As the sport of ringette turns 50 this year, organizers are hoping for a rebirth in Prince Albert.
Monty Aldous is the national club development co-ordinator for Ringette Canada.
He and Kyla Coxford of Regina -- one of the assistant coaches on the province’s Canada Games team and herself a player in the National Ringette League with the now-dormant Saskatoon Wild -- are visiting area schools this week.
“I think every sport would say they are recruiting one player at a time,” Aldous says of the visit.
The pair is visiting four schools in Prince Albert, including Westview on Wednesday, St. Francis and Berezhowsky on Thursday and Diefenbaker on Friday.
Aldous says the sport, which primarily involves females, has been growing at a steady five to eight per cent over the last 12 years.
Part of the growth comes from the fact that ringette has become a second generation sport. Women who played in the ’80s are now looking to get their daughters involved.
They also returning to the sport themselves, with adult ringette a major growth area.
Coxford says that Regina has vibrant ringette scene with adults but that the sport needs help with the under-19 age group. Registration fluctuates, she says, but she remains hopeful.
“I would love to see it expand,” she says. “I got into coaching five years or so and seeing the kids improve from one year is amazing. To see that go out throughout Saskatchewan would be awesome, knowing how big ringette can be in other provinces.”
A small group is now working to resurrect the sport in Prince Albert, where the sport hasn’t existed in many years but was once vigorous.
Blair MacGregor and Val Watson are leading the push. MacGregor was first exposed to the sport 30 years ago when his twin sister took it up. He was recruited to referee and has been an official, coach, instructor and even player himself ever since.
“I have a four-year-old now and I really wanted her to play ringette so Ringette Saskatchewan said ‘Why don’t you try starting it up in Prince Albert?’”
Watson has just moved here from Regina and has three daughters active in the sport.
The group is hosting a Come Try Ringette program at the Art Hauser Centre on Friday at 7:30 p.m. for girls aged four to 12.
Along with a mascot, there will be players from Saskatoon and officials from both Ringette Saskatchewan and Ringette Canada.
The local group has ice booked every Sunday in the hopes that will create the conditions to start a league next year.
The sport had a tremendous boom in the 1970s and ’80s as the newcomer swept the nation.
“It was new, it was exciting, people had never heard of it before,” Aldous said. “It was everywhere … It grew very heavily up until the late ’80s until women’s hockey organized themselves.”
The competition for players, which included the growth in indoor soccer and high school sports, drew young women from the sport. Ringette found itself in a lull until some rule changes returned some of the buzz.
Ringette discarded an old rule that restricted certain players to certain areas of the ice and added a shot clock.
Old rules like the focus on passing and the outlawing of body contact remain.
Aldous says the problem here is the same as it for many sports.
“The dilemma with a sport that is volunteer driven is that a certain number of volunteers end up doing all of the work,” he says. “I don’t think any volunteer sport would argue with that. The dilemma in volunteer sports is to create succession plans but there’s nowhere that you can’t get trained on that.
“That’s typically what happened in ringette.”
With those volunteers eventually leaving the sport, the programs would soon wither and die.
After the federal government named ringette one of five Canadian heritage sports -- including lacrosse, three-down football, five-pin bowling and wheelchair rugby -- they gave the federations some money to spread the word.
As a result, Heritage Outreach visits are being made to schools across the country to demonstrate the sport to gym classes at schools.
The message comes from experienced voices.
Coxford has played for 16 years. She says the sport isn’t about the individual.
“It’s a very team-centred sport and you don’t have to be the one all-star to have a good team,” she says. “ Some of my friends (from the sport) are my closest friends in my whole life. I think it’s a really good friendship and team-building sport.”
The Canada Games team, which features young women between the ages of 14 and 19, has created some interest. She says with the Canada Games tryouts right now for 2015, there are about 60 athletes competing for spots.
Aldous that parents looking for a sport for their child may not realize that most provinces have elite programs, Ringette is played in the Canada Games, has a world under-19 championship and also a world championship every four years.
The National Ringette League is the NHL of the sport, although the one team in the province is on hiatus. There are also ringette programs run by many Canadian universities and a championship every year.
Aldous says that ringette and women’s hockey aren’t similar.
“The two sports are very, very different. It’s kind of an apples and oranges comparison,” he says. “To decide which one you prefer, you really have to try them both.”
In its golden anniversary, Ringette Canada is encouraging local programs to hold events with a new manual it has created. It’s also doing a cross-country promotional tour and tying special events in with National Ringette League games.
Aldous is hopeful that the seed will sprout in the city.
“If we could get something effective going here in Prince Albert that would be huge.”
MacGregor says the reaction has very positive here since the news has gotten out.
“Everything is kind of falling into place,” he says. “You get the word out there a little bit and all of a sudden it’s ‘I used to play’ or ‘My daughter used to play,’ I’d like to get involved. We’ve gotten a lot of our volunteer base like that.”