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By Lisa VanderVelde - Vernon Morning Star

 Jokes are flying and smiles shine out from underneath helmets as players in the 20th annual Vernon Senior Oldtimers’ Harvest Hockey Jamboree hit the ice Thursday at Kal Tire Place.

One hundred and seventy seven players, ranging in age from 55 to 80 from Canada and the U.S., attended what was thought to be the last Harvest Hockey Jamboree.

Founder and organizer Mike Todd, who spends three hours each day of the three-day tournament refereeing, is hanging up his whistle and stepping down as the organizer.

“Mike Knights, recreation programmer for the city (he runs the Checkers tournament) is going to keep the Jamboree going,” said Todd.

“Everyone hopes he keeps the same format where the players enter as individuals, the teams are usually quite evenly balanced, and the social events are very important, too.”

The tournament isn’t all about the hockey. They packed the Schubert Centre for the opening banquet with 267 people including players and their wives. Their wives organize activities each year like wine tours.

Al Barnhill, of Lethbridge, has been coming to the tournament for 10 years.

“It’s a good tournament; Mike Todd and his crew do a great job and the wives are very important and help a lot.”

One of the draws of the tournament is that players sign, up as individuals and then each year at the opening banquet they find out which of the 12 teams they are on.

Each year the players see their old teammates from previous years and form new relationships.

“I have really enjoyed meeting the ‘old boys’ and their wives each year and seeing them connecting with each other annually. They come from so many places to play in a fun-emphasized tournament and they are very complimentary about the format and organization,” said Todd.

Todd normally doesn’t get the time to play in the tournament so he is looking forward to playing next year.

“Joyce (my wife) and I would like to thank the many sponsors who have generously donated door prizes each year and to the local volunteer timekeepers and referees who do a great job,” said Todd.

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