With the continued growth of sports in the Yukon, the annual Sport Yukon Awards Night had to be divided into two groups.
Thursday’s event at the High Country Inn Convention Centre focused on recognizing athletes from member organizations and did not include major award winners for 2017.
Sport Yukon will collaborate with the Yukon government’s sport and recreation branch for a new ceremony in the spring.
More than 150 athletes, volunteers, coaches and teams were recognized by the boards of 23 member organizations.
Awards varied by group, from athlete of the year, to the common most improved and to the unique, including Flatwater Yukon’s “You’re Awesome Award” given to Matt Wilkie.
The night was a way to recognize the achievements of the Yukon athletes – mostly youth – in different capacities.
From recognizing athletes who have represented the territory to those who just recently started the sport and shown immense dedication and improvement.
Sport Yukon’s physical literacy co-ordinator Jeremy McCulloch, who was the guest speaker in the middle of the program, said it is important to recognize the achievements of the sports groups and how much effort they put in.
“It’s really important to recognize the positive things and really celebrate,” McCulloch said.
During his speech, the former Western Hockey League player who transitioned to basketball and played in the NCAA, shared personal stories and also emphasized that failure and success are not opposites and go hand in hand.
“I think it’s important for kids to know that they’re going to face failure in their lives,” he said. “We all fail, but that doesn’t mean we can’t succeed the same day, the next day, or the next time we try. So I think it’s important to
encourage each other to keep trying.”
On a night not focused on the top athletes the territory produced competing on the international level, it was hard not to talk about what these achievements mean to young athletes in the territory.
With Cross Country Yukon up on stage receiving their awards, board president Dominic Bradford acknowledged the three Yukon skiers on the national team gunning for a spot at the Olympic Games.
The three Whitehorse natives competed in the first world cup race of the season this morning in Finland.
Last year’s Sport Yukon International Female Athlete of the Year award winner Dahira Beatty was the top Canadian finisher in the sprint final in 64th spot. Emily Nishikawa finished just 10 spots back in 74th.
On the men’s side, Knute Johnsgaard finished in 73rd spot in the sprint with the long-distance and pursuit races to follow Saturday and Sunday.
With three skiers out of Cross Country Yukon making their mark on the world stage, Bradford said they serve as positive role models for the up-and-coming skiers and for athletes in the territory in general.
“To get three people to the Olympics is a big deal. These people have been working hard to get to that point,” he said.
Natalie Hynes, who is away at school in Alaska and didn’t attend the ceremony, won Athlete of the Year for the club with Sonja Schmidt and Derek Deuling named most improved athletes.
The team is gearing up for a trip to Canmore, Alt. next weekend for the Alberta Cup.
With the new snowmaking equipment being used for the first time this season, Bradford said they hope to be able to attract national-level talent for a pre-season training camp in October which will bring training and exposure to the club athletes.
“Our athletes here will have more exposure to that national level of skiing which you can see costs quite a bit of money for us to leave the territory,” he said. “So it’s very important for us to get chances for Yukon athletes to see that without having to leave.”
Having to leave the territory is something Yukon Selects F.C. Girl Player of the Year Abby Rich wasn’t ready to do full-time.
But she was still able to make a competitive U-15 girl’s soccer team in Kelowna and play with them as much as she can.
“I don’t have to move because I think that’s too big of a step for me right now,” Rich said. “I’m just going to go down as much as I can, still have practices here and go down for tournaments and games.”
The 14-year-old player trains out of the Total Soccer Excellence Academy under Jake Hanson who was awarded with an Outstanding Contribution to Soccer at the ceremony.
With the season over for the winter, Rich said she will be turning her focus to futsal to try out for the Arctic Winter Games team and will continue playing with the Selects.
She will be re-joining her B.C. team for a January tournament in Seattle.
It wasn’t only athletes recognized, but volunteers and coaches who keep the clubs running year after year. Sport Yukon recognized Buckwheat Donahue and Don Invearity – neither in attendance – for 20 years of volunteer experience with the Klondike Road Relay.