By Mike Williscraft
Whether it was supporting family members at sporting events, conducting game prep chores for his beloved Grimsby Peach Kings or soaking up every second of a WWE Smackdown event on his TV, Dougie Nickerson was passionate about everything he did.
Douglas Alan Nickerson, 57, – known to all who knew him as Dougie – died June 3 after a lengthy series of health-related issues.
To say Dougie was an institution around the Peach King Centre would be a massive understatement.
Back in the early ‘80s, Ray Houslander – who owned the Peach Kings from 1978-1986 and stayed on as trainer – used to pick up Dougie and take him to every game, recalled Dougie’s brother, Paul.
“When Ray stepped back Dougie was out of it for about 10 years, but he got back into it when Chris Tew and others owned the team,” said Paul.
“He really got hooked and he stuck with the team through different owners and many different volunteers. He was always there.”
One of the current members of the Peach Kings’ ownership group, Simon Duong, says Dougie’s impact was felt on the organization top to bottom.
“He meant more then I even thought to the team with the amount of players he touched from years passed. Some of which I didn’t even know but the common stories I hear is how he’d “pump it up” for them before games and if they didn’t play well he would give it to them with “go home to momma”, said Duong.
“The boys loved Dougie because it didn’t matter how bad they played they would see Dougie and he would put a smile on their face.”
The impacts of COVID-19 certainly changed that.
“The last full season without him was hard not seeing him with the traditional “pump it up” right after Brownie’s (coach Dave Brownridge) talk with the boys before the game. He came with us on away games, too, and not just home games.”
That passion for the game and team he loved spilled over into many different areas, noted Paul.
“My brother Don and I, growing up, he used to come to every one of our games. Mayor (Jeff) Jordan remembered when he called me Dougie was at every one of our slo-pitch games,” said Paul.
Monday night at town council’s regular meeting, Jordan recognized Dougie’s passing.
“He was a true hometown legend. He will truly be missed by all,” said Jordan.
And when Jordan says “all” he meant it because Dougie’s volunteering efforts went far beyond the junior hockey team to which he gave decades of his life.
“Regulars down at Grimsby Farmers’ Market would recognize Dougie. He was down there every week,” said Paul.
“He used to hang around where the Grimsby Fire Department trucks were and just talk to people.
Another event he used to help with was the Grimsby Iron Man competition, Paul noted.
“He used to go up to the top of Park Road with Ben Friesen, Jerry’s dad, and monitor the triathlon route,” said Paul.
“And when he wasn’t helping out some place or watching me or Donnie, he was watching his nieces or nephews in action. He was so proud of them.”
Because of this constant activity, Dougie got to know a lot of people and many knew him. He knew faces, but not always names, so he developed a greeting which worked for all.
“For guys it was “Hey, old man!’ and for ladies it was ‘Hey trouble’,’ said Paul.
“It was pretty funny with a lot of the younger guys around the arena who would get “Hey, old man” from this 50-year-old guy.”
But that was also Dougie’s sense of humour which had a knack for drawing a smile.
He could also be a trickster, asking five people at a time, “Can you grab me a Kit Kat and a Coke” at the concession stand.
Away from sports, Dougie loved camping, too. For many years, an annual, major family camping trip was something to which he always looked forward.
A highlight which always stuck with Dougie was a 1988 trip which took Dougie and his late parents Dave (1989) and Barb (2014) from coast to coast in the southern U.S.
“They went to South Fork in Texas, which was the location for the show Dallas, one of his favourite shows growing up. That was the last major trip for our dad, who died the next year,” said Paul.
While he was a superior spectator, Dougie took his bowling pretty seriously.
“He was pretty good. He used to go to Stryx (the long-closed bowling alley in Grimsby) with the special needs group every Wednesday,” said Paul.
“It was five-pin, but he took his own ball. He watched it very closely. Nobody else was allowed to use Dougie’s ball. He was very protective of it.”
Dougie lived with his mom until he was 50, then came home one day and said he wanted to get his own place.
Paul said Community Living was completely behind it and he moved into Trillium Apartments shortly after.
“With his health declining, he had to move into the group home on Tufford Road,” said Paul.
“That place and those people are amazing. I cannot say enough good about them. It was very difficult over the last year not being able to see Dougie as much as we would have liked, but it was unbelievable how well they treated him.”
Dougie had a lasting impact on those he touched and former Grimsby Peach King owner Lyle Killins saw his dedication develop from his early years supporting his Peach Kings.
“I had the pleasure of experiencing Dougie and his wonderful personality during the push to the 2002-2003 Ontario Junior C Championship. While the fan support was energizing, Dougie was a step above with his enthusiasm and smile. Dougie never changed much – always a #1 Peach King fan and supporter through thick and thin,” said Killins.
“He wore the Peach King emblem not only on his jacket but I suspect on his heart. While Dougie did not have the ability to play the game of hockey he lived it and gave his whole-hearted support to the cause – leading cheers, encouraging team members or often offering discouragement to Peach King opponents. Dougie embodied what sport and Peach King hockey and town participation should encompass – pride, passion and a never-ending commitment to give your all in whatever manner possible for the betterment of a cause. In the eyes of all, if such a venue could exist, Dougie Nickerson would be a first ballot unanimous Grimsby Peach King Hall of Famer fan.”