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The Pelham Raiders are coming home

PELHAM – Since 1997, the lacrosse organization has operated under the guise of the Welland Raiders. This will soon change with the opening of the Meridian Community Centre in Fonthill as the players return home to Pelham, once again adopting the name the Pelham Raiders.

“We’re bringing it (Raiders lacrosse) back to its roots,” said Raiders president Ben Chambers. He explains that the organization was originally founded as the Pelham Raiders as a centennial project for the town back in 1967. When the organization began to flourish in the 1990s, the requirement for a facility pushed its teams to Welland.

Pelham lost its lacrosse teams and the Raiders lost a connection to their history. “Every good organization has a history,” said Chambers, noting that in the 1990s the Raiders name was well known, with teams from paper-weight to midget. However, with the organization disconnected from its traditional home and its history, Chambers said the team suffered until recent attempts to re-engage youth and the move back to Pelham.

“It’s something we want to bring back,” said Chambers, explaining that over the last several years the Raiders have increased their numbers from a historically low 94 players to over 150, enough for them to field teams and programs for kids aged two and a half to 16. A big part of that resurgence is the ongoing plan to move back to Pelham, a move made possible due to the construction of a new $36.2 million community centre in Fonthill. According to Chambers, the Raiders have been on board with the project since the beginning. He notes that a $25,000 contribution to the facility’s ongoing capital campaign was an obvious choice for the group that will call the facility its new home.

“We want to show the town we are here to stay,” said Chambers, adding, “we look at it as a way to invest in our future.” He explains that the centre is integral to their future, as the Raiders will now be running all programs out of one central location rather than bouncing between various school gymnasiums. The Raiders’ Greg Campbell Memorial Paperweight Tournament — the longest running in the province at 37 years — will illustrate just that. The Raiders hope to host the event at the centre when it opens its doors in July.

“Now we have a good home,” said Chambers, who commended the town for moving forward on the facility. “It’s a way to continue the community’s tradition of coming together over sport. Pelham is a great sport community,” he said, recalling taking in Pelham Panthers playoff games as a child. The new community centre ensures that tradition stays alive and grows as new residents move into the area.

“Sport really does bring a community together,” said Chambers, whose four children play Raiders lacrosse. He was quick to tout the benefits of teamwork, problem solving, healthy lifestyles and the ability to cope with challenge, failure and success that sport delivers to developing minds.