Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 13, 2015
Our city is a bit far removed from the last truly major city-driven sporting investment in this community. We are long past the days of the Canada Games Sportsplex in the late 1970s and save for entities such as the Optimist Soccer Park or Simplot Millennium Park, a major outdoor sporting renovation or addition has not taken place in Brandon for close to a decade.
There is little doubt the effect sport can have on a community. It often gives those who are lost elsewhere in life a positive outlet for their energies. For those fortunate to take up a sport in this community, they know the lifelong change that took place in their lives the day they picked up a stick, ball or glove.
Sport is so interwoven in our community’s psyche that we often reminisce for decades about our teams, our coaches and our fellow players. We become fans of the effect sport had on our lives.
Many high-profile names have come through the city and gone on to great success professionally through sport, but that was never our ultimate goal.
As a community, for us to truly leave a legacy for our children, we needed to invest in the fields and rinks where those athletes would hone their skills.
Names of the past, such as Broda, Hextall, Chalmers and Sholdice, then more recently, Idonije, Bauman, Calvert and the latest professional athlete calling Brandon home, Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman Landon Rice. All of these athletes got their start in minor sport in this community and all have gone on to great things as a result of our city’s residents investing in making sport a positive outlet for them.
This brings me to the crux of our time here this week — has our population outgrown the sporting venues in this community?
A myriad of reasons has led us as a community to need upgrades to our facilities. Floods, infrastructure deficits, population booms and a narrowing scope for growth have all put Brandon a bit behind the ball (no pun intended) when it comes to building up of our recreational infrastructure.
Two sports in particular come to mind when looking to where the need is greatest — those being soccer and football.
In talking with organizers and parents from both youth football and soccer, you quickly learn space is hard to come by for practice or play. The football league has returned back to its original home at Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School, while Brandon Youth Soccer limps through at a multitude of locations throughout the city as a result of their field being a perpetual swimming hole.
If numbers continue to grow and the legal issues around using schools for private sport continue, both will remain in flux and in desperate need of more permanent homes.
There are examples out there of good multi-use facilities in cities similar in size to ours.
Medicine Hat, Alta., for example, has its upgraded Methanex Bowl, which recently underwent a $2.6-million expansion that included installation of synthetic turf as well as upgraded bleachers and enhanced change room facilities. This better positioned that city to attract more youth to football and also provides a home for numerous local teams and the odd exhibition game for the Calgary Colts junior team.
The idea has been tossed around for some time that Brandon may hope to one day form a junior football team, but facilities suitable for that calibre of play are still a long ways away for this community.
On the soccer side of things, local fans have taken to online competitions through Kraft to better equip the sport of soccer. Although never a guarantee, it would be a start should they be successful in their competition for funds.
More than 1,100 youth in the community play soccer — add that to football numbers and you are closer to the 1,500 mark on any given week.
For the future of both sports and others in this community, perhaps it is time we look at a multi-use facility such as the Medicine Hat Family Leisure Centre. Our city has done well in putting dollars toward smaller projects and fundraising groups have helped with all three of the Brandon high school teams, but it may be time to think a bit larger in scale.
Sport has such a far-reaching effect that we owe it to ourselves, and our youth, to at least consider the option to think big. The benefits go beyond a healthier lifestyle and the socially positive return that investment in sport can make.
It is an investment in the idea of community.