73, said. “Right off the top I took on the marketing and sales position and started selling all the advertising in the rink.”
Being responsible for the Wranglers’ marketing proved to be a full-time job for Jones. Before the first season and each subsequent season, he tours the town’s businesses securing sponsorships big and small. Jones said that the local business community has remained incredibly supportive of the team, even back when they were new to town.
When he’s not selling advertising, Jones works with the other directors to come up with new unique ways to fundraise during games. Over the years they’ve tried 50/50 draws, sponsored ring tosses, raffles and food giveaways every game to keep the fans entertained between periods.
This year, they’re introducing a scoreboard where fans can guess the scores of games for the entire season for $60; if participants guess correctly they can win up to $100 a game. Jones said the fans always buy in if they have a chance to win something.
In addition to his marketing duties, Jones also serves as the announcer for every home game and arrives early to help organize things at the rink. He said it’s a lot easier for him to take on these extra duties as many of his fellow directors still work full-time jobs.
“If it isn’t fun I wouldn’t be doing it. My wife, once in a while, looks at me and asks ‘who are you?’ because it does take up a lot of my time,” Jones said. “She knows how much I enjoy it and how much hockey means to me.”
The highlight of his time with the Wranglers remains their third season. Jones said watching the 2014/2015 team win the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League cup was an exciting time for the entire community. Hundreds of people attended the victory celebrations and the road leading to the South Cariboo Rec. Centre was renamed Wrangler Way.
“Some of the alumni for that team still come back and visit occasionally and that’s all they talk about,” Jones said. “Hopefully we can get back to that kind of excitement again.”
This year, Jones said the team is bracing for a challenging season financially due to inflation increasing costs across the board. When the Wranglers went to Chase for an exhibition game in early September, Jones said the bill from the bus charter company had doubled compared to last year.
“We can only sell so many seats and so much advertising. If the money ever runs out then we don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jones said. “People look around and say you have full stands, you must be making a lot of money, but once the season tickets are paid for there’s no more coming in.”
One thing Jones said a lot of people don’t realize about the Wranglers is that it is a true community-owned team. The organization only runs thanks to money raised from the community and the work of volunteers. While Jones likes to joke he gets a five per cent raise every year, five per cent of nothing is still nothing.
READ MORE: Dale Hladun excited to rebuild the Wranglers
“Everything we do is just because we want to do it,” Jones said. “I think anyone who volunteers for any kind of organization in the community helps make the community thrive. Without volunteers, organizations just aren’t going to survive in small towns.”
Jones said so long as his job remains fun he’ll keep on doing it. He said the Wrangler Nation is strong and with new people coming into the community he’s confident it will only grow in the future.
“We’re only nine years old, the babes of the league, but I think we have as good a passionate community as any in the league.”