What is a hero?
It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, often in a superficial way that falls short of the true meaning.
Those who serve our country are heroes. We wrote about one last weekend: U.S. Navy Seaman Edward Slapikas, who died at Pearl Harbor and who was finally buried in his native Wanamie on Saturday.
Doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and police officers can all be heroes. Likewise professors, teachers, social workers and anyone who serves others.
For many of us, our moms and dads are our first and everlasting heroes.
The word is also often used to describe sports figures, and that can be a complex thing, especially with highly paid professional athletes.
Time and time again, we read about some sports celebrity falling from grace, and then follow the inevitable social media posts and opinion columns about fans expressing disillusionment in their hero.
The short, curmudgeonly answer: Stop putting these folks on a pedestal just because they are good enough at a game to get paid for entertaining us by playing it.
But that answer also falls short.
As with people in most professions, professional athletes can — and often do — perform their jobs in a way that is worthy of praise and emulation. More importantly, some truly go above and beyond in an effort to share their good fortune and expertise with others, especially children and young adults.
We believe Dennis Bonvie is one who falls into this category.
A fan favorite when he played for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Bonvie remains well-liked in Northeast Pennsylvania nearly a decade after retirement.
One major reason for this has been his popular annual hockey camp for youngsters, drawing aspiring young players from miles around — such as Quinn McCafferty, 7, of Binghamton, N.Y., whose mother drove him to Wilkes-Barre for the three-day camp this week.
“We just thought it was a great opportunity for our son to improve his skills and get to meet great players,” Nicole McCafferty said.
No, the camp isn’t free — getting kids involved in sports costs some money, as everyone knows, and it’s not unreasonable for those who organize it to cover their expenses.
Still, it seems that the lessons learned are worth the modest expenditure.
“We’re trying to get more kids involved in hockey because it’s a wonderful game. It teaches you a lot of great things about life — work ethic, dedication and being regimented,” Bonvie told reporter Tom Venesky. “I really enjoy teaching that to the kids.”
Sadly, many other factors have poisoned the culture of sports: Money, drugs, celebrity, politics, bullying.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Sports should be a healthy, educational and team-building activity. At their best, that is what they represent for millions of young people.
“That’s what it’s all about. Some kids come in shy and by the end they’re hugging you and chasing you around the rink,” Bonvie said. “You try to be a positive influence, and when you see that come back, it’s gratifying.”
We think it’s fair to call Bonvie a hero. We only wish more people in professional sports took as much of a genuine interest in the communities and kids who helped make them stars.
— Times Leader