Biennial Saskatchewan Winter Games Ends

With the extinguishing of the flame at the Closing Ceremony, the 2023 Saskatchewan Winter Games in Regina officially come to an end. Originally scheduled for February 20-26, 2022, the games were postponed last year under the advice of the Saskatchewan Health Authority due to COVID-19 and rising cases of the Omicron variant. After consultation with Provincial Sport Organizations (PSO) and the Districts for Sport, Culture and Recreation, a decision was made to hold the Games the week of February 19-25, 2023.

Opening ceremonies were held February 19th with Dignitaries Elder Alice Pahtayken, Minister Makowsky, Regina Mayor Sandra Masters, and Teine Energy CFO, Ken Hillier. Featuring competition for young athletes in 17 winter sports, the Saskatchewan Games are one of the largest amateur sporting events in Saskatchewan, seeing participation from athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers from every corner of the province. Inclusion is a large focus of the Saskatchewan Games, so both Special Olympic and Para-athletes participate alongside able-bodied athletes that reflect the cultural diversity of our province.

First established in 1972 and held every two years, alternating between summer and winter, the Games provide an opportunity for the province’s developing athletes, coaches, and officials to experience an exciting multi-sport event in preparation for higher levels of competition, including the Canada Games, North American Indigenous Games, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Leeann Schellenberg, the manager of the 2023 Saskatchewan Winter Games, said the event acts as a great first step for many young athletes. “We've had some really great athletic performances,” she said. “This is the first multi-sport games experience for lots of them and hopefully many of them also continue on to the Canada Games or other international competitions at some point in their lives. But if they don't, this might be like their Olympic games.” Numerous Saskatchewan Games alumni have advanced to competition at the national level and beyond, with Olympians such as Emily Clarke, Marsha Hudey, Catriona Le May Doan, Lucas Makowsky, Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Sostorics counting the Saskatchewan Winter Games as a key step in their journey to the highest levels of sport.

Included in the games was the Culture Festival, sponsored by CGI. It was chaired and organized by Len Daniels, Shelly Daniels, and Joe Daniels of George Gordon First Nation, and included three days of interactive learning and celebration of Saskatchewan’s diverse cultures and talent. The events on Tuesday, February 21 and Thursday, February 23 featured entertaining and diverse cultural performances from groups across Saskatchewan, including the Grey Buffalo Singers, the Regina Highland Dance Association, the Tavria Ukrainian Dance Group, the Creeland Dance Group, and many more. Wednesday, February 22 included a panel discussion on Truth and Reconciliation in Sport. Sydney Daniels, of Mistawasis Nêhiyawak First Nation, the first-ever female NHL Scout for the Winnipeg Jets, was joined by her father, NHL veteran Scott Daniels. Moderated by Bryan Eneas of CBC, the panel also featured Indigenous sport leaders Eric Honetschlager, Jackson Serna, and Amy Shipley.

Team Prairie Central at the Saskatchewan Winter Games was comprised of athletes predominantly from the east central area of the province. With athletes from Humboldt to Lumsden and Tisdale to Kindersley, much of the distribution area of the Wakaw Recorder falls within this team category.

The action-packed week of the Games came to an end Saturday after featuring the debut of two new sports to the Saskatchewan Games program: Futsal and Mixed Doubles Curling. Spectacular performances were on display at all sixteen sport competitions, including Weightlifting, where numerous provincial records were broken on all three days of competition, and Gymnastics, where Naomi Johns of La Ronge earned Team North’s first-ever gold medals in the sport. The Saskatoon district topped the scoreboard with 98 medals (41 gold, 30 silver and 27 bronze), Regina had 69 medals, Prairie Central won 51, South West earned 37, Rivers West had 36, Lakeland took home 34, Parkland Valley earned 27, South East won 20 and North claimed five. The 51 medals earned by Prairie Central athletes were 21 gold, 14 silver, and 16 bronze.

During the Closing Ceremony, which took place Sunday, February 26th at 3:30 pm with Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty, Elder Alice Pahtayken, MLA Marv Friesen, and Regina Mayor Sandra Masters present as dignitaries, teams were presented with three awards: The Games Flag, a prize given to the District who earns the most flag points during the Games; the Joe Griffith Trophy, which rewards overall District improvement from Games to Games; and the new SaskMilk District Spirit award, presented to the District Team whose athletes, coaches, managers, and mission staff best combine competitive performance, good sportsmanship, passion, and a spirit of fair play, cooperation, and friendship. Taking home the Games Flag was Team Saskatoon. The Joe Griffiths Award was presented to Team South West, while Team North received the SaskMilk District Spirit Award.

The next Saskatchewan Games, the Summer Games, will take place in Lloydminster from July 21-27, 2024.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder