Mike Duggan is in his 70's and is still keeping up with all of the younger guys. He's a longtime CARHA Hockey member and is the oldest Level 5 referee in the country. What a beauty!

There’s something enduring about Mike Duggan, especially when he gets on skates.

The 72-year-old is a former Ontario Hockey Association referee but still wears the black and white stripes, albeit now in an oldtimers’ league, and mentors up-and-coming officials around Toronto and the GTA.

That’s been the case for Duggan since 1973. He just loves to skate. And now that he’s in his 70s, a time when some players and refs might hang up the skates simply to give the knees a rest, Duggan feels blessed he can keep up.

“I’m think I’m the oldest Level 5 referee in the country,” says Duggan, who dons his blades and stripes every Wednesday night for the Toronto Township Oldtimers Hockey League. “I still enjoy skating, I still enjoy refereeing and seeing friends.”

When you get to know Duggan — and he’s an icon in the officiating world — you’ll also hear about how his enthusiasm for hockey and officiating carries over to Proudfoot Corner. Duggan reads it regularly and likes to see the names of other donors — and often recognizes the names of the ones who make annual donations.

Duggan has a good laugh when he tries to remember how long he’s been donating to the Star initiative. The years have gone by quickly — he admits he’s lost count — but the cause spoke to him.

Now in its 113th year, the Star’s Santa Claus Fund has always been about one simple cause: making Christmas a little better for a child whose family may not have the means. Over the next couple of weekends, some of the Star’s delivery elves will team up to begin dropping off some 45,000 gift boxes to kids around Toronto.

They show up early at the Star depot with their vehicles gassed up and after loading as many gift boxes as they can, away they go. When you speak to Santa Fund organizers such as the Star’s Barb Mrozek, they’ll tell you the delivery elves sound a lot like donors — they love to do it. And they love to see the smiles that follow when the gift box arrives at a family’s door.

The boxes are simple, but well thought out: they contain clothing, food items and other useful stuff — things a kid can not only enjoy on Christmas morning but use when they go to school, go out to play or while hanging out with friends.

When talking about his childhood, Duggan admits he was lucky.

“At Christmas time, I always feel fortunate, I always had presents and family,” Duggan said. “I feel fortunate, too, because for so many people it’s a tough time of year. They want to do the best they can for their children but they can’t, and the Star’s Santa Fund helps them give their children something better.”

Duggan is now based in Mississauga, where he helps mentor junior hockey officials. It’s a labour of love and always has been. He loves to see NHL officials such as Tim Peel and Greg Devorski succeed at the top of their profession — officials who were under Duggan’s supervision at one point in their careers.

In his earlier years he was a player and “never thought I’d be a referee because I was yappy bugger when I played.”

But the inclination to speak out has its advantages. Duggan says he often encourages his officiating brethren to donate to Proudfoot Corner — for the good of the children.

“Just give a single game fee. I’m a competitive person and every year, when I give, I always challenge other refs to pony up and give to the Star’s Santa Fund, too. It’s just my way of trying to give back, because I think it’s important that we all try and do something for these kids,” Duggan said.

“You know, I read the Proudfoot Corner stories all the time and it takes, what, a couple of minutes, and you see all these people who give to the fund, and you see the same people donating year-in and year-out. So when I challenge other refs, it’s because I’d like to see some new people do the same thing ... it’s just a great cause and it doesn’t take much to help.”

The Proudfoot Corner is in full gear now thanks to people such as Duggan. And like Duggan, we love to see donations coming in from longtime readers and new ones, too.