Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Final sprint starts for remaining SMF Field upgrades

The Saskatoon Hilltops in action at SMF Field in October of 2014.
    The money dried up when the turf went in, and now there a final fundraising push.
    Back in 2013, The Friends of the Bowl Foundation not-for-profit group launched a forward thinking initiative to make much needed upgrades to Gordie Howe Bowl here in Saskatoon. The hope was to raise just over $11-million to allow the renovations of the home field of the Canadian Junior Football League's Saskatoon Hilltops and the Western Women's Canadian Football League Saskatoon Valkyries to become a reality.
    In 2014, Gordie Howe Bowl was renamed Saskatoon Minor Football Field, and facility reopened with a new field turf, video scoreboard, sound system and upgraded lighting thanks to fact $7.6-million was raised for upgrades. With those improvements, the fundraising came to a bit of a standstill, because there was a perception everything was complete, when the new field turf field was put into use.
    On Tuesday at a press conference in Saskatoon, The Friends of the Bowl Foundation announced $10-million has been raised to date with private and public sector commitments, and a "Seal the Deal" campaign has been launched to secure the last $1.5-million to complete the upgrades. The money that still needs to be raised will be used to finish off the clubhouse complex going up on the south end of the stadium and to renovate the plaza entrance area to create new ticket booths.
    "We're not done yet," said Bryan Kosteroski, who is the chairman of the Friends of the Bowl Foundation. "We need a little bit more to finish this off.
    "The second floor is going up. The rafters will be going tomorrow. We will start some of the inner work. We still need some funds to finish off the second level off totally."
    Out the funds that still need to be raised, $1-million will be used to finish off the clubhouse and $500,000 will be used to renovate the plaza entrance area.
    Thanks to the upgrades that have already been completed, SMF Field has already had 1,000 hours of rentals booked at all levels of football, which equates to a 600 per cent increase in hours of usage from 2013 before any of the upgrades were started.
    "We have teams from Outlook and rural communities all over the place coming here," said Johnny Marciniuk, who is the operation manager for Saskatoon Football Incorporated. "They are all enjoying our turf here. Monday's are kind of a touch football day. We have our girls Rush program, our high school rush through Saskatoon Minor Football on Tuesdays.
    "Wednesdays is our adult flag (day). Thursdays is our six-on-six program. Fridays and Saturdays, we have had Eastside soccer here and Hollandia soccer that have used the facility.
The new clubhouse complex that is under construction at SMF Field.
    "We are really pleased about this, because this is multipurpose, and we want to make sure that everybody has access to this facility, and it is not just a football facility. That is one of the things that we are very proud of this year."
    When completed, the new 12,000 square foot clubhouse will have four main locker rooms, four softball locker rooms, a referees' training centre, film rooms, meeting rooms, offices, a softball umpires room, therapy room, equipment storage and a multi-purpose room with a viewing balcony.
    The SMF Field is part of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex in Saskatoon, which also includes eight softball diamonds, five baseball diamonds including Cairns Field, a speed skating oval and a hockey rink. Last Saturday, Kosteroski gained a new appreciation for how busy the facility can get with the upgraded SMF Field as the parking lot for the complex filled up.
    "We had a softball tournament, (and) there is football going on," said Kosteroski. "There are so many people coming out here and the awareness is growing. That is why we wanted to launch this next campaign was to seal the deal here. This will be one of the top facilities in Canada."
    Kosteroski said funds are needed as soon as possible to meet the construction timeline. Recognition opportunities are still available like field logos, naming of locker rooms and the multi-purpose room overlooking the field.
    Donations to the campaign can be made online at www.turfit.ca.

Saskatoon football community will miss McCrystal

Former Rams head coach Frank McCrystal.
    Face it Saskatoon football community, you are already missing Frank McCrystal.
    When the University of Regina Rams face the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Sept. 18 at Griffiths Stadium, it will feel like something is missing, when McCrystal is not out there pacing the sidelines as the Rams head coach.
    McCrystal retired at the end of last season following 41 years of involvement with the Rams program including five years as a player, five years as an assistant coach, 15 years as head coach of the team in their Canadian Junior Football League days and 16 years in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport ranks.
    As Rams head coach, McCrystal was good at stirring the pot to elevate the rivalry between Regina and Saskatoon.
    During the Dogs' Breakfast fundraiser for the Huskies, a few McCrystal jokes flew through the air that one almost forgot he no longer coaches the Rams. When you head to a football activity in Saskatoon, it seems like someone brings up a memory of McCrystal, which included his vow to run for mayor of Saskatoon after the Rams upset the host Saskatoon Hilltops 46-27 in the 1997 Prairie Football Conference final.
    As it stands, the Rams will take the field under the guidance of new head coach Mike Gibson. The new head coach was also given the ability to form his coaching staff.
    So far, the Rams will return five coaches from last season and bring in four new coaches. Notable departures include offensive coordinator Bernie Schmidt and receivers coach Rick Seaman, who both had long tenures with the Rams.
    Even some of the support staff personnel won't be back for a season ago including video coordinator Kevin Baron, whose ties to the Rams date back to being a player starting in 1997 in their second last CJFL campaign.
    As far as stories are concerned coming out of the Regina media, Gibson is trying to put his stamp on the team, and it feels like there is an effort to create a distance from the old coaching regime.
    It also feels like the colourful interviews McCrystal gave will also disappear.
    As far as early impressions go, Gibson, who was an assistant coach in the CFL for the last 10 seasons, will likely be more sterile in his media interviews like Bill Belichick, who is the famed head coach of the NFL's New England Patriots.
    Expect the more colourful tell it like it is football interviews in Saskatchewan to be reserved for Hilltops head coach Tom Sargeant and Huskies head coach Brian Towriss.
    A new era has arrived at the post-secondary level in the province. When the Rams and Huskies collide in the Bridge City, football fans in Saskatoon will realize things will be a little less colourful.

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