Excitement filled Ben Sivertz Arena on June 6, as 1,189 athletes poured into the NWT Track and Field Championships opening ceremonies wearing their school colours and hoisting banners.
Thunderous cheers arose from the record-breaking number of athletes, along with coaches and spectators, as the teams entered school by school.
This year, two new teams joined the meet’s roster, with athletes participating from Fort McPherson and Nahanni Butte.
Master of ceremonies Eddie Smith wore his traditional leopard print fur coat as he spoke words of encouragement to this year’s participants.
As a past participant of a vast number of track and field meets, Smith said the one in Hay River is first class.
“This is the best one to be at, trust me,” he said.
Honourable guests at the opening ceremony included NWT Premier Bob McLeod along with several other MLAs including Hay River’s own Jane Groenewegen and Robert Bouchard.
Vowing to keep the ceremony short to hold everyone’s attention, co-organizer Tim Borchuk introduced this year’s torchbearers – four local track and field athletes who hold outstanding records.
Terrence Courtoreille, Brendan Green, J.J. McKinney and Larry Munro made the ceremonial lap around the arena before lighting the torch to deafening cheers.
Green, Hay River’s own Olympic athlete at the Vancouver Games, spoke to the crowd alongside Aklavik’s Sharon Firth, a cross-country skier who competed in four Winter Olympic Games from 1972-1984.
“Ultimately, this was the beginning of my journey to become an elite athlete,” said Green, who competed in biathlon at the Olympics. “I hope over the next few days you are able to achieve your goals, make new friends and, most importantly, have fun.”
The duo then declared the championships officially open. Smith offered some final words of motivation.
“Just because the NWT is small, doesn’t mean we can’t make it,” he said. “We just have to work hard.”
And he used Green’s example as an inspiration for the athletes.
“Imagine if you could beat Brendan Green’s record,” Smith said. “That means you’d be going to the Olympics.”
See Monday’s News/North for event results.