Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Multi-sports Centre nears completion, early July opening expected

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Multi-sport Centre is nearing completion.
An old cliché says that “all good things are worth the wait,” and that cliché will ring true for the new Multi-sport Centre that is nearing completion on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

The Multi-sport Centre is slated to open for use by users in early July. On the building’s east side, it will serve all the stadium requirements to allow Cairns Field to be an elite level amateur baseball facility with the capacity to seat 2,500.

On the building’s west side, the Multi-sport Centre will serve the Track and Field Track, which is converted into the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval for the winter months. It will feature seating for 1,850, which can be expanded to 3,500 with temporary seating.

The Track and Field Track facility opened in 2019 bringing track and field competitions to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds for the first time ever.

“I know that the athletes are excited, and they were really excited about the track,” said Johnny Marciniuk, who is the Operations Manager for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. “It is level two certified track, which is top notch for this country.

“Now, we are going to pair up the building with that track. We’ve had the track for two years. Now, we are going to give all the amenities.

“You’ll have your nice change rooms, viewing areas, bleachers, concessions and all those things that will make the experience that much better.”

The spectator gallery on the west side of the Multi-sport Centre.
The Multi-sport Centre replaces the old grandstand at Cairns Field, which was torn down in April of 2018. The old grandstand was used by both the baseball and the speed skating communities.

Way back in the early 1960s, the old grandstand once served the horse racing community as a horse racing track used to cut through Cairns Field.

“The history of the area was quite interesting,” said Marciniuk. “Now, we’ll have the wraparound building that wraps right around Cairns.

“We have a viewing area that is indoors and heated up on the second floor. Basically, everybody will be watching speed skating in comfort, and track and field will have that same option.”

The Multi-sport Centre will be light years beyond what existed at the old grandstand. The Multi-sport Centre will have 20,000 square feet of space on its two floors.

It will include top rate dressing rooms, officials’ rooms, lockers, multi-purpose meeting room, first aid amenities, concession and public washrooms. The building will also have announcer booths and press box areas on either side to allow competition day officials to run events.

There will be an exterior spectator covered viewing area on the Cairns Field side and an indoor spectator viewing area overlooking the Track and Field Track and the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval on the west side.

The announcer’s booth on the east side of the Multi-sport Centre.
Marciniuk said it has been amazing to see the Multi-sport Centre come together after construction began in earnest in August of 2020.

“It is just so interesting to see how the area changes,” said Marciniuk. “We have the same quality dressing rooms (at the Multi-sport Centre) that we have at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

“We have rubber flooring there for safety for the cleats and skates. Cleats on the baseball side and skates on the speed skating side. We like to think that we raised the bar here for athletics in this area.

“We’re looking forward to having everybody use it and seeing those smiles on faces.”

The completion of the Multi-sport Centre will allow the baseball, track and field and speed skating communities to host various national championships and national competitions in their respective sports.

“There are lots of opportunities out there,” said Marciniuk. “Everybody is talking about championships that they want to bid (for).

“Sports tourism here in Saskatoon is going to support all our sport groups and their bids. They want to get people into this community, and we want as the Gordie Howe Sports Complex to get people into our facility. Those facilities are going to be top notch.”

One of the dressing rooms inside the Multi-sport Centre.
With the old grandstand at Cairns field, it was harder to bring in those types of competitions due to the limits of that old facility.

Marciniuk said there is a lot more potential to host those events in baseball, track and field and speed skating with the completed Multi-sport Centre.

“We have four dressing rooms, a co-ed dressing room (and) an umpire’s dressing room,” said Marciniuk. “We have meeting rooms that are available.

“The media box and the scorer’s announcers’ box are top notch with garage doors that actually will give the open air feel when the weather is right. With that comes all our other amenities such as our ticket sales centre, which makes it easy for groups to fund their championships.

“Our concession, our washroom facilities, everything that goes into a 20,000 square foot (building) will make sure that we have a first-rate adventure here with our championships.”

Once construction of the Multi-sport Centre is completed, all the new buildings that were part of the Master Plan for The Complex will be up and running.

Marciniuk said a few more improvements are still coming before the final stretch run is completed for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

Pavement is laid on the baseball side at the Multi-sport Centre.
“This (the Multi-Sport Centre) is the last capital item basically that we have,” said Marciniuk. “We have a couple of more fields that are coming in a CFL sized football field that will be south of (the Gordie Howe) Kinsmen Arena.

“We have a 48,000 square foot outdoor turf area for baseball and softball practices, which is going to be north of our (Indoor) Training Centre. It is really nice to get all the bricks and mortar in place.

“Once that is all done, we can start looking at beautifying the site, landscaping and getting all those types of things that make it a great experience for people from Saskatoon and the greater Saskatoon Area as well as Western Canada, Canada and world championships we host here. We want people talking about this place.”

Harrison, Sutherland on fire on the track

Michelle Harrison is pursuing a berth in the Summer Olympics.
Two of Saskatchewan’s top elite athletes put up head turning performances at the Track and Field Track.

This past Friday at a twilight meet, Michelle Harrison and Savannah Sutherland posted impressive times in the 100-metre hurdles and 400-metre hurdles respectively.

Harrison, who is a 28-year-old Saskatoon product, ran the 100-metre hurdles in a time of 13.22 seconds. The graduate of Saskatoon’s Evan Hardy Collegiate and alumna of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Women’s Track and Field team has the top 100-metre hurdles time in Canada for all female competitors in 2021. The next closest time is clocked in at 13.30 seconds.

The time Harrison posted on Friday was her third best ever in the 100-metre hurdles.

Harrison is aiming to qualify for the upcoming Summer Olympics, which are slated to run July 23 to August 8.

She is set to race in Windsor and Guelph, Ont., on Saturday and Wednesday, June 16 respectively and will take part in competitions in Montreal on June 26 and 29.

Savannah Sutherland has set two provincial records.
Sutherland, who is 17-years-old, ran the 400-metre hurdles this past Friday in a time of 58.24 seconds. The Borden product broke a 39-year-old provincial record of 58.49 seconds set by Gwen Wall in 1982.

Sutherland’s time tops all under-20 female athletes in Canada this year and ranks fifth outright amongst all Canadian women in 2021.

As of the end of the night this past Friday, Sutherland had posted the seventh fastest time in the world in 400-metre hurdles for under-20 female athletes.

She surpassed the under-20 world championship standard in the 400-metre hurdles. On May 28, Sutherland surpassed the under-20 world championship standard in the 200-metre hurdles, when she ran that event in a provincial record time of 24.17 seconds at another twilight meet at the Track and Field Track.

Sutherland, who is a member of the Saskatoon Track Club, has committed to join the University of Michigan Wolverines Women’s Track and Field team in the NCAA Division I ranks starting with the 2021-22 campaign.

Running Wild opens doors for indigenous athletes, coaches

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Two runners lap the track at a Running Wild practice.
Kendra Farmer is still discovering how much of a positive impact the combination of her indigenous and athletics background can have on indigenous youngsters.

The 21-year-old has been a star for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Women’s Track and Field Team since taking overall female rookie of the year honours for Huskie Athletics back in 2017-18. The graduate of Saskatoon’s Centennial Collegiate is a member of the Central Urban Metis Federation Incorporated and has been a coach with the Running Wild Athletics Club pretty much since it started in 2018.

The Running Wild Athletics Club is an indigenous track and field club that operates provincially.

Farmer, who specializes in sprints with the Huskies, isn’t one of those that draws attention to her lengthy list of accomplishments in track and field. When she is coaching Running Wild, Farmer is focused on helping athletes improve and making sure that they are feeling upbeat.

During a Running Wild practice this past May, Farmer was casually talking to her athletes during a rest period about her nutrition program and some of the extra things she does in her own track and field training. One of the young athletes figured out Farmer was a member of the Huskies.

The young athlete said being a member of the Huskies was a big thing and that Farmer had to focus on her nutrition and the extra things she does in training.

Farmer asked the young athlete if joining the Huskies was something the youngster wanted to do in the future. The youngster responded with a yes.

Farmer was happy to hear that upbeat response and proceeded to offer encouragement to the rest of the athletes who were at practice that night at the Track and Field Track at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

“Huskies are something that you guys should be looking to, because it is not impossible,” said Farmer, who stands 5-foot-5. “It is me and Brett (Lachance) and all of the other awesome indigenous athletes on the team.

“We’re all thriving on the team, and there is quite a few of us.”

Farmer is one of the 25 current or former Huskies who are mentor coaches with Running Wild and also athletes on the club’s performance side in Saskatoon. Running Wild has 40 athletes in Saskatoon that are part of the club’s developmental program.

Kendra Farmer is one of the mentor coaches for Running Wild.
From that talk she had with that young athlete at a Running Wild practice, Farmer realized a little more how much of an impact it is for the young athletes with the club to see people being both indigenous and a high-level athlete.

“I think they do look up to us,” said Farmer, who is an engineering student at the U of S. “It humbles me, and I appreciate being able to be a role model for some of the athletes.

“It is kind of never something I would have expected to be able to be. It is exciting to be able to coach and then see them kind of look into their futures and become part of their goals.”

That type of connection is one of the intangibles long time track and field administrator Derek Rope wanted to see. Rope, who is a member of the Board of Directors for Friends of the Bowl, has always sought out ways to get more indigenous athletes to take part in track and field.

An alum of the Huskies Men’s Track and Field Team, Rope remembers a time where only about four per cent of participants at a mainstream track and field meet in the province identified as indigenous. Rope wanted to grow that four per cent number.

He helped found the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field Meet 13 years ago.

The Running Wild Athletics Club provides another avenue to get indigenous youth into track and field.

Rope, who is a member of the Pasqua First Nation, said it is important to have those avenues for indigenous youth to get into sport. The 46-year-old said one of those reminders personally came from seeing the 2018 child advocate’s report on youth incarceration rates in Saskatchewan, which said 92 per cent of male incarcerated youth and 98 per cent of female incarcerated youth were indigenous.

“We use sport not only as a way to encourage healthy lifestyles, competition and school, but obviously, as an access to participation or alternatives,” said Rope. “For us, yes, it was important, and yes, there are other clubs.

“We definitely know that when we are doing something that we are doing it also for how we build and support not only indigenous athletes but how we make those connections and bridge communities.”

Rope said Saskatchewan Athletics, which governs track and field in the province, has been a great supporter in helping indigenous sport track and field bodies.

A long jumper takes to the air at a Running Wild practice.
He added it is important for young indigenous athletes to see veteran athletes like Farmer and Lachance, who is a top performer in throwing events from the Big River First Nation, doing well at elite levels.

“It makes it real,” said Rope. “It makes it relevant.

“It makes it attainable. They connect as people for sure and definitely show that there is life in sport after your done high school. You can become a student athlete and continue doing what you love.

“I think it is huge when kids are able to see their fellow indigenous people doing well competing and achieving.”

On top of creating avenues for indigenous athletes, the Running Wild Athletics Club created avenues for indigenous athletes to become coaches.

After finishing her rookie season with the Huskies in the spring of 2018, Farmer hadn’t thought about becoming a coach in the sport. Lachance learned about Farmer’s Metis background and introduced her to helping out with Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field activities.

She proceeded to meet Rope, who suggested Farmer should try coaching and that the Running Wild Athletics Club was looking for coaches. That marked Farmer’s introduction to coaching in the sport.

“It was very exciting honestly the first time getting to coach,” said Farmer. “It was definitely a learning curve off the bat.

“I started off coaching with long jump, because that was one of my main events at the time. I felt pretty confident there. Then, I sort of expanded into some of the other events.”

When Farmer began to coach sprinters, she learned it is important to try not to overload young athletes with information.

“Sprinting is a weird event to coach,” said Farmer. “You think from the outside perspective you are just running.

“When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it, it is actually like a lot of little details, especially coaching younger kids. You don’t want to be giving too much detail, because it could get confusing. You want to make sure they are still running with proper form and everything.

A trio of runners jet to the finish at a Running Wild practice.
“It is different, but it has been getting better I would say. Now, I’m pretty confident in my coaching abilities.”

Farmer has enjoyed seeing the athletes she coaches improve. While she still plans to be a high level track and field athlete for a while yet, Farmer wants to continue being a coach in the sport especially with Running Wild.

“I’m definitely hoping to keep coaching for as long as possible,” said Farmer. “I have one year of school left to go, and then we’ll see where I go from there.

“I might stick around for a couple of more years just to finish out my (U Sports) eligibility. As long as I can, I for sure will be coaching for Running Wild definitely outside. Even if I move provinces or move elsewhere, I’m going to try and keep in touch with this club as much as possible just because I love what they are doing.”

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Rope makes big impact on provincial track and field scene

Brings indigenous athlete needs to Friends of the Bowl Board

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Derek Rope is a regular at the Track and Field Track.
Sometimes all it takes is the little things to make Derek Rope smile.

The 46-year-old member of the Pasqua First Nation and Saskatoon resident is one of the newest additions to the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Bowl having taken his board position last year. Rope is a business owner and has extensive experience being a coach and administrator in track and field with a focus on indigenous athletes.

He is the Chairperson for Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field, a coach and administrator for the Running Wild Athletics Club, the Coordinator for track and field for the North American Indigenous Games and runs numerous clinics for sports too.

While he wears a lot of different hats, one of Rope’s biggest smiles came from seeing pictures of all the speed skating tiles cleared off the Track and Field Track at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex for the first time since October of 2019.

The new Track and Field Track facility was used for one season in 2019, but it wasn’t utilized in 2020 as user groups adjusted to the changing aspects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

In 2020, a lot of the speed skating tiles were left in place to allow for the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval to be flooded and created a touch faster this past winter.

The Track and Field Track has started to be used for initial practices, and Rope said it was a great site to see the facility opened up again.

“We are so excited to get back on the track for sure,” said Rope. “Like everybody, we had to be kind of creative in how we supported our athletes and working out.”

For the Running Wild Athletics Club that operates provincially, Rope said that program has 25 performance athletes with the majority being current or former members of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Men’s and Women’s Track and Field teams and 40 developmental athletes inside of Saskatoon who use the Track and Field Track.

Rope said the club members enjoyed using the facility in 2019 and were excited to get back there in 2020. Due to the factors when it came to dealing with the pandemic, the 2020 season didn’t happen, but Rope said getting back to the Track and Field Track this year is that much more special.

“We had one summer utilizing it, and you look forward to it,” said Rope. “It is such an amazing facility.

“To only have one summer, you look forward to going back, and then it wasn’t ideal. It was pretty disappointing. Now, we’re all booked in and ready to go.”

Derek Rope helps position Running Wild coaches for a photo.
With having been a longtime track and field administrator which included helping found the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Track and Field Meet 13 years ago, things naturally progressed to where Rope joined the Board of Directors for the Friends of the Bowl. With the creation of the Track and Field Track facility, track and field groups have had more of a presence than ever before at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

Rope been impressed with the passion of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Bowl and how motivated they are to finish all the construction projects on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds and promote the facility. Rope said he has spent a lot of time learning about the Complex and believes one of the biggest initial things that needs to be done is to get the word out about all the different sports facilities at the Complex.

“Being the second biggest (multi-sport complex) in Canada, that is huge thing, and it brings a lot of pride to be instilled in our city that we have world class facilities,” said Rope. “I think a lot of people haven’t actually experienced it and seen all the amenities.”

Rope has enjoyed working with the other members of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Bowl. He said the board members have all been involved in their respective sport scenes for a long time and sport provides the common ground that makes everyone come together.

“It has been really good,” said Rope. “They’ve been really responsive.

“I think they recognize that the inclusion and recognition of indigenous people not only just as clients and patrons of facilities but as partners and those kinds of things is definitely looking at how they change their perspectives as well too. They’ve been open to those suggestions. It has been really good.”

Rope said his role has been to bring forward the needs of indigenous athletes to the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Bowl. He said the board members have been receptive to what he has said.

Rope wanted to stress that he is on the board due to his extensive experience as a coach and administrator in track and field.

“They (the board members) recognized the other talents as well too,” said Rope, who was a SaskSport Volunteer of the Year award winner in 2018. “The fact that I am indigenous I guess is just a bonus in that regard too.”

Derek Rope and some Running Wild coaches share a laugh.
Before becoming a coach and administrator, Rope was an elite level middle distance runner in track and field, which included being a member of the Huskies men’s track and field team, and he also played hockey and volleyball growing up.

With the Huskies, Rope ran the 400-metre and 800-metre races at outdoor events and the 600-metre race at indoor events. He was the rookie of the year for the Huskies men’s track and field team in 1993 and remained with the Huskies in 1994 and a partial season in 1996, when injury cut short his career.

Rope has fond memories of working with Huskies assistant coach John Fitzgerald, who was named to the Athletic Canada Hall of Fame in 2018 due to his coaching career.

One memory that stuck out for Rope came from a time when Fitzgerald had the middle distance runners out at his place in Rosthern, Sask., for a practice session where they didn’t run. The Athletes were all sitting in the living room of Fitzgerald’s home, and the coach began talking to the athletes about how things were going with their friends, families, school and their personal lives.

The visit had gone for about an hour until veteran Huskies team member Jason Warick asked when the athletes were going to workout.

“He (Fitzgerald) said, ‘That was your workout,’” said Rope. “He (Fitzgerald) said, ‘Look at you guys.’

“This was my rookie year. He (Fitzgerald) said, ‘If you got injured tomorrow, you would be lost. You wouldn’t know what to do with yourselves. Too much track impacts and affects all other parts of your life, and too much of your other life will impact track.

“‘You have to try focus on that balance.’”

From that point, Rope remembered that life balance was important.

Rope also believes that mentorship is important too, especially for indigenous athletes. With the Running Wild Athletics Club, Rope is happy to see standout Huskies athletes Kendra Farmer and Brett Lachance have been working with the developmental athletes as mentor coaches. Farmer is a member of the Central Urban Metis Federation Inc., and Lachance is from the Big River First Nation.

Rope said it is important for young indigenous athletes to athletes like Farmer and Lachance doing well at elite levels.

“It is huge,” said Rope. “It makes it real.

The mentor coaches with the Running Wild Athletics Club.
“It makes it relevant. It makes it attainable. They connect as people for sure and definitely show that there is life in sport after your done high school.

“You can become a student athlete and continue doing what you love. I think it is huge when kids are able to see their fellow indigenous people doing well competing and achieving.”

While he might be modest to admit it, Rope has and continues to provide a role model example for indigenous and all athletes on how to give back to sport on the coaching and administrative side too. Rope’s example shows athletes how you can have a full circle experience in the world of sports.

The always sweet Complex happenings in photos

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A 222’s infielder snags a high throw at second base.
Over the last couple of months, excitement built on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds as the spring and summer outdoor sports season neared.

Athletes continued to train and perfect their skills at the Indoor Training Centre and our staff focused on preparing our outdoor facilities for use.

Our photo round up includes a number of pictures of athletes making plays. A few photos show the end results of the preparation that went on at a couple of facilities on our grounds.

A number of these photos like the lead picture of this post were taken by our Communications Coordinator in Darren Steinke. The lead photo shows a member of the 222’s Fast Pitch program jumping sky high to corral a high throw during an infield drill on April 2.

A trio of Complex family members contributed a few photos too.

Without further ado, here is a selection of 10 pictures from the past two months and a bonus graphic at the end. We hope you enjoy.

Multi-sport centre rises

You can see the landscape at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex has changed a little, if you drive on Dudley Street along the north part of our grounds. The new Multi-sport Centre, which is still under construction, has taken shape nicely. It is pictured here on May 1.

Showing how it is done

Brody Boyenko, who is an instructor with the Going Yard Training Centre, demonstrates a throwing motion to players he is coaching at the Indoor Training Centre on April 8. Boyenko is one of the many good coaches you see on our grounds.

SMF Field ready and waiting

Our own Ashlie Borisenko took this photo of Saskatoon Minor Football Field on April 24. Borisenko was part of the crew that groomed the football facility and got it ready for the upcoming season.

Fast thinking

This first baseman quickly reacts to a wide throw during an infield defensive drill at a training session overseen by Centerfield Training. This snag took place at an April 15 session at the Indoor Training Centre. The crew at Centerfield Training held regular training sessions at the Indoor Training Centre over the winter months.

Beauty new goalpost pads

Our Operations Manager Johnny Marciniuk couldn’t resist getting a picture of one of the news pads that covers the uprights at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. These pads look great and are extra sweet with labeling from the Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon. With the artificial turf set for its eighth season, the Kinsmen Club of Saskatoon was one of the first donors to assist us with the construction of the field. We are grateful to all our donors who have made this project a success, and we pass on a big thank you once again.

Safe at second

Members of the Saskatoon Lasers were working on their baserunning skills during an April 23 session at the Indoor Training Session. This young player was the subject of the best sliding picture we were able to take over the past six months.

Crank it up

This batter tags a pitch during a Going Yard Training Centre session on April 8. This hit took place at an Easter Camp held by Going Yard. The crew at Going Yard did fantastic work with the players they coached during the baseball off-season.

May the 4th be with you

In the world of popular culture, we know that May 4 is Star Wars Day. We have a few Star Wars fans on staff and a few grace our grounds. For fun, we took this picture on this past May 4.

It feels so good to see the track

For the first time since October of 2019, the bulk of the speed skating tiles have been removed to open up the Track and Field Track. This has been a sight we’ve been waiting for. The Track and Field Track sits looking serene on April 27.

Beauty at sunset with SMF Field

Sometimes nature presents a scene where you just have to get the camera out. Saskatoon Minor Softball League president Vanessa Kosteroski got this picture of a sunset at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on May 5. The Complex is good at creating amazing pictures.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day. We hope you enjoy the poem above.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Ignite cares, continues to help athletes grow

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Logan Hofmann trains in the off-season at Ignite Athletics.
The crew at Ignite Athletics have always taken a genuine interest in the lives of the athletes they train, and that characteristic has shown through in a more emphasized way over the past year.

Ignite Athletics was formed when Ignite Athletic Conditioning owned by Joel Lipinski and Jordan Harbidge and JB Performance Training owned by Josh Saulnier merged and located on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds when the Indoor Training Centre opened in March of 2019.

Ignite Athletics aims to be the best training facility in Canada located on the best sports complex grounds in Canada. The crew at Ignite want to help the athletes they train to improve every day, so they can meet their athletic goals.

As a result of the great work the Ignite staff does, they’ve attracted elite athletes from a wide variety of sports along people who just want to be in better physical shape.

The staff has created a welcoming atmosphere at Ignite helping make the phrase “Ignite Family” a reality.

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has gripped the world since March of 2020, the family feeling at Ignite has come more to the forefront. Most of the clients that visit Ignite have seen their lives change in a sizable way.

Over the past year, many athletes have trained for seasons that started and ultimately got cancelled shortly after starting. Athletes have continued to train often not knowing for sure when their next season will start.

Despite those uncertainties, the day’s highlight will often include stopping in at Ignite for a training session. Lipinski said you can see athletes have an extra jump in their step, when they come to Ignite.

“To be able to provide a safe, fun and positive environment during this pandemic, it is something we are very grateful for,” said Lipinski, who is also a strength and conditioning coach at Ignite. “The feedback we have been given by our athletes has been overwhelmingly positive.

Lindsay Berglof is long time regular at Ignite.
“In a lot of circumstances, the trip to our facility is the only regular outing scheduled in their day. The fact that we can keep the athletes on track to reach their health and performance goals does a lot for them mentally as well.”

Lipinski said one of the more pronounced strengths that has shown through from the Ignite staff over the past year is the ability to care. The Ignite crew has always aimed to build friendships with the athletes they train.

Those friendships have given athletes trust that they can let staff know when they not having the best day.

Lipinski said the Ignite crew has had to show more heart and understanding over this past year than they’ve ever had to show before.

“We have seen and personally felt the toll this pandemic has had on mental health,” said Lipinski. “The relationships we have formed with our athletes over the years is a large reason for our success.

“People do not care what you know, unless they know that you care. We provide a space where athletes are allowed be vulnerable, and we can meet them where they are now. We have also teamed with Clint Moroz at The Shift - Counselling Services and are involved with the Matthew Baraniuk Legacy Foundation, so that when our athletes do need extra help, we have the resources in place to make sure they are able get the help they need.”

Besides creating a great training atmosphere for athletes in the high school, young adult and adult age groups, Ignite partnered with the Gordie Howe Sports Complex to create the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps for children.

These camps ran for the first time last summer with children split into age groups from 5 to 8 and 9 to 12. The week-long camps introduced children to a vast array of sporting experiences with a highlight of getting to run the “Ninja Warrior” course set up at the Spark Park located in the Indoor Training Centre.

The Spark Park Summer Sport Camps are returning this summer with weekly sessions running from July 5 to August 20.

“The Spark Park Summer Camps have been a fun addition,” said Lipinski. “The amenities we have available to us at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex make it easy to run an exciting summer camp.

Spark Park Summer Sports Camps return this summer.
“We had great coaches and Taylor McGregor was our Spark Park Manager leading a lot of the organizational requirements. She was instrumental in the success we had last year. It was fun imagining an environment that we would want to be part of ourselves and trying to create that environment.”

Lipinski believes the camps really helped the kids both physically and mentally as they seemed to energetically jump into activities.

“Last summer, kids had not participated in any structured physical education in schools,” said Lipinski. “Therefore, we think that being able to offer these camps was massive to get kids active and socializing after being deprived of those two things for so long.

“I am also sure the parents did not mind and entire week with the kids out of the house, knowing they were somewhere safe.”

Lipinski said the Ignite crew is looking forward to running the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps again, and he credits the community in Saskatchewan for allowing them to happen by doing their part to manage the pandemic.

“The fact we can run these camps again this year means that people across Saskatchewan are being diligent with the protocols set in place by the government,” said Lipinski. “It also means we can continue educating people that these camps exist and how positive they can be for their kids to get involved with.”

While the past year has provided some unique challenges to the Ignite crew, Lipinski said it has been special for Ignite Athletics to operation on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

“It sounds cliché, but it is a dream come true,” said Lipinski. “The facility is state-of-the-art while also being surrounded by one of the best sport infrastructures in Canada.

“We have had the privilege of being able to visit some of the top facilities in the world and I remember walking into each one with a sense of awe. I sincerely stop and look around with that same sense of awe everyday now. The merger with JB Performance and Josh has also been amazing.

Danielle Jasper has been a long time family member at Ignite.
“Josh and Jordan were good friends before the merger took place, which made things relatively easy. Josh has brought steadfast leadership, relentless work ethic, constant positivity and has become irreplaceable with everything he does on a day to day basis. I am grateful that somehow fate brought two of the best business partners I could ask for into my life.”

For more information about Ignite Athletics or to register for the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps, feel free to check out Ignite’s website at All photos for this post are courtesy of Ignite Athletics.

Chartrand – a softball star on the rise

Jorde Chartrand perfects her throws at the Indoor Training Centre.
By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Jorde Chartrand defines love for the game of softball, meanwhile believing the game has loved her back.

Being a right-handed pitching ace, she is a recognized alumna within the regional 222’s Fastpitch program and the Saskatoon Phantoms Softball Zone. Joining the University of Central Arkansas Bears NCAA Division I program this fall, she has cemented her place as a role model for younger women who wish to pursue their dreams in the sport.

Within the many organizations Chartrand has been a part of, she has defined the terms; Dedication, Leadership, and Modesty. Appreciation is an “Understatement” of the opportunity she has of continuing her career with the UCA Bears.

Dreams have become a reality for this young lady, and she is definitely excited to set more goals within the sport.

She wants to win some championships with the Bears and would ultimately like to make the Canadian Women’s National Team one day and play at the Olympics.

She would love to play the sport professionally and to coach at the college level one day.

Chartrand knows she has already been able to pile up accomplishments in the sport, because her love of the game is grounded in basic things.

“I love the pressure and the rewarding feeling you get when you overcome an obstacle or win a big game,” said Chartrand, who will turn 18-years-old on April 22. “The people, the teammates and the coaches that have all become family over the years, all the connections that you make through the sport is just indescribable and amazing.”

Jorde Chartrand throws with the Phantoms in 2019.
Anyone who has seen Chartrand train with the 222’s travel team at the Indoor Training Centre on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds will see her dedication to the game. She has mastered throwing four pitches in the curveball, change-up, drop ball and her signature pitch - the rise ball.

Chartrand has been clocked at throwing 67 miles per hour and is also pretty strong at the plate as a batter too.

She was born and raised on an acreage outside of Weyburn, Sask., where she still resides.

Chartrand started out playing baseball first at age of three before shifting over to softball within a year’s time. She played minor softball in Weyburn until age 10, when she cracked the 222’s under-14 team.

From that point, Chartrand played for the 222’s in the fall and winter months and bounced around with various spring and summer clubs located around Saskatchewan looking to play at the highest level she could.

In 2019, Chartrand joined the Phantoms under-16 program and attended Saskatoon’s Tommy Douglas Collegiate, where she started working with Trevor Ethier.

“I was very thankful to have the opportunity to work with Trevor through the Tommy Douglas softball program,” said Chartrand. “He helped me so much not only with the skills of the game, but the mental aspect of it as well.”

She helped the Phantoms win a provincial title and qualify for the under-16 Canadian Championships, which were held that year in Calgary.

At nationals, Chartrand won the top pitcher award posting a 0.00 earned-run average and 37 strikeouts, while giving up only three hits in 19 innings of total work as the Phantoms finished eighth overall.

While pursuing her softball dreams, Chartrand is thankful for the sacrifices her father, Russ, and mother, Caroline, have made.

Both of my parents have been my biggest supporters,” said Chartrand, who stands 5-foot-9. “They are always encouraging me to keep getting better at the sport that I love.

“They are always there when you make a mistake and you need that comforting comment or that little push of encouragement. They always supported me, affording me the opportunity to travel to many places playing the sport that I love.”

Jorde Chartrand signs with the University of Central Arkansas Bears.
Chartrand credits all the coaches she had with the 222’s program for helping her maintain her love for the game. Between the 222’s under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams, Chartrand spent seven seasons with that program.

She credits 222’s coach and former Canadian national men’s team pitcher Dean Holoien for helping her develop into the pitcher she has become. His mentoring throughout her ball career has been invaluable.

Chartrand was nine-years-old when she first met Holoien and continued to work with him since then. Keith Mackintosh, coach and co-owner of the 222’s, also played a crucial role in the development of Chartrand’s softball career as well as former Olympian Dione (Meier) Blackwell, Ryan Ray and the rest of the coaching staff.

“I would not be the player or person I am without that program,” said Chartrand.I am going to miss it tremendously but knowing that I am not only close with the coaches, but friends with the coaches makes it a lot easier to move to the next chapter in my career.

“They aren’t just a building block in my softball career but my life.”

Chartrand has always enjoyed playing at the various softball diamonds on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds and is thankful she got to use the pitching tunnels, batting cages and turf field at the Indoor Training Centre.

This past fall and winter, Chartrand appreciated and cherished every chance she got to use the Indoor Training Centre as the COVID-19 pandemic put the clamps on Canada’s sports scene including national team tryout camps for the gifted thrower.

“It has really helped me keep up my game,” said Chartrand. “It was always a place that I could go to work on my sport.

“It is really helpful with the 222’s program that we have the facility, because it allows all of us to train together the best we can while following the guidelines. It has been really helpful even with COVID just to keep playing the sport that I love that a lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to do.

Chartrand is now back in Weyburn electing to finish off her Grade 12 studies at Weyburn Comprehensive High School. In June, she is going to go to Florida to play for the Tampa Mustangs-TJ under-18 to prepare for her upcoming University season.

Jorde Chartrand can hammer the ball at the plate.
The young hurler is looking forward to her future journeys in the sport.

“It is motivating,” said Chartrand. “It makes me want to be the best player that I can be and keep in shape to play the sport for as long as I can.

“It makes me excited for all the opportunities and people that will come into my life later throughout the sport.”

The photos of Chartrand pitching for the Phantoms and signing with the Bears are courtesy of Jorde Chartrands personal collection.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Softball A-programs get set for season

Junior aged teams flock to Indoor Training Centre

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A Selects batter drives the ball in a batting cage.
For the Saskatoon Minor Softball League’s A-level programs, off-season work is in high gear.

Since January, the A-teams from the junior age groups of the Hustlers, Lasers, Phantoms and Raiders regional Saskatoon city zones have gathered for regular sessions at the Indoor Training Centre on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds along with the city-wide Selects zone program. 

“Right now they are in the process of going through all their (evaluations) for the people that they have registered right now,” said SMSL President Vanessa Kosteroski. “They want to get their A-teams going and get them picked and get that part going.”

The zone programs are doing evaluations for their A-teams in the under-12, under-14, under-16 and under-19 age levels that make up the junior age group. Players heading to these sessions are put through position specific drills and are graded on how well they do.

The majority of the hitting and pitching drills take place in the pitching tunnels and batting cages at the Indoor Training Centre. The infield and outfield drills are held on the large indoor field turf fields.

“Right now as far as the (evaluations) go, our pitchers tryout for a pitcher,” said Kosteroski. “Our catchers tryout for the catchers program.

“The rest of them who are trying out for first base, second base, third base, infield and outfield, that is all part of the (evaluations). They are graded on that.”

A Hustlers player sets to throw the ball during a drill.
Kosteroski said the coaches from the zone programs have assistance when it comes to doing the evaluations. The zone programs bring independent evaluators in and some zones utilized the SkillShark athlete evaluation software program, which helps grade skills and athletic attributes.

“They go through all the performances,” said Kosteroski. “They enter it into the SkillShark program.

“Then, it spits out a number. It is really quite a good program. One or two of our zones don’t use SkillShark, but they have their own independent evaluators, which is fine, and they do that.”

This year Kosteroski said the zone programs have had to do a little more work in scheduling than in past years due to Public Health Orders brought in to combat the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

In past years, sessions could include anywhere from 20 to 30 players. This year zone programs are trying to get evaluations and training done with players split into groups of eight.

On top of that, the softball zones are trying to work the scheduling of training sessions in a way that respects the needs of other sporting communities that use the Indoor Training Centre.

“It is a lot different than normal,” said Kosteroski. “Once our A-program is created and our teams for A are picked, the players know who they are playing for.

A Lasers player fields a ground ball in the infield.
“Their coach then sets up times, and they get to go and practise and put all that to good use after that. They are trying to get as much in as they can before the actual season starts. It is not easy when everybody else needs the facility as well.

“Everybody is just happy to be out playing.”

Kosteroski it has been extremely valuable for the SMSL’s zone programs to use the Indoor Training Centre, which officially opened for public bookings in March of 2019.

Before the Indoor Training Centre opened, zone programs most often did evaluations and training in school gyms. In gyms, it was hard to do outfield work as the ceilings were usually too low.

When her children grew up playing softball, Kosteroski remembers that some of the sessions held in gymnasiums could be adventurous.

“Back in the days when my kids were in gymnasiums, you had balls flying everywhere and hitting kids in the head,” said Kosteroski. “It was chaos.

“Our zones are very appreciative of it (the Indoor Training Centre). We’re kind of spoiled now, because if we had to go back, we would be in trouble.”

Kosteroski said the ability to be able to use the Indoor Training Centre allows the zone programs to get a head start for the upcoming season.

“Our A-program, it helps them out immensely,” said Kosteroski. “We have some B-teams that book it as well and have their teams go in there and practise, because it is team bonding as well.

A Phantoms player fires a ball back into the infield.
“It becomes a very big deal when you can do that. It has been a really good thing that is for sure.”

In the past, teams have been able to hold scrimmages at the Indoor Training Centre. In 2019, the SMSL held its under-12 and under-14 city championships there, when heavy rainy weather made outdoor diamonds unplayable.

“We had our city championships in there two years ago, and it was great,” said Kosteroski. “The kids loved it.

“People created awareness in the community. Parents were aware of it that had never been in it, didn’t know anything about it and kind didn’t even know it existed. For things like that, you can’t go wrong.”

The Hustlers, Lasers, Phantoms and Raiders regional zone programs do run teams in the under-six, under-eight and under-10 age levels that make up the Timbits softball age group. Those teams don’t get going until the middle or the end of April.

The Saskatchewan North Central Softball Academy does run an off-season Timbits Saturdays program at the Indoor Training Centre, which usually runs from November to February, to give those players an extra chance to play the game.

Kosteroski said the Timbits programs focus on instilling a love for the game in players aged 10 and under. The A-level junior age groups do more off-season work as competition becomes a little more serious.

“With Timbits, it is a little bit different,” said Kosteroski. “They just want to go outside and be apart of something.”

A Raiders play sets to field a ball at third base.
Overall, Kosteroski said the SMSL zone programs enjoy the time they get to be in the Indoor Training Centre during the off-season taking part in the game they love.

“My zones are really appreciative,” said Kosteroski. “Our coaches just love it.

“They know it is a safe environment. They enjoy working with the people and the staff there. Everything has been really good.”


For more information about the Saskatoon Minor Softball League, feel free to check out their website