Thursday, September 9, 2021

ZONE homecoming happy one for Jahnke

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Dan Jahnke started at ZONE Sports Physiotherapy in March.
Dan Jahnke likes homecomings so much he did it twice.

Back in 2018, Jahnke finished up a four-year career playing baseball for the Newman University Jets, which is an NCAA Division II program in the United States in Wichita, Kansas. He completed his bachelor of science in biology at Newman University and moved back to Saskatoon to pursue his master of physical therapy at the University of Saskatchewan.

In December of 2020, Jahnke completed his master of physical therapy degree. At the start of this year, he began working as a physiotherapist in Cold Lake, Alta.

Jahnke saw a job posting for ZONE Sports Physiotherapy back home in Saskatoon. He applied for it, and at the end of this past March, he was back home working at the ZONE location inside the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

“It was really nice to be able to come back,” said Jahnke. “This is where lots of my family is.

“I have lots of friends here obviously growing up here. It is home. It is just where I like being.”

The 25-year-old is a recognizable face not just in Saskatoon’s baseball community but in the city’s much larger sports community.

Jahnke played hockey along with baseball growing up. As a goalie in hockey, Jahnke suited up for the Saskatoon Blazers under-18 AAA for two seasons from 2010 to 2012 before joining the now defunct Beardy’s Blackhawks under-18 AAA squad for the 2012-13 campaign.

In his Grade 12 year in high school, Jahnke became a member of the Aden Bowman Collegiate Bears football team. On top of enjoying rounds of golf, Jahnke said his senior year in high school was the time he tried to soak in playing as many sports as he could.

“I just liked doing anything where I could move around and hit things and throw things – just have fun playing around and competing,” said Jahnke, who stands 6-feet and weighs 190 pounds. “It got me involved in a lot of different sports growing up.

Dan Jahnke playing for Newman University. (Photo Courtesy Dan Jahnke)
“Throughout high school, I was playing hockey and baseball mostly with the (under-18) AAA level there. I decided hockey wasn’t in my future competitively at least. I had a Grade 12 year after that.

“I figured I would try out everything I missed out on for the rest of high school. In that high school year, I did football, badminton, wrestling and track and field. I was just trying to do everything I could.”

During his high school years, Jahnke played for the Saskatoon Diamondback under-18 AAA baseball team. He credited his Diamondbacks coach, Matt Kosteniuk, as being a big influence on helping him enjoy baseball to the point he wanted to play it at the post-secondary level.

“I had really good experiences in baseball,” said Jahnke. “I had always been part of good teams growing up.

“We were good on the field and good off the field. In (under-18 AAA), I was lucky enough to have Matt Kosteniuk as my coach. He is a great guy. I still really enjoy hockey, but the competitive hockey I just decided wasn’t for me in the future.

“I wanted to keep playing something, and I loved baseball. I had a lot of fun with it. I figured it was a good way to keep competing and keep pushing myself while getting an education.”

At Newman University from 2014 to 2018, Jahnke played numerous positions with the Jets. He mainly played at first base and third base, spent a season in the outfield and was a backup catcher at one point in time.

Jahnke had such a good experience at Newman University that it did feel tough leaving the people he knew in Wichita to come home.

“Kansas is so similar to here in a lot of ways,” said Jahnke. “It is definitely different in some ways too.

“It is very similar in quite a few. I made a lot of good friends down there, so that kind of sucked leaving the friends behind. Coming back, I just got thrown right into the fire with physio school.

Dan Jahnke’s Jets promo picture.
“When you’re busy, it kind of helps you transition back into things. It forces you to get back in pretty quick.”

Once he returned to Saskatoon, Jahnke found it was a smooth transition to resume life where he grew up.

“I guess it was relatively easy,” said Jahnke. “I had been back every summer.

“I still knew everybody around here. I didn’t have any real issues.”

Jahnke said one of the obvious perks to becoming a physiotherapist is it allows you to stay involved in sports. That was just part of the reason he became a physiotherapist.

He had a larger interest in helping people function better physically.

“I obviously love sports,” said Jahnke. “I’ve played a lot of sport in my life.

“I’ve always been really interested in how people perform better and what makes people perform better from a physical perspective. That led me kind of into the biomechanics of things. Physio just seemed to fit that really well like combining biomechanics.

“You have the sport aspect of it. I thought if I was lucky enough to get to that area it would be great and here we are. It just kind of ticked all the boxes.”

Jahnke has enjoyed working alongside Mitch Dahl and Brad Spokes at the ZONE clinic at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex. Jahnke had been one of Dahl’s clients for years when it came to rehabbing from various sports injuries.

“Mitch (Dahl) and Brad (Spokes) are both awesome,” said Jahnke. “I have a lot to learn from both of them.

“It is interesting. I think back even two years ago I was coming into this clinic for physio to see Mitch as a client. It is kind of cool to be able to hang out and say ‘hi’ to somebody that helped you through that much when you were growing up and helped you keep playing and do what you want to do.

“I feel like I am getting to learn from one of the best crews around.”

This year, Jahnke began helping the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League as a trainer. He would like to be involved with more teams in the future and wants to learn and grow as a physiotherapist at ZONE.

Dan Jahnke enjoys being at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.
When he sees clients, Jahnke believes the fact that he took part in numerous sports growing up aids in his career now.

“I think it helps,” said Jahnke. “It is nice to know when somebody comes in that I can say I was doing something in this sport.

“It is nice to know what they mean. It is good for talking points. It is easy to make conversation with people, especially with a few of the people from (The Going Yard Training Centre) that we might say high too and people over at Ignite (Athletics).

“We are all into sports and performance and just general fitness. It is kind of what we are doing here. The variety of sport definitely adds to that for sure.”

Hilltops make long-awaited return to SMF Field

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Hilltops celebrate a CJFL title win in 2018.
The last time the Saskatoon Hilltops graced the turf at Saskatoon Minor Football Field they were making yet another memorable moment.

On October 27, 2019, the storied Canadian Junior Football League club downed the visiting Edmonton Huskies 30-14 to capture the Prairie Football Conference championship. The Hilltops proceeded to march onward from there to captured their 22nd CJFL title in team history.

That encounter with the Huskies marks the last time the Hilltops played a game at SMF Field as the 2020 CJFL season was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world.

The Hilltops make their long-awaited return to SMF Field on Saturday, September 11, taking on their provincial rivals the Regina Thunder at 7 p.m. The will be a battle of teams that both sport 2-0 records so far in the CJFL regular season.

Legendary Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant said his team is pumped to be back in action.

“It is just awesome to be back here,” said Sargeant. “It is awesome to be around my coaches and my players.

“It is such a good vibe and such a good feel. We have a lot of rust. We have lots of things we have to get better at.

“There is lots in front of us. We have the right kids here. We’re ready to develop this team and take it to great places.”

The Hilltops have played most to almost all of their home games at SMF Field since 1960, when the stadium was originally called the Holiday Park Bowl. 

The Hilltops raise the Canadian Bowl in 2015.
They have won 19 of their 22 CJFL championships since they started playing their home games at SMF Field.

The Hilltops have won the last six straight CJFL titles before the circuit went on hiatus in 2020. During that run of six straight titles, two of those championship wins came on the grounds of SMF Field.

In 2015, the Hilltops hosted the CJFL title game – the Canadian Bowl - downing the Kelowna, B.C., based Okanagan Sun 38-24. That contest was played on the new field turf that was install prior to the start of the 2014 season, and both clubs were able to use the dressing rooms at the nearly completed Gordie Howe Sports Centre building.

In 2018, the Hilltops won the Canadian Bowl again dumping the Langley Rams 58-21 at SMF Field to complete a perfect 11-0 campaign. This marked the first CJFL title game played at SMF Field where all the renovations and improvements at the facility had been completed.

In 2020, the Hilltops gathered for practice for six weeks in September and October at Ron Atchison Field.

When the 2021 CJFL season was given the green light to go, the Hilltops couldn’t wait to get back into game action.

“It feels great,” said fifth-year left tackle Mason Ochs, who is a three-time CJFL all-Canadian all-star. “It has been too long.

“It almost kind of felt like it was never coming back after you lose 2020. I didn’t even know if that was my last game in 2019 there. It couldn’t be better to be back.”

The Hilltops enter their home opener with linebacker Emmarae Dale on their roster.

Jared Giddings makes an interception for the Hilltops in 2018.
Dale has been a familiar face for a long time on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds. Before joining the Hilltops, Dale starred for the Saskatoon Valkyries, who are a powerhouse club in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, from 2016 to 2019.

She helped the Valkyries win two WWCFL titles in 2016 and 2019.

Dale also works at the front desk and is a strength and conditioning coach at Ignite Athletics.

The former member of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s track and field team was added to the Hilltops roster last year.

On August 22, she became the first female player to play in a CJFL regular season game as the Hilltops downed the Edmonton Huskies 18-17 at Jasper Place Bowl in Edmonton, Alta. Dale had a special teams tackle in the win.

“It was pretty surreal,” said Dale. “I think it was just such a long time coming that it is kind of weird to think that it has already come and gone.

“It was the first game back since COVID. I think everyone is still just kind of getting the rust off after such a long wait, but it was awesome being there. I think even when I was just first putting on the shoulder pads and the Hilltops jersey it definitely kind of hit me that it was going to be a big game and very meaningful game.

“It was really awesome. It was definitely exciting and humbling. It was just a lot of emotions just kind of wrapped into one I think.”

After going through 2020 without a regular season, Hilltops fifth-year defensive back Jared Giddings said there is a renewed appreciation for the chance to take part in practices and game. Giddings said there were times where he wasn’t sure if he would get to play his fifth and final season with the team.

Along with Ochs and right tackle Jonathan Chisholm, Giddings is one of three players who are playing a fifth full season with the Hilltops in 2021. Giddings has always appreciated being part of the storied Hilltops, but he admits his spark for playing a season has been renewed.

A sign at SMF Field lists the Hilltops CJFL title wins
“Football is a grind, and sometimes coming to practice isn’t easy,” said Giddings. “Honestly, it is all just a little bit easier now.

“When we were off, you don’t know what is happening. You don’t know what is going to happen next. Every day, it is like it is a blessing.

“I don’t mind coming to practice and getting bruised up a bit and hitting some guys. It is a lot of fun. I think it brought the fun back into football for me personally.”


For more information about the Saskatoon Hilltops, feel free to check out their website at www.saskatoonhilltops.com.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Happiness and glee fills air at sport camps

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

Two youngsters take part in a Spark Park ultimate Frisbee game.
Kids are being allowed to be kids again during the summer months at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

In July and currently in August, children and young athletes have had lots of chances to become active on the Complex grounds. They’ve had the option of taking part in weekly Spark Park Summer Sport Camps run by Ignite Athletics in partnership with the Complex and weekly track and field camps overseen by the Running Wild Athletics Club.

With activities in the 2020-21 school year hampered by restrictions and Public Health Orders that were brought in to battle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Jason Price, who is one of two coordinators for the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps, said it has been huge to get kids active again.

“There was that serious lack of sports going on throughout the year,” said Price. “Just getting them back into the groove of moving, running and playing catch – all the kind of your basic physical literacy is pretty important for these kids.”

Taylor McGregor, who is the other coordinator for the Spark Park Summer Sports Camps, said the kids have been excited and happy to do things they would usually do.

“I think it also provided a little bit of normal for the kids after the school year that they had just with the masks and everything,” said McGregor. “I think it was a lot on them, so this has kind of provided them an opportunity to have fun and feel a little bit of normal in their lives again.”

Gisele George, who is the Running Wild Athletics Track Camp coordinator, said the children and young athletes that have attended their camps have had a little extra jump in their step being back at the Track and Field Track.

“I think after a whole year of not being anywhere I think it was an awesome experience to get out and to be at the track again,” said George.

The Spark Park camps took place for the first time ever last year and have been even more popular this year. The participants are divided into groups for those aged five to eight and those aged nine to 12.

A young athlete throws a javelin at a Running Wild track camp.
The camp coaches introduce the youngsters to various sports and games throughout the week.

“We kind of start a little bit more structured,” said McGregor. “Our weeks will start with we have two football sessions, two baseball, two Frisbee, two soccer, track and field and Spark Park.

“They kind of have two sessions of that to start off the week, so they get an opportunity to try everything. As the week progresses, they will kind of choose what they like and the groups kind of go with that.”

Price said the most popular sports for the participants seems to change on a week to week basis. For some of the groups aged five to eight, he said it has been popular to play games like tag or just run through obstacle courses in the Spark Park room at the Indoor Training Centre.

“Some weeks, we have a group where most of them will bring their baseball gloves and their baseball bats,” said Price. “You know baseball is going to be a big thing that week.

“Some groups get really into Frisbee, because just the throwing and catching aspect of it is fun for them. Ultimate Frisbee is a pretty easy game to get going. They are definitely very engaged in that one.

“The kids seem to be enjoying pretty much all the sports that we throw their way. After they kind of get the fundamentals down, we have it set up so that coaches can have the kids decide what they want to do.”

The Running Wild Athletics Club Track Camps are used to both introduce young athletes to track and field and as a training opportunity for current members of the club.

Last year, Running Wild ran their summer camps on the dirt track at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School. This year, a little extra excitement was added due to the fact the Running Wild camps have been held at the new Track and Field Track facility that opened on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds in 2019.

Two youngsters run an obstacle course in the Spark Park room.
In July, the Running Wild camp hosted a sizable contingent that came from the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, which is located about 100 kilometres north of Prince Albert and an interest showed through.

“They really enjoyed the throwing events,” said George. “We did some javelin and shot put.

“The hands on of those I think was quite good. They really enjoyed those events.”

During a weekly session, coaches at the Running Wild camp spent time teaching and developing the youngsters the various events that make up track and field. 

Those sessions built up to a simulated competition at the end of the week.

“We rounded the week off doing our mini-Olympics, which kind of showcased what the kids kind of like the most or attached on to,” said George. “That was kind of cool.

“We saw some kids throwing javelin farther than we ever expected, so that was pretty awesome to see.”

Following those mini-Olympics, the week concluded with the youngsters getting a chance to go through a short obstacle course. The course was run with lots of laughs and glee.

“It is just something fun that had a little bit of everything,” said George. “It had a little bit of running and jumping and some agilities.

“That is just something that we throw in there, because not everybody is good at everything, but everybody is good at something.”

George said a few other fun variables were also added to the Running Wild camp to help make it memorable for the participants.

Two youngsters race at the Running Wild track camp.
“We had the tie-dyed T-shirts happening, so it wasn’t just all about track,” said George. “They were able to take those home.

“Overall, I think the kids had a great experience and all the coaches did. I know I did. Hopefully, we see them at the track again for sure.”

George has enjoyed seeing the youngster that take part in the Running Wild camps head home with big smiles on their faces.

McGregor has seen a similar site at the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps along with positive feedback from parents.

“I think that is honestly the biggest piece of feedback that we’ve gotten is that they’re tired and they are having fun and they will come back and next time they will bring their friends with them,” said McGregor. “I think that reassures us that we’re doing something right and providing them with kind of a unique opportunity to participate in a bunch of different things and have fun while doing that.”

Complex happenings in photos that feel so good

By Gordie Howe Sports Complex staff
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

The Selects soak in a provincial championship win.
Since the start of July, the Gordie Howe Sports Complex has lived out the cliché, “You don’t know what you are missing until it is gone and it comes back again.”

As Public Health Orders and restrictions were lifted regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world, action at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex shifted back into a familiar busy gear during the summer.

With events taking place like Softball Canada identification camps, Saskatoon Valkyries football games, Softball Saskatchewan provincials and televised under-18 AAA baseball games for the first time since the summer of 2019, it felt like you cherished these happenings a little more.

Our photo round up includes a number of pictures of the plays and memories that were made.

Most of these photos like the lead picture of this post were taken by our Communications Coordinator in Darren Steinke. The lead photo shows the Saskatoon Selects Black Sox posing for the customary celebratory team photo after winning Softball Saskatchewan’s Under-19 Open men’s title on July 25 at Joe Gallagher Field.

Without further ado, here is a selection of 11 pictures since the start of July. We hope you enjoy.

Up, up and away

A youngster takes flight in the long jump during a Running Wild Athletics Club summer track camp at our Track and Field Track on July 16. The young athletes sure enjoyed the track complex, which opened in 2019.

Opening up the alley

Saskatoon Valkyries left tackle Betsy Mawdsley shoves a Regina Riot defensive end out of the way to open up a running lane for the team’s running backs in a WWCFL exhibition game on July 16. The Valkyries ultimately piled up 296 yards rushing as a team in a winning effort on this night at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

Looking to impress

An infielder prospect aims to impress the brass at Softball Canada turning a double play in this drill. The player was taking part in a one-day combine identification camp for the under-23 men’s national team on July 10.

Running to daylight

A running back for a Saskatoon Minor Football all-star team charges to an open lane on the outside against a Regina Minor Football all-star team in the varsity match of the Prairie Bowl Series on July 17 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. All-star teams from both minor sports bodies competed against each other in under-16 and varsity matches.

Lined up for sweet ice cream treat

On a hot Saturday night on July 17, ice cream was an in demand commodity at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex and “The Mean Green Ice Cream Machine” was there to answer the call. Our Operations Manager Johnny Marciniuk checked in with this sweet picture.

In the park round tripper

Saskatoon Hustlers hitter Caili Rheaume is all smiles after beating the throw to home to complete an in the park home run in a contest held during the Softball Saskatchewan provincials on July 24.

Bringing the heat on TV

Saskatoon Cubs pitcher Parker Frey brings the heat against the Saskatoon Diamondbacks in a Saskatchewan Premier Baseball League game on July 28. The TV cameras were out the Cubs victory at Cairns Field was broadcast on SaskTel’s community channel.

Piling up yards after the catch

Saskatoon Valkyries receiver Haley Girolami darts upfield after making a catch against the Regina Riot in a WWCFL exhibition game on July 25 at Saskatoon Minor Football Field. Girolami caught eight passes for 100 yards and scored a touchdown in a Valkyries victory.

Golden family time

It was family picture time for a gold medal winning Saskatoon Hustlers play on July 25 at Bob Van Impe Stadium. The Hustlers had just downed the Saskatoon Raiders in the under-16 girls’ championship game at the Softball Saskatchewan provincials.

A swinging good time

A youngster goes swinging on rings, ropes and bars that hang from the ceiling of the Spark Park room at the Indoor Training Centre on July 30. The youngster was taking part in the Spark Park Summer Sport Camps.

That one is out of here

Saskatoon Co-op G-Force hitter Brielle McCullough goes yard with this home run shot in a Saskatoon Amateur Softball Association league game on August 4 at Glenn Reeve Field #3.

Grand Slam Softball Championship is coming

The Gordie Howe Sports Complex is hosting the Grand Slam Softball Championship September 2 to 5. Feel free to mark it on you calendar and stop in and check it out.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Saskatoon Minor Football rides momentum of national award

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A running back takes off in a high school academy game in fall of 2020.
For crew at Saskatoon Minor Football, the focus was to keep players playing with no thoughts on getting any awards.

When a big award came from Football Canada, it was a pleasant surprise.

This past April, Saskatoon Minor Football was named the winner of Football Canada’s Organization of the Year Award for 2020. The award was given largely due to the fact Saskatoon Minor Football was able to bring back game action with the world stuck in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Most minor football organizations in Canada weren’t able to take the field in 2020.

The administrators and officials with Saskatoon Minor Football put in countless hours of work formulating return to play plans and ultimately were able to get back on the field.

Brian Guebert, who is the executive director for Saskatoon Minor Football, said the biggest reward was seeing players excited over being able to play the game once again.

“We knew it was worth it from the get go,” said Guebert. “Providing opportunities for our kids to do what they love is our number one priority.

“To give a safe environment in which to do that whether that is COVID safety or player safety, that is priority number one for us and the reason why we are a successful organization and have such a loyal following in the city.”

While a huge national accolade wasn’t expected, Guebert said it was still special for Saskatoon Minor Football to earn recognition as Football Canada’s Organization of the Year Award.

“That is super exciting,” said Guebert. “There are so many great organizations across the country.

The Kinsmen Football League was in action in the fall of 2020.
“To be recognized by our national sports organization as one of the best, that just speaks tonnes to our members, our players, our coaches, and all the organizers involved. We’re super proud of that award.”

Guebert said it was extremely challenging to get back on the field in 2020 dealing with all the Public Health Orders and protocols that were brought in to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with those huge obstacles, he added it was amazing to see everyone involved with Saskatoon Minor Football rally to make a season a reality.

“It was a hero’s effort to try and make everything happen,” said Guebert. “Our coordinators, our board and our coaches, everybody just came together.

“Our managers, our people in charge of COVID protocols. Everybody just stepped up and played a huge role to make sure that could make football happen this past year.”

With high school football getting cancelled in 2020, Saskatoon Minor Football ensured high school aged athletes were able to get on the field creating a six-team academy league in the fall of 2020. The caliber of play in the league was top notch.

“It was awesome like really exciting to see those kids playing,” said Guebert. “All the games were so competitive.

“The talent is really remarkable in Saskatoon and what our coaches can do when you put together kind of even like drafted all-star teams like that. It is a lot of fun. Not enough can be said about the quality of amateur football in our city.”

The Kinsmen Football League also resumed play in the fall of 2020 thanks to the work of Saskatoon Minor Football. Players who were in Grades 6 to 9 took part in six-man tackle contests.

“It was great to see the Kinsmen kids playing too,” said Guebert. “There is just so much credit to our coaches for making it possible to happen.

The Rush spring high school football female flag league is popular.
“There was no junior football last year, and there was no high school football last year. Being able to offer something to our players was so rewarding.”

Saskatoon Minor Football road the momentum it established in 2020 to run a number of successful programs this past May and June. The programs included Tykes on Spikes, which introduces players aged three to six to the game, flag football and six-a-side tackle football for various age groups and the Rush spring high school football female flag league.

On top of those programs, Saskatoon Minor Football ran another series of academy games for high school aged players. Players who took part in the academy games were evaluated for the Saskatoon Minor Football all-star teams that will take part in the Prairie Bowl Series against Regina Minor Football.

In the Prairie Bowl Series, the under-16 and varsity high school all-star teams from Saskatoon Minor Football and Regina Minor Football will take part in respective two-game total-points series. The Prairie Bowl Series starts tonight in Regina.

It wraps up in Saskatoon at Saskatoon Minor Football Field on Saturday, July 17. The under-16 game is set for 6 p.m. and the varsity contest follows at 8:30 p.m.

“It is another opportunity just to showcase the talent we have in our city and to involve ourselves in great competition with another amazing organization down with RMF,” said Guebert. “The job (RMF executive director) Len Antonini and his crew did down in Regina is just outstanding as well.

“Any time we have a chance to partner with RMF and do a Prairie Bowl Series like this we jump at the opportunity, and we are really looking forward to these games.”

At all levels of football, Saskatoon and Regina have a sound rivalry. For the players that are involved with the Prairie Bowl Series, Guebert said the rival just adds an extra bonus, and he hopes the players can turn the heads of a few post-secondary coaches.

“Any opportunity these kids have to play more football, they jump at it,” said Guebert. “I think it is great.”

A runner tries to escape in a six-a-side spring tackle game.
Looking forward to the fall, Guebert said there is optimism the season will look a lot more normal than it did in 2020.

Before looking ahead, Guebert added he was really satisfied with how well things went in the spring for Saskatoon Minor Football.

“It has been an awesome spring,” said Guebert. “Even though it was a little condensed and a little in question there at the start, we were so happy we able to get out on the field and make things happen.”

 

For more information on Saskatoon Minor Football, feel free to check out their website saskatoonminorfootball.com.

Valkyries return to action, renew rivalry with Riot

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A receiver sets to catch a pass at a Valkyries practice.
The Western Women’s Canadian Football League rivalry between the Saskatoon Valkyries and the Regina Riot has created some unique memories for quarterback Alex Eyolfson.

One of those memories came during her sophomore campaign with the Valkyries in their last regular season visit to fabled Taylor Field in Regina on May 21, 2017. That contest marked the first time Eyolfson guided the Valkyries on a two-minute drill drive in the fourth quarter to win a game.

With seven seconds remaining in the contest, Eyolfson hit veteran receiver Kelsey Murphy with an eight-yard touchdown pass to win the clash 20-17.

“I think that was probably my favourite memory,” said Eyolfson regarding the encounters between the two provincial rivals.

After the 2020 season was cancelled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Valkyries are returning to game action in 2021 with three clashes against the Riot.

The two sides go at it on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Leibel Field in Regina. The Valkyries will host the Riot on Friday, July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Saskatoon Minor Football Field.

The two clubs will meet for a final time on Sunday, July 25 at a place and time to be announced depending on the total score of the first two contests. Pandemic restrictions that were in effect and are still in effect in different locations have prevented the Valkyries and Riot from playing the WWCFL clubs located in Alberta and Manitoba.

Still, Eyolfson is pumped her Valkyries will renew their storied rivalry with the Riot.

“It would be nice to play everyone, but Regina is our best competition,” said Eyolfson, who is a graduate of Saskatoon’s Holy Cross High School. “I think they are the most challenging games.

“It will be like a good game, so it is exciting. I’m just glad that we get to play a few games.”

While the WWCFL hit the field a relatively short time ago in 2011, the Valkyries and Riot have created a storied and respectful rivalry. 

Alex Eyolfson throws a pass at a Valkyries practice.
They have played each other at least three times a season thanks to having met in each of the WWCFL’s nine post-seasons with the winner of those clashes moving on to capture the league title.

The Valkyries have won six WWCFL titles coming in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019. The Riot captured league crowns in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Eyolfson made her first major imprint in those head-to-head clashes as an 18-year-old rookie in 2016. In the WWCFL Prairie Conference title game played that season at SMF Field, Eyolfson completed 10-of-18 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Valkyries to a 29-14 victory.

On top of the moment where she connected with Murphy for a winning touchdown pass in that road regular season win in 2017, Eyolfson said another big memory was the Valkyries 25-3 WWCFL title game win over the Riot in 2019 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.

The Valkyries were playing to honour the memory of their late defensive position coach Justin Filteau, who died in a plane crash on June 1, 2019. After learning about Filteau’s passing, the Valkyries dedicated their 2019 season to their late coach.

Valkyries head coach Pat Barry said that win was his best memory of head-to-head games with the Riot. He was really proud of what the Valkyries accomplished in 2019 while dealing with Filteau’s passing.

“It was such an emotional season,” said Barry. “The perseverance of our team that year was pretty special not just for this team but truly for sport in Saskatchewan.

“It was one of the more amazing moments that I have seen.”

Saskatoon posted a perfect 9-0 record in that campaign closing with a 39-12 exhibition victory over the Montreal Blitz on July 6, 2019 at SMF Field. At the moment, that stands as the last game the Valkyries have played.

Eyolfson is looking forward to playing a live game for the first time in just over two years, when the Valkyries travel to Regina to face the Riot on Saturday.

A Valkyries receiver head up field after making a catch.
“It will be exciting,” said Eyolfson. “We are all going to get riled up, and it will be fun to play them.”

Eyolfson believes the Valkyries returning players and the newcomers are coming together well. She also believes she has grown as a team leader since first joining the Valkyries in 2016.

“It is exciting to get the girls out and see some new faces,” said Eyolfson. “We are all learning.

“It is exciting. They are learning and they are having fun, so it is good. I feel more confident, and I just feel like I know we are all a unit, and I feel more comfortable.

“I try and lead by example. I’m not the loudest one out there, but I try and put a lot of effort in. It feels good to have five years under the belt.”

Barry is happy the Valkyries are getting back on the field even with just an abbreviated season. He said a lot of behind the scenes effort has made these contests happen.

“It is an immense amount of work,” said Barry. “I give a lot of credit to our board and our volunteers and all of our coaches and these players in making this commitment in a really challenging time (and) the same thing with Regina for wanting to do this.

“For the overall viability and health of the WWCFL, we feel it is really important.”

Barry said the Valkyries still aim to grow the women’s game. Many of the team’s players coach in Saskatoon’s minor football system.

In the north end zone of SMF Field, the Valkyries share a sign with the Canadian Junior Football League’s historic and storied Saskatoon Hilltops. The sign notes the Valkyries have won six WWCFL titles and the Hilltops, who played their first season in their current form in 1947, have captured 22 CJFL championships.

Barry said his Valkyries have always tried to be like their CJFL cousins on the women’s side of the game.

The north end zone sign marks the Valkyries and Hilltops title wins.
“They (the Hilltops) sort of set the bar for amateur football in our province,” said Barry. “They do a lot of things the right way.

“We try to emulate that. That is very difficult to do, but we want to provide opportunities for women to be involved in football. It is the greatest team sport in the world.

“We just want them to have the same opportunities.”

 

For more information on the Saskatoon Valkyries, feel free to check out their website saskatoonvalkyries.com.

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 focused 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 zoned in 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.