2015 The Year of Sport in Wood Buffalo

by Curtis J Phillips

Recently Mayor Melissa Blake officially declared 2015 “The Year of Sport in Wood Buffalo.”
Listed were the seven major events of provincial, national and international scope.
On a sidebar there may be several more worthy of mention including the 2015 Alberta Schools Athletic Association 3A Boys Basketball Championships, March 19-21, 2015 at Holy Trinity High School and the 2015 Syncrude Boreal Open at Fort McMurray Golf Course June 22 – 28, 2015.
catch you on the rebound graphicThe last 35 years we have hosted a bevy of sporting events and here are, off the top of my head, my Top 10 to date.
10: 1989 National Cycling Championships. One of our first true national sporting events that garnered some media attention. Downtown was full of fans taking in the fast paced sport. Plenty of crashes.
9: 1998 Apollo World Curling Championships. Organizers did a great job involving the entire community in this event.
8: 2003 Alberta Senior Games. From July 24-27 in excess of 1,200 athletes over the age of 55 participate in a variety of sports. These are the people and target audience that would be best to spread the good word about what our region and hospitality is all about.
7: 2013 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Men’s and Women’s Curling Championships, National coverage and a chance to showcase MacDonald Island.
6: 2009 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Volleyball Championships. For more years than I can remember, the Keyano Huskies had to battle the image as one of the doormat colleges in Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference sports. These volleyball finals were a coming out party of sorts and also showcased the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre. In 2016 the Huskies will host the CCAA Men’s Basketball finals.
5: 1995 Canadian Triathlon Championships featured over 600 athletes and with the assistance of more than 750 volunteers was a professionally run event with spot coverage by TSN. Six local athletes would qualify to represent Canada in Cancun, Mexico.
4: 1985 Alberta Summer Games may have been our first major sporting event attracting athletes in a wide-range of events. We gained several new facilities i.e. Jack Corless Field and the weather held out. Special memories here were the medals won by local Special Olympian Debbie Lebedynski.
3: 1992 Alberta Winter Games. Had the honour of being in charge of the TV coverage for these Games, live coverage from beginning-to-end and a featured one-hour nightly highlights package – hosted by Guy Boutilier and six-time Canadian Olympian trap shooter Susan Nattrass – that went out across Canada on community access stations, this was our biggest sporting event ever until 12 years later with No. 2 on the list. The weather also played havoc on some of the events.
2: 2004 Arctic Winter Games. Simply stated, these games set the standard for hosting. It had international allure. It was also a regional affair with six rural communities hosting the sports of Arctic sports, a few games of basketball, dog mushing, Dene Games, Alpine skiing and Snowboarding.
1: 2000 Royal Bank Cup. May 14, 2000 is a date I will always remember and the most important date in our sports history. Mother’s Day, the host, Fort McMurray Oil Barons, were up against the No. 1 ranked Rayside-Balfour Sabres from Ontario. When the buzzer sounded it was the hometown heroes winning 2-1, bringing home the Royal Bank Cup, symbolic of Junior hockey supremacy in Canada. And yes…I shed more than a tear or two. Majority of the Barons from this team would go on to college, university, semi-pro and NHL fame.
I’m a huge fan of sporting events profiling a city.
In fact my first involvement in a hosting of local games came only a few months after arriving May 14, 1982 in town when Rick Lambert, then Executive Director of a Manitoba Basketball, phoned me to inquire if Fort McMurray was interested in hosting the 1983 Western Canadian Senior B Men’s Basketball Championships.
Having quickly immersed myself into the local sports scene, the answer was naturally yes.
But is 2015 overkill?
For decades now we have suffered from an identity crisis due to the demographics and constant change and nature of our community. But as one gets older the realization is that community self-worth is not in the hosting of sporting events to tell the outside world that we live here but in the core development of our community and its infrastructure with health, education etc.
It has been proven time-in and time-out again that major sporting events do not benefit any community economically after they are over. It is like Chevy Chase in the 1983 comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation where he is looking at the Grand Canyon for a few seconds, nodding his head and then says “OK….Let’s go!”
Been there. Done that.
I believe the most important thing for us, with sports as part of the picture, is to involve all of the newcomers and fly-in and fly-out individuals, in becoming part of the community. A home away from home, or a future home. A place to take pride in.
Catch you on the rebound.