The Windsor/Essex County Sports Persons of the Year (WESPY) Awards teed things up in a big way on Thursday.
The 17th edition of the awards, which celebrate the achievements of area athletes, officials and teams, will have golf legend Jack Nicklaus as its keynote speaker for the event, which is scheduled for April 30th at the Caboto Club.
“I’m always researching and poking around,” WESPY founder Domenic Papa said of getting the legendary golfer known as the Golden Bear to appear at the event. “You get to meet a lot of people over the years and we had a couple of mutual contacts in the States and one had a direct link to him.
“I tried it and it worked. It was a long negotiation, but he was great to deal with and I’m lucky a couple of contacts paid off.”
The 83-year-old Nicklaus boasts a record 18 major golf championships over his career along with 73 PGA Tour titles.
“I think all of our speakers have been special,” Papa said. “Jack Nicklaus has world-wide notoriety and, in my humble opinion, is the greatest golfer to ever play. It’s a real special get for the WESPY Awards.”
While he boast international fame, Nicklaus is no stranger to the area. In 1963, he beat Gary Player in an exhibition at Essex Golf and Country Club and returned to that course in 1976 where he finished second at the Canadian Open.
Over the years, Nicklaus has been spotted on several occasions making visits to the area and, in a recorded message on Thursday, talked about his passion for amateur sports.
“Naturally, sports has been a huge part of my life as I grew up playing all sports throughout high school until I realized my career path was in golf,” Nicklaus said. “But helping our youth in shaping a better future for them has also been a significant part of my life and a passion for my wife Barbara (Bash) and me.
“The WESPY Awards celebrate the accomplishments of the past season for the many teams and athletes from Windsor and Essex County. But, more important, the event raises much-needed funds for the sports community. That’s why I’m hoping you will join us. The 17th WESPY Awards should be a special night filled with excitement and emotion.”
Tickets will be available for pre-order on Monday by contacting Papa by email at [email protected] and should be available for in-person purchase in early January.
Papa believes Nicklaus will bring a new connection to the event for some people.
“The other thing that excites me is it might get some people that never attended or had interest in the WESPY’s, but I think Jack will bring a lot of new onlookers and that’s exciting to me,” Papa said.
Nicklaus was not the only announcement made Thursday for the event’s 17th edition. Papa also announced that the event is working with sponsor Baron Championship Rings to begin an annual bursary.
“It will be given out like an athletic scholarship,” Papa said. “The goal was always to eventually do that and Baron took the initiative and will be spearheading that and presenting that.”
The Tecumseh-based business, which has provided rings to the WESPY winners, will also take come on as a title sponsor.
“They’ll bring the awards up another level,” Papa said. “The plan is to start with one this year and build it each year.”
The bursary is open to any athlete in Windsor and Essex County and not just those being considered for a WESPY Award. Submissions for the bursary should also be emailed to Papa.