First Nations Winter Games ‘ready to go’

Matt Gardner
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SaskTel regional sales manager Mike Vancoughnett (left) shakes hands with 2014 First Nations Winter Games manager Mel Mercredi on Wednesday at the P.A. Travelodge following an announcement that SaskTel will be donating $10,000 and 5,000 lanyards to the games. Mercredi can be seen holding up an ID tag on one of the lanyards, which will carry the SaskTel logo.

With the start of the 2014 Saskatchewan First Nations Winter Games only weeks away, organizers in Prince Albert are busy putting the finishing touches on their plans for the event.

Games manager Mel Mercredi struck a confident tone when asked about the current state of preparedness behind the scenes.

“We’re ready to go,” Mercredi said. “Now it’s just final touches -- so volunteers, moving here and there and that’s basically all we’re working on. Just now it’s a lot of printing stuff, so a lot of it’s all set to go.”

On Wednesday, the games picked up another prominent donor when SaskTel committed $10,000 and 5,000 lanyards in support of the event, which takes place in the city from April 20-25.

Speaking on behalf of SaskTel, Prince Albert district regional sales manager Mike Vancoughnett said helping to foster athletics and amateur sports was one way for the Crown corporation to express their commitment to the community it serves.

“Because SaskTel is particularly focused on engaging youth and encouraging them to excel, this sponsorship was a natural fit for us,” Vancoughnett said.

“We are proud to be able to invest in activities and events like this because the community as a whole benefits when youth or people in general have more opportunities to participate in or support athletics.”

The 5,000 lanyards will be used to hold identification tags for all the athletes as well as coaches, chaperones and officials. The SaskTel logo will be visible on both the lanyards and ID tags.

Meanwhile, the $10,000 donation will go towards the cost of lanyards, prints, cameras, printing machines and other items necessary for producing the identification, as well as printing and sharing daily results from the athletic events.

Thanking SaskTel for their sponsorship of the games, Mercredi noted that both cash donations and in-kind support such as the lanyards played a role in helping organizers cover their expenses.

“It’s going to cost about a million (to host the event), but with our in-kind support, our actual costs would be about $800,000,” he said.

He listed numerous examples of the in-kind support that shaved $200,000 off those costs, including merchandise supplier Source for Sports, food services with Northern Grocers and schools that have offered the use of their facilities to the athletes.

“You add that all up, it’s a lot of in-kind support that we receive, such as the lanyards today,” Mercredi said. “If we had to purchase those, that’d be quite a bit, I’m sure -- like $2 or $3 a lanyard.”

Now it’s just final touches -- so volunteers, moving here and there and that’s basically all we’re working on. Mel Mercredi

Marking the 40th anniversary of the inaugural First Nations Games, this year’s event will bring together more than 4,000 athletes from 13 tribal council and independent teams representing 74 First Nations.

When including parents and grandparents who will be tagging along as spectators, that number of visitors is expected to double or triple.

“They’ll probably be coming daily and out of town, whether it’s from Saskatoon or surrounding communities,” Mercredi said. “So we do know the economic impact’s around that $3 million mark to the city for this event.”

He acknowledged, however, that preparations for the games had not been entirely smooth sailing.

“We've had some setbacks -- I think with any major event you have that,” Mercredi said.

“Usually it’s been with facilities … One facility, of course, was Kinsmen. There’s some maintenance being done there and it had to be done during the week of the upcoming games, so with that that we had our backup plans in place. So we have Shellbrook arena that’s there.”

“Accommodations are always a challenge,” he added. “Of course we could only accommodate so many people in the city of P.A. when it comes to hotels and our school.”

Among the schools that will be hosting athletes, coaches and chaperones are St. Mary High School (600 beds), Muskoday First Nation Community School (200 beds) and Angus Mirasty School in Prince Albert (175 beds).

Approximately 700 volunteers will be needed to help out with the event, with Mercredi indicated that organizers could still use plenty of extra assistance.

“As long as they can put in that 20 hours throughout the week, they’ll get a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt that’ll go with their volunteer time --- and we do have a volunteer banquet on the very last day at the Ches Leach Lounge, probably.”

Mercredi said the city of Prince Albert had been supportive throughout.

“They’re providing a donation as well of $50,000 that’ll be happening next week or two with city hall … They’re with open arms when it comes to this event as they see the benefit of it.”

Organizations: SaskTel, First Nations Games, Prince Albert Mary High School Muskoday First Nation Community School Angus Mirasty School

Geographic location: Saskatoon, Shellbrook, P.A.

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