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.”