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.