Volunteers ready for NWT Track and Field action

Jared Monkman/NNSL photo Daniel Derosa, left, Joel Demark, and Bryn Hill walk out with the DJSS team at the opening ceremonies.

Jared Monkman/NNSL photo
Daniel Derosa, left, Joel Demark, and Bryn Hill walk out with the DJSS team at the opening ceremonies.

Once again this year, things worked pretty much like clockwork as the community prepared for the NWT Track and Field Championships.

That sort of thing happens after 26 years straight hosting the event, and 400 people volunteering to help out.

“There’s just never a doubt,” said Jill Taylor, the co-ordinator for volunteers with the organizing committee. “You think each year that maybe it’s going to be a struggle and each year we have those that return year after year and we always welcome new blood. So it just seems to work.”

As of last week, the 400 volunteers had all been found for the event, which starts on June 1 and runs to June 3.

“I always can take more. We don’t turn people away,” said Taylor, remarking that people might get sick or have to deal with family emergencies. “So I always keep a few in my back pocket.”

Taylor said the number of volunteers has been pretty steady over the years but she couldn’t comment on the full 26 years because she has been involved for “only” 10 years.

She said some volunteers have helped out for all 26 years.

“So lots come,” she said. “They join the team. They love it out there with the kids, and they just keep coming back.”

One of the volunteers who has been involved for all 26 years is Santiago Lau-a.

“I enjoy helping out and seeing the kids have fun,” said Lau-a, who is now retired but worked for 25 years as a janitor at Diamond Jenness Secondary School and later at Princess Alexandra School.

And he will be volunteering again this year to help run the long jump competition.

Taylor said the organizing committee is a well-oiled machine.

“The steering committee itself is so strong we just need one meeting,” she said. “And then everyone just knows their job, and everyone does their job and the event comes off.”

That meeting takes place at the beginning of February.

The volunteers help out in numerous ways – on the field, in the pits and in the kitchen helping to feed more than 800 athletes who come to Hay River.

Volunteers also take care of the opening ceremonies, the awards and statistics.

This year, 1,040 athletes have registered for the championships, which is just slightly fewer than the 1,050 who participated last year.

Along with Hay River, this year the athletes are from Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, Nahanni Butte, Behchoko, Wrigley, Fort McPherson, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution, Inuvik, Fort Liard, Fort Smith, Kakisa, Ndilo, Lutsel K’e, Norman Wells and Aklavik.

“We got teams coming from as far as Inuvik all the way to the north, all the way from Liard to Lutsel K’e and all the way to Fort Smith,” said Tim Borchuk, one of two co-ordinators for the championships. “So it’s quite a span. We’ve got quite a few teams coming.”

The vast majority of the teams represent schools all over the NWT. The Midnight Sun Track Club of Yellowknife has also sent competitors.

The championships will feature competitions – in various age categories from young schoolchildren to masters – in the triple jump, long jump, high jump, standing long jump, ball throw, javelin, shot put, discus and a wide array of running races at various distances.

“It is a big event,” said Borchuk.

No new sports have been added this year, he said. “Maybe next year. We’re thinking about maybe doing a road race. It’s in the initial conversation stage.”

That road race might be a mini-marathon, he said.

Borchuk said a lot of good people help out by volunteering and sitting on the steering committee.

“I think it’s something that Hay River does really well,” he said. “If you look at Hay River, we’re probably one of the top communities in the Northwest Territories for hosting events. It all comes from us doing the track and field.”

Aside from individual volunteers, he said many groups and organizations are also involved, especially the Hay River District Education Authority and the schools, the Town of Hay River and churches, which help out by providing places for participants to stay.

“Everybody has a little part to play,” he said. “There’s so many businesses out there that assist in sponsoring us and doing things for us.”

It’s a community event, he said. “We’ve been doing it for a while now and it runs like a clock.”

Borchuk offered a “huge thank-you” to everyone helping to stage the championships.

The NWT Track and Field Championships started in Fort Smith and rotated between that community and Hay River for a number of years before becoming an annual event in Hay River.

–Paul Bickford