By Josh Cooper – Gulls Correspondent
According to Gulls coach Dallas Eakins, this weekend’s slate of home games at Valley View Casino Center are the “biggest” of the year.
The team will honor the large military population in the San Diego area in those two contests, Friday at 7 p.m. against the Stockton Heat and Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Ontario Reign. For Eakins it’s important that the team shows its utmost admiration and respect for men and women in uniform.
“It’s the one time that we can formally dedicate games and a weekend to this vast amount of people in our community,” Eakins said. “We have so many people who are in the military in San Diego that we actually get to not only thank them for their service and thank them for keeping us safe, but thanks for the inspiration and thanks for keeping us humble.”
San Diego will wear a new, custom camouflage jersey each night. Select game worn Gulls camouflage jerseys will be autographed and available for auction following Saturday’s contest. All proceeds raised via the auction will be donated by the San Diego Gulls Foundation to the Armed Services YMCA and Operation Rebound of the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
Military Weekend will also see the Gulls provide tickets, at no cost, to over 4,000 military members and their families. Friday’s game will be televised on Fox 5 San Diego.
“We’re taking all the dollars we raise and giving them right back to the community and give them back to military related charities,” Gulls President of Business Operations Matt Savant said. “It’s a big deal for us and something we take very seriously.”
Added Savant, “We wanted to make sure that we were out in front of it and I know a lot of teams do this but because of where we are, it’s such a military community it’s not just another game for us. “
The organization has also been able to get its players – many of which have few ties to the area – to get on board quickly and understand the status of the military to the San Diego area. For example, the internal team player of the game wears a pilot’s jacket that the group received at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
“Everywhere you go you’re surrounded by people that are serving our country which is a really, really unique feeling,” said defenseman Steve Oleksy, who is in his first year with the Gulls. “When you see the planes and helicopters, I think that’s one of the first things people notice when they come to San Diego is how unique that is – to be that close to it. It’s a really, really cool feeling for everyday people and athletes alike to kind of see what they do.”
Being so close to the military has also given Eakins and his staff a teaching tool for both the team and themselves as well.
“It’s a great measuring stick,” Eakins said. “The military is a great group to chase their perfection when it comes to selflessness when it comes to commitment, when it comes to discipline. We know that we will never catch them but while we’re chasing it I think we may find excellence and if we can get to that we’re doing pretty well.”
Eakins hopes those lessons last for a long time after players are done with hockey.
“The greatest thing they have in their back pocket and that they have learned and earned, ‘This is how I’m going to live my life. I’m going to be a leader in my community. I’m going to not be afraid to stand up. I’m going to be a better brother, husband, uncle’ whatever it is. ‘I’m just going to be a better man for living in this community and being a part of our San Diego Gulls program,’” he said.