Sunday, August 9, 2020

Aiming for new future heights building on a storied past

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Softball is a mainstay sport at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
The Gordie Howe Sports Complex has been and will continue to be the place where memories are made.

For over 60 years, it has been the heart of Saskatoon’s amateur sports scene. Numerous elite level athletes from many sports have graced the Gordie Sports Complex Grounds including Gord Barwell, Erin Cumpstone, Dan Farthing, Logan Hofmann, Catriona Le May Doan, Samantha Matheson, Devon McCullough, Dione Meier, Steve Molnar, Jacki Nichol, Cliff Shaw and Larry Wruck.

Now under the management of not for profit Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation, the fabled complex aims to build off its glorious past.

“The Gordie Howe Sports Complex is well-known across Canada and around the world,” said Bryan Kosteroski, who is the chair of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Incorporated and Friends of the Bowl Foundation. “We have now raised the bar to now have multiple more sports that will have the opportunities to bring in those national and international sporting events.

Baseball is a staple at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
“We’ve raised the bar. The pressure is on us now to bring in major national and international events to the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.”

The Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation officially took over the management of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex on March 1, 2019.

Before the non-profit came into existence, each sport was responsible for coordinating the activities on the various facilities on the complex’s grounds like Saskatoon Minor Football Field, the baseball and softball diamonds and the Clarence Downey Speed Skating Oval in winter.

The City of Saskatoon suggested it might help if there was a unified group that coordinated everything that went on at the sports park. The complex hosts events and training sessions for baseball, football, lacrosse, Nordic Skiing, rugby, softball, speed skating, track and field and ultimate disk.

Football has a storied past at SMF Field.
The Gordie Howe Sports Complex will accommodate soccer events too when those needs can’t be met by either the SaskTel Sports Centre or the Henk Ruys Soccer Centre.

The idea of having a unified group overseeing the operations at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex was something the sporting groups that used the park was a good idea and decided to run with.

Johnny Marciniuk, who is the operations manager for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation, said their was a 90-day preparation period before the non-profit took on operational responsibilities.

“It has been exciting,” said Marciniuk. “We’ve been operating this for the last year and a half almost, and people are getting the routines down.”

Marciniuk said one of the learning curves involved the learning how work at all the various facilities on the park’s grounds. Before, you had situations where a group of people just worked the grounds of one facility like the softball diamonds.

The Clarence Downey Oval creates great sights.
Now, the maintenance crew at the complex can work the baseball or softball diamonds, prepare the football field or make sure everything is running smooth at the Indoor Training Centre.

“Virtually, all of our employees are athletes or have been involved with various activities either as administration or as a participant,” said Marciniuk. “Now those people whether it is working the track or working the diamonds or working in the Indoor Training Centre, there is lots of cross-training that was necessary to train staff, and we’ve been very fortunate.

“You are only as good as your staff, and we have some excellent people that assist us on a day to day basis.”

Marciniuk said user went through a learning process too, especially when it comes to the Indoor Training Centre. He remembered sports like baseball and softball would overbook for zone tryouts not realizing how much space the Indoor Training Centre had.

Lacrosse groups enjoy the Indoor Training Centre.
“A zone (tryout) may have been in three or four high school gymnasiums,” said Marciniuk. “Now they have one facility.

“We have pitching lanes and batting cages. They started reducing their time a little bit and gave opportunity for other activities to come in.”

Overall, Kosteroski said the driving force behind having a unified not for profit group oversee the operations of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex was that all the users want to see each other succeed.

“The Gordie Sports Complex is a family,” said Kosteroski. “Within our family, we have nine sporting organizations who all are part of the overall complex theme.

“We have representation from all sporting organizations who provide insight into the operations. This is a total team effort with all organizations involved. There is a board of directors that was developed with key people situated on the board with representations from all sports organizations and also First Nations representation and whatever needs we saw that were needed to move the complex forward.

Rugby groups practice at the Indoor Training Centre.
“At the same time, the management team was developed to oversee all the daily operational aspects of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.”

Under the Gordie Howe Sports Complex Management Corporation, it will be easier to coordinate major events held on the complex grounds especially if that event needs to utilize the track and field, baseball, softball or SMF Field all at one time.

Kosteroski said the potential for great things to happen at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex is endless. He said the complex is looking forward to making new partnerships with business in the future and is thankful and looking forward to continued partnerships with businesses and organizations the complex has worked with in the past.

“The Gordie Howe Sports Complex will have a major impact with tourism dollars now and into the future,” said Kosteroski. “That is a key role the complex will play for business in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan.”

McCullough’s day at Bob Van Impe

Saskatoon product powered Canada to golden comeback

Devon McCullough in 2015. (Photo by Louis Christ)
Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Devon McCullough wasn’t walking into an enviable situation, when he entered the championship game of the 2015 International Softball Federation Men’s World Championship tournament.

Playing in front of his hometown fans at Bob Van Impe Stadium, McCullough entered the contest to pitch relief for Canada in the top of the third inning against powerhouse and defending champion New Zealand.

New Zealand had just taken a 4-0 lead with one out and had a runner on second.

Despite the tough circumstances, McCullough remembered the 7,000 in attendance that night hadn’t given up on the Canadian side.

“The crowd was going nuts, and it was loud,” said McCullough, who was the youngest player on Canada’s roster at age 24 at that time. “It was pretty much the biggest moment I’ve been in I figure in my life especially up until then.

“I was definitely a little nervous going in, but I was also excited at the same time.”

McCullough’s first task was to stop New Zealand from potential running away with the game at that point. He got the first batter out he faced on a groundout.

He proceeded to hit the next batter he faced with a pitch. Following that development, the Canadian coaching staff elected to load the bases by intentionally walking the next batter.

After loading the bases, McCullough walked the next batter he faced allowing New Zealand to go up 5-0.

He proceeded to stop the New Zealand rally at that point with a strike out to end the top half of the inning. McCullough said getting that strikeout to strand three runners on base proved to be key to help his side start to get some traction.

Devon McCullough (#24) fires a pitch. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
“That was a big game changer,” said McCullough. “If I give up a hit there or something, they could have scored three runs right off of that.

“The game could have been done right there.”

Canada’s offence proceeded to come to life after that. The Canadians scored four runs in the bottom of the third to cut New Zealand’s lead to 5-4 changing the complexion of the contest.

McCullough pitched a scoreless top of the fourth, and in the bottom of the fourth, Canada scored four more runs to go ahead 8-5. The younger chucker said the excitement rose for the host country as momentum had totally changed sides.

“The whole atmosphere in the dugout had changed,” said McCullough. “Everyone was standing up and loud.

“I think we pretty much knew by that point that we weren’t going to be stopped that day. We were just on a roll.”

Canada scored two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to cement a 10-5 victory.

McCullough pitched the rest of the contest to pick up the win striking out eight batters while scattering one hit and five walks over four-and-two-thirds innings. Throughout the game, he heard chants of “Devo” coming from the crowd.

Devon McCullough was the hero. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
He put down the last two batters he faced in the top of the seventh with swinging strike outs. After he recorded the final out, McCullough couldn’t believe the energy rush.

“It was like a shock almost,” said McCullough. “It was like, ‘Holy (explanative) we just won.’

“It was pretty much just yard sale everything.”

Since age 13, McCullough played numerous games at Bob Van Impe Stadium leading up to that world championship win. He has continued to play many more games at his hometown park and remains a member of the national team at age 29.

He has played at two world tournaments win Canada since earning bronze medals each time out.

While McCullough would love to help Canada win another world championship, he doesn’t expect anything will surpass winning it all representing his country in his hometown. When you add in the fact he was winning pitcher that helped turn around a dire situation, it becomes a fairy-tale script.

“It was awesome,” said McCullough. “I’ve told everyone that it doesn’t matter whether I go out and play and win anything else in ball, but nothing will ever top that.

“That is the number one thing that you probably would ever want as any ball player would want.”

An artistic picture of Devon McCullough. (Photo by Jordan Silbernagel)
McCullough believes he has watched the video of that championship game about 100 times since it happened. He said people in Saskatoon come up and talk to him all time about that world title win, especially if he is at one of the diamonds at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex at a weekend tournament.

“I see them in the beer tent just stopping for a beer,” said McCullough. “You are just talking about it like all the time.

“It is pretty special that is for sure. No one can ever take that one away from you winning the world championship at home. It is pretty awesome to think about.

“That was a pretty awesome day.”