Providing a significant presence built on strong leadership and a sincere appreciation for the game, Sara Hayward is one of the most prominent figures in the Canadian female game. Representing continuity in the game’s growth during the past decade, Hayward has been instrumental in shaping Canada’s narrative as one of ball hockey’s premier nations, providing a combination of leadership and enthusiasm that have set a rousing tone.
Among Hayward’s seemingly countless contributions, she has served as a member of the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) Board of Directors since 2011, including a trio of terms as Vice President of the Women’s branch. Running parallel to serving in the capacity of Vice President was the empowering presence of Ontario’s Shelley Callaghan as CBHA President, a highly positive influence and revered mentor. Their collaborative time in such leadership roles were tremendous contributions in an empowering decade that saw women reach new heights and roles of prevalence in the sporting landscape.
Additionally, a current term in Hayward’s home province as President of the New Brunswick Ball Hockey Association adds a heightened sense of prominence to her impact. Her home province was also the site of first exposure to the game. During her teens, she competed in the Saint John (New Brunswick) Boys and Girls Club. From there, a sparkling run of nearly 15 years participating in the Saint John Metro Ball Hockey League, which is also home to fellow CBHA World Champion players Jessie McCann and Danielle Ring.
Among Hayward’s competitive highlights, she holds a treasured place in New Brunswick sporting history. Competing on the provincial team that won its first (and to date, only) CBHA national women’s championship, taking place in 2002, snapping the Toronto Predators three-year stranglehold, it also stands as the only championship from an Atlantic Canadian-based women’s team.
Running parallel to Hayward’s experiences on the slab involved establishing a strong body of work in a number of administrative roles, eventually establishing her as a key component in the game’s development nationally. With strong acumen in the fields of managing, coaching and organizing, her efforts also involved serving in the capacity of team manager for the University of New Brunswick Reds women’s Basketball and Field Hockey teams, foreshadowing her commendable efforts with the CBHA.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Hayward’s impact as a commendable builder in the female game involves the opportunity to serve as General Manager for various entries of Team Canada at the ISBHF level. Having first served in this capacity for the inaugural ISBHF Masters in 2014, hosted in Tampa, Florida, her acumen in such a role has been prevalent throughout the remainder of the decade, emphasizing Hayward’s relevance in the continued development of the game.
Undeniably, the most rewarding aspect involves the social component. Being acquainted with others, nationally and internationally, who share a passion for the game, discovering a sense of collaboration in raising awareness, provides an endless source of impetus, evolving into a labour of love for the ebullient Hayward, “Hands down it is the people I have met throughout each of these experiences that I have valued the most.”
Serving as Canada’s General Manager in a pair of back-to-back gold medal outcomes at the 2018 (Bermuda) ISBHF Masters and the 2019 (Kosice, Slovakia) ISBHF Worlds, Hayward’s most recent accomplishments stands as a significant hallmark in her Team Canada odyssey. Coincidentally, both gold medal games featured Canada challenging the United States, mirroring the superlative rivalry between the nation’s female hockey elites that has taken place on-ice for numerous decades, while holding the tremendous potential of raising awareness about the game on both sides of the border.
Certainly, the prestige of consecutive gold medals enhanced an already strong international resume. One that also saw Hayward handle the GM’s role at the 2014 and 2016 (Banff) editions of the ISBHF Masters, both golden outcomes for Canada’s women, further cementing the nation’s status as a ball hockey power, an element that Hayward is proud to have played a part towards,
“Having the privilege to win back to back gold medals in 2018 and 2019 is a true honour. The excitement of the victory on the floor by these elite athletes is only second to the amazing people and lifelong friends I have gained from the experiences. I have also been fortunate that Women’s Masters Team Canada also won gold in 2014 and 2016.”
Equally important in Hayward’s list of achievements is her highly assiduous efforts as one of the key organizers of the annual CBHA national championships. Recognized at the 2016 edition of the Nationals with the CBHA Executive Award, testament to her dedication and strong focus towards efficiency and success, the beauty of the event is that it celebrates the prominence of the game.
With a gathering of elite male and female talent from coast to coast, the relevance of the event is best defined by the fact that many of the competitors are current and former Team Canada players, enhancing the already significant quality of talent on-hand. Taking into account that the Nationals is also a highly important occasion in terms of scouting future international talent, it adds a degree of prestige to an integral part of the game’s domestic lore.
Although each day at Nationals presents different circumstances, Hayward has found a tremendous contentment through her involvement. From the significant numbers of hours invested to the feeling of excitement generated based on the days’ competitive results, to the overall atmosphere generated by enthusiastic fans and the unique scenarios, which can see Team Canada players become rivals in Nationals play, the opportunities for heroes to rise, and feel-good stories to develop only add to the mix of compelling elements.
“The honest answer is that each day is filled with excitement of some kind and there is no such thing as a typical day at Nationals. Some days can certainly be long but my love for the sport makes it all worth it. I enjoy it all from the high profile evening games with the arena full to the early morning games where the underdog pulls off an upset as the energy surrounding a National event is unreal. Through my experience at events I have met some lifelong friends.”
Just as impactful in the narrative of Hayward’s career as administrator involves a proud linkage to her provincial roots, bringing her career full circle while finding a more profound meaning to her efforts. With Fredericton’s Grant Harvey Centre hosting the 2018 CBHA Junior National Championships, the result was a brush with history, simultaneously propelling the game’s future forward.
Hosting its first-ever Girls’ Division, it marked a dream come true for Hayward, the attainment of an elusive goal, setting an integral foundation in place for more than just growth in the female game. Raising awareness, while hoping to spur an increase in registered players, the event was an empowering validation, as Hayward’s involvement in ball hockey always holds a close place to her provincial roots.
Selling orange-coloured souvenir shirts at the event, serving as a visual reminder that the game ball is orange, the outcome from the Girls U19 division also resulted in a significant sense of Atlantic Pride. Of note, Team Newfoundland qualified for the gold medal game versus Team Ontario Red, while the New Brunswick Selects faced off against Team Ontario White in the bronze medal game. Despite the fact that both rosters from Ontario won their respective games, the presence of Atlantic-based teams in the medal round may serve as the event’s greatest legacy, setting the stage for a new era of prominence, while serving as one of Hayward’s crowning achievements.
Certainly, the jubilation of four gold medal victories stands as Hayward’s tour de force. Preparing to assemble another Canadian contingent aiming for its fourth consecutive gold at the ISBHF Masters, as the upcoming 2020 edition shall be contested in České Budějovice, Czech Republic, the prospect of a fifth gold in her career holds the potential to be her signature achievement. With the feeling of momentum already starting as the calendar year of 2021 shall see the city of Brandon, Manitoba serve as host for the ISBHF Men’s and World’s Championships, the feeling of national pride is not one far from Hayward, whose golden path shall always shine brightly, integral in shaping the early century’s chapter of sporting Canadiana,
“Luckily, I have had the pleasure of experiencing this moment on four separate occasions. Nothing beats the national anthem, ‘O Canada’ being played after winning a world championship. I am a proud Canadian, love this country and this special moment with all of the teams I have had the opportunity to bring together is the icing on the cake. Next up for me is getting Women’s Masters Team Canada ready for Worlds in 2020. It is also very exciting that the 2021 ISBHF World Championships will be held in Canada.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”