By Joel Griffith | Staff Writer
Since 2003, long-time Calgary Roughnecks fan Mona Helmer has been watching her beloved team at the Scotiabank Saddledome, also introducing others to the experience, and building new relationships along the way.
Helmer, 50, is a registered nurse at Health Link in Calgary, and still finds the time to attend almost every single Roughnecks home game.
“With the atmosphere, you can yell, you can get loud, and there’s the music as well,” said Helmer. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
Prior to attending her first Roughnecks game, Helmer had no knowledge of lacrosse, but now has a whole new respect for the game, and what the athletes do.
“The game itself is just fantastic. There’s so much action, and so much talent.”
Helmer’s passion for the sport has even led her to attend games not involving the Roughnecks, such as the Saskatchewan Rush inaugural home game, and the 2015 NLL championship between the Toronto Rock and Edmonton Rush.
“It doesn’t even have to be my team, I just love the game all together. “Sometimes it’s nice being a spectator when you don’t have a dog in the fight.”
One of her most memorable experiences with the Roughnecks came when she was able to witness the 2009 championship victory over the New York Titans.
“I cried,” reminisced Helmer.
She kept asking herself “Why am I crying, I don’t even play?”
Helmer’s passion for the Roughnecks was first ignited when she attended her first game with her late husband in 2003.
“At first, I was thinking I don’t like scary, bashing sports like that, but I’ll give it a go,” explained Helmer. “After the first game, I just loved it from the get-go.”
Helmer has now been a season ticket holder for 12 years, and only missed two home games in that span. She said the seats around where she sits have been the same group of people for the majority of the years.
“We’ve all got to know each other’s names, we talk, we high-five. “It’s kind of all four rows around me, and a really good group.”
Helmer’s dedication to the franchise has not gone unnoticed by the Roughnecks, as just recently the organization showed their gratitude on her birthday during the Feb. 12 game against the Toronto Rock.
“I knew my daughter was going to do something. “But I thought she was just going to ask them to put my name on the jumbotron, like they do at halftime.”
Instead, Helmer was presented with a jersey signed by the entire team, and also received the surprise of family members from out of town being invited to the game to partake in the event.
“They gave free tickets to my whole mob of family. “It surprised me to heck, so it was pretty cool.”
Helmer’s daughter, Krystle Wittevrongel, said the Roughnecks organization were “a pleasure to work with” and more than happy to help arrange the birthday surprise.
“They went above and beyond, and for that reason (and many more) I will gladly patronize this organization,” said Wittevrongel.
Since the passing of Helmer’s late husband in 2012, Wittevrongel, 30, has been a new entry to the fan group, after becoming hooked on the game herself.
“I started going so my mom would have company, and would keep her season tickets for the group of friends she made,” explained Wittevrongel. “But I quickly became enthralled in the sport, and shortly after, it had become our thing.”
With how much fun they were having at the start, Wittevrongel said there was no doubt attending Roughnecks games was going to become a mainstay in their lives.
“It became something my mom and I did together, and started to bond over.”
Wittevrongel said the speed of play, sportsmanship, and “sheer athleticism” required to compete is what initially peaked her interest.
“I started to play myself last year as well, and gained a newfound respect for the game,” explained Wittevrongel.
Harvey Tilleman, a friend of Helmer’s since she was 12, first started attending Roughnecks games in 2004, and has been a steady presence at games for the last four years.
“We were instantly hooked on the action and the excitement of the crowd,” recalled Tilleman.
Tilleman occasionally likes to venture higher up in the stands to view games, but still finds himself sitting with Helmer’s eccentric group on a regular basis.
“The big group definitely makes the excitement of celebrating a goal a lot more fun. “High-fives all around!”