Special Olympics tournament turns 25
Silver anniversary for Special Olympics St. Albert bowling and floor hockey tournament
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 06:00 am
Twenty-five years of tradition will be celebrated in grand style by 500 athletes from 10 Special Olympics clubs at the St. Albert bowling and floor hockey tournament this weekend.
“We have lots of surprises for the tournament,” said Wendy Stiver, board chair for Special Olympics St. Albert. “We have a lot of community support and St. Albert knows how to put on a party so it’s going to be special.”
The annual competition ranks among the top tournaments sanctioned by Special Olympics Alberta because St. Albert is the only affiliate that offers two sports events during one weekend.
“It’s amazing to have that great support from all the other affiliates,” Stiver said. “It’s such a popular tournament with all the affiliates that there is a waiting list to get in. When we send out the invitations it’s usually at a first come, first serve basis.”
The tournament will bring together 380 floor hockey players on 13 teams in three divisions and 120 five-pin bowlers.
“Everybody is like an extended family you know because we travel around the province going to other affiliates’ tournaments as well,” Stiver said.
Special Olympics St. Albert will be represented by 34 players on two floor hockey teams and 15 bowlers.
The affiliate offers eight sports for its 150-person membership.
“A lot of them do all the sports so our goal is to make sure that everybody gets to at least one tournament throughout the year,” Stiver said. “They just have so much enthusiasm for everything they do.”
Floor hockey starts rolling at 8:45 a.m. Saturday and the 26-game schedule winds up Sunday with the last games starting at 9:30 a.m.
The tournament is also a qualifier for the 2015 Special Olympics Winter Games in Grande Prairie.
The floor hockey venue has been shifted to Servus Credit Union Place.
“Normally we have floor hockey at the schools. We use both the public and separate schools and the school boards are very, very kind to us but because it’s the 25th we’re renting Servus Place,” Stiver said.
The St. Albert Bowling & Rec Centre will once again be at capacity with pin knockers Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Bar B Q Acres hosts the Saturday night dance and Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. awards brunch.
“You definitely cannot have a Special Olympics event without a dance,” Stiver said. “The athletes love to compete and the second thing they love is bagpipe music. It’s really amazing (at the awards brunch) when you’re piped in and they’re cheering.”
Approximately 140 volunteers are in place to assist with the weekend’s festivities.
Stiver is overwhelmed how big the tournament has grown since an estimated 200 athletes participated in the inaugural competition.
“It brings a lump in my throat, absolutely.”
Stiver has been a Special Olympics fixture in St. Albert since 1986, when she signed up for two hours a week as a volunteer at the bowling alley.
“By the end of that year I was head coach and three years later I became board chair,” said the 2011 Volunteer Citizen of the year in St. Albert, who describes herself as a “jack of all trades” and is still the bowling head coach.
“I’ve always said the athletes are the hook. Once you spend time with this population you want to spend more time with them.”
Stiver encourages the public to check out the tournament and experience the Special Olympics movement.
“They would be very surprised by the level of competition. We have three divisions based on ability and they would be very impressed with what they see,” she said. “These athletes also have amazing sportsmanship and team work. The camaraderie among rival teams is amazing too.”