The scene of the surprise on June 9, 2018, was Beazley Field in Dartmouth,
Halifax Macs forward Logan Carruthers was preparing to pitch and play right
field for the Hammonds Plains A’s Midget AAA baseball club that afternoon.
He took a glimpse towards the fans and saw Cliff and Shyla Blair, faithful
volunteers of the Macs organization, holding a cake in the shape of a
jersey to celebrate Carruthers turning 16 years old the following day.
Carruthers had no idea his friends were planning to present him with a
birthday cake. After all, the Macs’ 2017-18 season had come to an end
nearly three months before.
“I was like, ‘Whoa,’” Carruthers says. “I hadn’t seen them since the season
ended. I missed them so much. I ran up and gave Shyla a big hug, and I
hugged Cliff. It was a great feeling.”
It has become a part of the legend of the Halifax Macs over the past six
seasons: every player on the Major Midget team will receive a cake from
Cliff and Shyla for his birthday – and it does not matter if the particular
date falls within the playing season or not.
“The players tell the kids at ID camp, ‘If you make the team you get a
cake,’” says Shyla with a laugh.
Seeing jersey-shaped cake bowls during a trip to a dollar store in 2013
gave Cliff a stroke of inspiration.
“I bought the bowls, and I thought maybe once a month or something I would
bring a cake in for the guys to celebrate a birthday. We had a birthday
that lined up with the team’s first function. I made a cake, and it was
received well so I just kept doing it every time a birthday rolled around.”
Cake No. 128 will be presented to forward Davis Cooper at a practice on
Sunday, as the team gets ready to compete at the TELUS Cup, Canada’s
National Midget Championship.
Delivering a birthday treat is not the extent of the couple’s work for the
team. Shyla, following in the footsteps of her father Tim Walsh, has been
the Macs’ timekeeper since 2000. After meeting Shyla in 2011, Cliff began
his volunteer tenure with the club by taking charge of the in-arena music.
One year later, Cliff started handling public address duties as well, and
Shyla managed the official gamesheet.
When Tim Boyce became the Macs’ head coach in 2013, he handed ownership of
the team’s social media accounts over to Cliff.
A quick visit to the Macs’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts reveals
pages brimming with GIFs, graphics, photos and videos.
Inspired by the coverage of the Halifax Mooseheads, Cliff is driven to
create an online presence that makes fans of the team feel like they are in
the arena cheering on the boys.
“I started live-tweeting the games. Nobody else in the league was doing
that at the time. It started to catch on because there were parents not at
the rink who wanted to follow along with what was going on.”
Cliff’s digital media work earned him the invitation to handle the Halifax
Hawks Major Bantam team’s social pages. He and Shyla also do timekeeping
for Hawks and the hockey team at Citadel High School.
Cliff and Shyla say that feeling like members of a “Macs family” inspires
them to be so committed to the organization.
“We don’t have kids of our own, so they are kind of like our kids,” Shyla
says. “We have 20 kids. The parents are amazing. The coaching staff is
amazing. It just makes it worth it to follow them.
“I am still in contact with kids who played in 2000. They’re grown up and
married, and I still have contact with them.”
The bond with the Macs is also so strong because so many of the milestone
moments for the couple are tied to the team. Cliff and Shyla had their
first date at a game in Dartmouth in 2011. In March of that year, the
couple enjoyed their first kiss in section eight of the Halifax Forum. One
year after the memorable smooch, in the presence of family, Cliff popped
the question to Shyla in section eight on March 20, 2012.
Boyce has been around the couple for six years now. In addition to the
in-game duties, he has witnessed Cliff and Shyla play an instrumental role
in organizing team auctions and the annual club toy drive. He says the
contributions the two of them make “are endless.”
“They are just as important as the coaching staff as far as I’m concerned,”
said Boyce. “They create a great environment for our players. The boys love
coming to the rink every day because they know they are going to see their
smiling faces. They create a wonderful experience for everyone involved.”
Cliff advocates that more people should aim to experience the joy that
comes with being a minor hockey volunteer.
“I love every moment I have with these guys. It doesn’t matter how much of
a bad day I’m having; they make me feel so good to be around them. I am
just one of the boys.
“If you are on the fence [about volunteering] and you have an opportunity,
do it because if you have the right group of people around you, you’ll not
regret spending time around the rink with these guys.”