The opening ceremonies of the 2019 Provincial Ringette Championships being held in North Bay, the birthplace of ringette, was a high energy affair as 63 teams marched into the R.J. Surtees Athletic Centre at Nipissing University Thursday night.
Nearly 1,000 participants from across the province, along with coaching staff, were cheered on by a vocal group of enthusiastic parents, volunteers, and fans who packed the gymnasium.
The athletes heard words of welcome from local dignitaries and representatives from the ringette community.
Among the speakers was Bruce Jacks, son of the late Sam Jacks who is credited with creating the sport of ringette in North Bay back in 1963.
“They’re saying across Canada there are 30,000 players now, and it all started in a little town in Northern Ontario. Dad founded it, and mom nurtured it,” said Jacks, who is looking forward to the four-day tournament.
“I just want to see some good, close games, and everybody walking away proud of what they’ve done. We’re not about hard play if you want to call it that. Our game is finesse and that is what I want to see. I was out at two of the arenas today, the Sam Jacks sports complex and double rinks and my goodness, just over the 10 years that I’ve been really involved, I just can’t believe the speed and the finesse, and what the game has turned into. I’m so proud.”
It has been a busy year behind the scenes, building up to this weekend.
“The volunteers that we have on the committee are amazing. They were working I would say night and day the closer we got, to get this tournament together. And there are other volunteers working at the rinks, and volunteers who worked just for this opening ceremony. This has been a lot, a lot, of work,“ shared tournament chair Niko Gregorin.
The tournament is taking place right across the region.
“We have six arenas, seven pads because Palangio is a double pad. We have arenas from North Bay, all the way to South River. We have over 100 volunteers helping with this for sure. And pretty much the whole of North Bay is filled. People are booked all the way down to Sturgeon Falls. Some people apparently are even staying in Huntsville, but the majority are staying in North Bay and surrounding area.”
Gregorin expects one take away for the teams visiting from southern Ontario, is having a better understanding of the amount of travel involved for Northern teams.
“They’ll see how far Northern teams have to travel in order to get to tournaments. We do not have a home tournament ever unless we make one, which is the provincials right now. So, our girls are used to being in hotels, driving four to six hours to the tournaments, doing homework in hotel rooms, coming home really late on Sunday nights and going back to school on a Monday morning. So that is one big experience I think everybody is going to appreciate,” explained Gregorin.
“Other than that, I think they’ll see what the north offers, how we live, what we do, that we have pretty much everything like everybody down south enjoys. And we can play ringette.”
Executive Director of Ringette Ontario, Pamela Julian, says the future looks bright.
“We have three provincials which rotate throughout the province. We have a ‘AA’ which was in Waterloo last week, we have the ‘A‘ which is here, and next week we have our U12 event in Guelph. We just came off the Canada games and Team Ontario got a silver. It was such an exciting week. They were unbeatable all the way to the gold medal, but they lost to Quebec in overtime, 4-3. But we’re still unbelievably proud of these girls and how they conducted themselves after the loss.”
Julian expects to see a high calibre of play during the provincial games in North Bay.
“I hope that everybody here has a really good time, and they embrace the true spirit of the sport, which is fun and community and respect. And these girls show this every time they go out on the ice. One of the things about this sport is the sense of community and family. I’ve never seen it in any other sport I’ve been involved in.”
Bruce Jacks is proud to be part of 2019 ringette homecoming.
“I can’t believe over 56 years how this has grown, and it gets bigger and bigger all the time. It is always special having the athletes back home. It is like a bunch of kids you have nurtured, and you finally get them all in one spot. And North Bay just happens to be home to the sport and we love it.”
Jacks says the last major ringette tournament held in North Bay was the 2013 World Ringette Championships.
The provincial tournament wraps up Sunday afternoon.