Close to 1,200 athletes and their entourages descended on Hay River last week for the biggest track and field meet in the country.
“It’s amazing that a place like Hay River can pull it off,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy. “People have given so much time and effort to this event over the years, it’s just great to see it’s such a success.”
While every hotel room in town was booked and visiting students were even accommodated in schools, Cassidy said the economic impact of the NWT Track and Field Championships, while certainly appreciated, was not the goal.
“The intent was to host an awesome event,” he said. “I knew that it was the biggest in the territory, but I hadn’t realized it’s the biggest in Canada. That’s pretty impressive.”
Hay River schools were not only some of the most well represented, they led the pack to top spots on the podium, as well. Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS) came in first for both points awarded to school-aged athletes and most points overall, while Ecole Boreale placed second in the latter category. Princess Alexandra School came in seventh place with Harry Camsell School and Chief Sunrise Education Centre placing 13th and 24th overall, respectively.
But the accolades for Hay River’s young athletes were not limited to their results on the track. DJSS student Skylar Horton was picked to light the flame at the opening ceremonies with none other than former Olympic skier and northern legend Sharon Firth.
Cassidy credits organized sports in the North with many opportunities for young people to travel, but also noted that this meet in particular is a great chance to stay in touch with people from across the territory.
“It’s not just the athletes who come,” he said. “It’s parents and coaches, too. You’re guaranteed to see friends who have relocated at least once a year.”
Beyond bringing in masses of visitors to Hay River – indeed for three days the town’s population increased by nearly a third – the annual championship is also a time when community members come out in full force. Over 400 residents volunteered over the course of the three-day meet.
“And that’s not even counting the ones who have been planning and organizing this all year,” said Cassidy on June 7. “People will start planning the 2014 meet as of Monday.”
NWT Track head coach Joe LeBlanc was equally impressed with the organizers and volunteers, but he said that’s been the case every year.
“You just can’t say enough about the organization,” he noted. “Every year is a ‘build-on’ year for the next. Even before it finished, the steering committee had someone going around and asking people for suggestions on how they could do it better next year.”
LeBlanc was particularly pleased to see the skill and sportsmanship levels of the athletes rise along with the efforts of the steering committee, noting the two parts of the equation are important to the success of a meet.
“The organizers have been doing great things for years,” he said. “And now I’m seeing the athletes coming up to that level.”
— Sarah Ladik