Sharks give back to the community

Kevin Labanc and members of the San Jose Sharks organization were at the Gilroy Vets Memorial Building Monday to sign autographs and raise funds for the Gilroy Foundation to help those affected by the Garlic Festival shooting. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Gena Gonzales was a student at Chico State University when the San Jose Sharks were playing their inaugural season at the Cow Palace in Daly City in 1991-1992.

“We were watching the first game on this fuzzy little TV, just sweating,” said Gonzales, who with the exception of her college years has lived in Gilroy all her life. “It’s 110 degrees in Chico, just like it is now, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe we’re watching hockey in Chico and it’s 110.’ It was so weird.”

Gonzales’ love for the team runs deep, and that’s why when it was announced that several Sharks players and members of the organization were going to be in Gilroy last Monday to sign autographs—first at the Veterans Memorial Building followed by a dinner at Milias Restaurant—to raise funds for the Gilroy Foundation, she along with hundreds of others couldn’t wait for the event to arrive.

The Gilroy Foundation has helped lead the way in collecting and distributing donations to those affected by the Garlic Festival shooting. The Sharks had current players on hand for the event including Logan Couture, Kevin Labanc, Erik Karlsson and Brenden Dillon; former players Jamie Baker and Jonathan Cheechoo; and radio play-by-play announcer Dan Rusanowsky.

Gonzales came with her husband, Fortune, to the Vets Memorial Building where the aforementioned members of the Sharks organization signed autographs for 90 minutes before making the short walk to Milias for a ticketed dinner event, of which all the net proceeds from the event went straight to the Gilroy Foundation, courtesy of Milias owners Adam Sanchez and Ann Zyburra.

“It’s just tremendous to know we’re not in this by ourselves and that people haven’t forgotten,” Gonzales said. “To have a sports team come down, take the time, say they haven’t forgotten and that we’re here to support you and that we’re here to raise money for the victims, it’s tremendous.”

Couture helped spearhead the event from the Sharks side after Scott Emmert—a Gilroy resident who is the Vice President of Media Relations and Broadcasting for the Sharks—reached out to Couture about possibly doing a fundraising event in Gilroy.

“It was easy for me to say yes,” Couture said. “My dad is a firefighter and was a cop, so I heard from him, especially what first responders go through on a daily basis. That is the first thing that popped in my head, and obviously the victims of the event. (We) wanted to give back to this community in a time of need, and I think something like this will help.”

Indeed, Gonzales said a professional sports team like the Sharks coming to Gilroy and spending several hours with fans meant a lot.

“These events are making new memories for us, so that we can put something like this (autographed memorabilia) on the wall and not have to think about that day,” she said. “We’ll have great new memories.”

For Gonzales, the Garlic Festival and the Sharks are two things near and dear to her heart. Gonzales’ dad, Gene Sakahara, was the president of the Garlic Festival in 1991. Fortune was the chairperson of the event this year. And their 12-year-old son, Kaiden, won this year’s Young Chef’s competition.

“We’re pretty ingrained in the festival and it’s just tragic that someone can just come in and change things,” she said. “But there is a closeness you have with people in this community, and as you go you’re living life with those who have gone through this as well.”

The Gilroy and Morgan Hill area have one of—if not the highest—percentage of Sharks season ticket holders of any region in the Bay Area. Couture has a heart for fundraising for great causes; in mid-August he was front and center in the All In For Brain Research charity event in Ontario, Canada. All of the proceeds from that event went to support local concussion, education and awareness programs. Taking part in Monday’s event was a way to give back to a community that has supported the Sharks for several years, if not a couple of decades.

“We get a lot of support from this area,” Couture said. “We’re a sports team, we’re athletes, and if we can help people with their day to day life away from the game of hockey and put a smile on their face when they may need it, we’re happy to do it. And as you see a bunch of guys on the team are willing to donate some time and come up and try to help some people out.”

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