SASKATOON — Bob Reindl, executive director of Saskatchewan Athletics, was the guest speaker at a luncheon Jan. 30 during the 50th Knights of Columbus Saskatchewan Indoor Games in Saskatoon.
On behalf of Saskatchewan Athletics, Reindl also presented a plaque to Knights of Columbus representative Ed Frank, commemorating 50 years of the unique event that brings in world-class athletes to compete in track and field events, alongside students from across the province. Some 4,500 youth participated in events this year.
Reindl himself competed in the K of C indoor games back when it was held in the old arena, said Bob Barkman, executive director of the Knights of Columbus games, in his introduction. Reindl also volunteered on the board of directors for many years and was also the invitational chair at one time.
Addressing the gathering of organizers, dignitaries and athletes at the luncheon, Reindl recalled with nostalgia the early days of the indoor games, listing some of the many high-profile athletes and Olympians who have participated over the years.
“Many of us club kids would take part, and then sit in the stands and watch these amazing athletes do their thing. Athletes would sit in the stands and we’d get a chance to talk to them, get their autograph, generally just rub shoulders with them for a few seconds — a tradition which still goes on today.”
In later years, Reindl was invited back to compete, experiencing the joy of running and winning before a hometown crowd. The K of C games moved into the Saskatoon Fieldhouse in 1980, “and a new era began, with more locals taking part, and new stars emerging” — along with a number of world records, he described.
Reindl recalled being one of the organizers in 1989, when the meet moved to the Sasktel Centre for a year. Later, the games were granted status on the world circuit, with more athletes wanting to come to the meet from all over the world, he said.
“Thank you to those who had the idea and made it their mission, who had the vision and made this track meet happen,” he said, expressing appreciation for all the volunteers and Knights of Columbus members who have worked hard to make the meet happen over the past 50 years.
This year’s indoor games were held Jan. 29 - 31 at the Saskatoon Field House. In addition to elementary school relays (for youth under 11, under 13, and under 15), there were invitation, Masters, Paralympic and Special Olympic events.
“It’s always so much fun when these elementary school kids get to compete and then watch how the truly elite athletes prepare,” said Barkman. “It’s a great learning experience for them.”
Another longtime feature of the Knights of Columbus Saskatchewan Indoor Games occurs before the event officially starts, with organizers taking several of the elite athletes to visit inner-city schools with a message of encouragement and inspiration.
Top athletes competing at this year’s indoor games included Brianne Theisen-Eaton and her husband Ashton Eaton, participating in high jump and hurdles, as well as providing a demonstration featuring a couple of Saskatchewan’s current up-and-coming athletes.
Originally from Humboldt, Theisen-Eaton won a gold medal at the 2007 Pan-Am Junior Championship, when she was still in high school. As a member of the University of Oregon team, Theisen-Eaton not only established herself as one of the world’s elite athletes in the heptathlon, with three NCAA indoor titles, but also met Ashton Eaton. They married in July 2013.
Other career highlights for Theisen-Eaton include competing in the 2012 London Olympics, winning silver at the 2013 World Championship and silver at the 2014 World Indoor Championship, where she broke her own national record with 4,768 points in the pentathlon. She also recently won gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Ashton Eaton is an Olympic champion (2012) and holds the world record in both the decathlon and heptathlon events.
Other invitational athletes attending the Games included Dontae Richards-Kwok, a semifinalist in 100m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and Gavin Smellie, eighth in 200m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, first in 100m and third in 200m at the CAN national championships. Other 2014 Commonwealth Games finalists Shai-Anne Davis, Crystal Emmanuel, Khamica Bingham and Phylicia George also participated in the Saskatoon event.
A track and field coach for 55 years in Saskatoon, Joe Morrissey was named this year’s honorary meet chair. Morrissey was named SaskSport Volunteer of the Year in 2013, is a gold medal recipient from the Governor General, and currently consults with the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs in forming and providing track and field to First Nations athletes.