COLUMNAt the Canada Games, we always get what we pay for

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Money doesn’t solve everything, but it is what’s needed to make Newfoundland athletes more competitive

Sherbrooke, Que. — Jake Stanford was an elite athlete, a soccer player for Holy Cross in Challenge Cup play and a pretty fine ball player on the hardwood.

These days, Stanford is coaching at the highest level, taking the Crusaders to the nationals, and, lately, guiding the Canada Games girls’ team here in Sherbrooke.

Stanford came in for a bit of flack this week when, following a 5-0 pasting at the hands of Quebec, sending his team to a 1-2  record and virtually out of the medal hunt, he dubbed the Games a failure.

The online commentary lit up, as expected, chiding Stanford for his harsh words.

How dare he criticize these poor, little girls for all their hard work?

We can paint this picture however way we please, but the hard truth of the matter is Week 1 of the 2013 Canada Summer Games can only be described as a bust.

One lousy medal — a silver by Owen Daly — to show for its efforts.

And the expectations were there for more hardware for Daly, but like his Newfoundland teammates, the big swimmer came up short.

These were (I’m heading home today, replaced by Tely scribe Kenn Oliver) my 11th Canada Games, so I think I speak with some understanding on any and all things Canada Games.

Fact is, this 10th-place standing in the medals hunt — only the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon trail Newfoundland, each yet to secure a Games trinket — at the half-way point is not an anomaly.

You can be pretty much assured Newfoundland and Labrador will finish ninth or 10th in the overall Canada Games standings.

Truth is, greater Toronto has 10 times more athletes to choose from than the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

And yes, there’s the issue of facilities, though that is improving at home.

Don’t tell that to the swimmers, however, three-quarters of whom train in rinky-dink pools best suited for seniors swim and kids birthday parties.

Can we blame the athletes? In the case of the 10 or 15 per cent that chef de mission Michelle Healey alluded to for not buying into the program and availing of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre and strength and fitness coach Jerome Brennan’s services, absolutely.

Being physically prepared for the Games is a non-starter. No excuses, please.

But are we sending these kids to Canada Games as best prepared as possible?

I’m not so sure.

It is no coincidence that in 1999, Newfoundland and Labrador won a record 19 medals.

The Winter Games that year were staged in Corner Brook, and there was more funding kicking around for this province’s athletes ensuring a strong finish at home.

On another level — same principle, however — Canada enjoyed an Olympics for the ages in Vancouver three years ago. The millions and millions of dollars raised through the Own the Podium program for athlete training ensured that.

It is not a state secret that athletes improve by facing better competition. Young hockey players, for example, cannot expect to take their game to the next level preferring the St. John’s junior league to the QMJHL.

But getting this competition takes money (doesn’t everything?).

While it’s easy for a baseball team from B.C., for example, to zip down the road and play some exhibitions in Washington State and perhaps even California, it’s not so simple in Newfoundland.

And humping across the highway for a few games in Corner Brook doesn’t cut it.

While completely unrelated, this is but an example of what competition can do for a team: the Kelly’s Pub junior softball team has three gold medals and a silver in the past seven or eight junior nationals.

Chances are, this team would not be achieving these lofty goals if not for their participation in the local senior men’s circuit, among the best in Canada with some of the best pitching in the country.

“I definitely need to train with the best swimmers in Canada,” Daly was saying this week following his meet.

Daly’s times prove he’s with the elite in his age group, but coach Brad Hutton suggests what’s missing is race competition.

He won’t get that in Newfoundland.

“Not to put people down back home … I hate saying this, and I’m not even sure it should be mentioned, but it’s definitely time to go to a bigger club, a bigger and better team and train with the top guys in Canada, the top guys in the States.”

Daly is lucky. He has NCAA Division I schools knocking on his door to begin the winter semester — Kentucky is showing considerable interest — though he’s leaning towards heading to Montreal and training at the well-known CAMO club for six months before starting university next fall.

Other Newfoundland athletes aren’t so fortunate.

Still, it’s time to change the ‘Hip! Hip! Hooray!’ culture that is sometimes all too prevalent with Newfoundland sports … the ol’ college try and see what happens type of thing.

It’s time a new tradition of competitiveness is born, and it starts with government — if it’s serious about Canada Games and the province’s athletes — giving Newfoundland athletes a fighting chance.

Accountants, as is their nature, will often say problems cannot be fixed by flinging money at them. In this instance, the problem of isolation and the ridiculous cost of travel for competition can indeed by corrected with increased funds for travel and training.

See SOLID SHOWING, page B2

You can’t blame the kids here. Or the coaches. They all, for the most part, do their best to prepare for Games.

But unless things change, and the purse strings are loosened, we’ll be writing about this same subject two years from now, and two years after that, and …

I know. I have been since 1991.

•••••

In the one final event Newfoundland and Labrador was involved in Friday, the men’s basketball team defeated P.E.I. 61-55 to finish seventh overall.

The Newfoundland entry finished with a 2-4 record, including a big upset win over British Columbia and was competitive in every game it played — win or lose — registering a total of 419 points for and 444 against.

Stephen Ryan led the winners with 20 points, while Brett Warren and Cole Long each had 12 points.

•••••

The meet ran a bit late Thursday night, well past The Telegram’s deadline, but Rebecca Sparrow had a fine showing in her over-80/under-90 kilogram wrestling event.

Sparrow, from Conception Harbour and only 15, won the first round of her bronze-medal match against her Alberta opponent Thursday night, and had her in pin position when time ran out.

Sparrow, who eventually lost, pulled an upset in team competition when she pinned her Saskatchewan opponent to advance to the four-person medal round.

•••••

While the baseball team struggled at the Games, Corner Brook’s Travis Taylor sure had a heck of a tournament, finishing second in hitting at a .529 clip. Taylor had a couple of three-for-three games.

Mattie Murphy of St. John’s starred on the hill, registering two wins, including a neat three-hitter in Newfoundland’s final win over P.E.I. He finished with a 1.17 ERA.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Holy Cross, Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre, NCAA

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, California, Canada Sherbrooke.Stanford Corner Brook Quebec Northwest Territories Nunavut Yukon Toronto Vancouver Washington State Montreal British Columbia Conception Harbour Alberta Saskatchewan P.E.I.

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  • Lynda Ryan
    August 11, 2013 - 07:05

    I have to say something here....The U17 NL basketball team was so successful this year because their COACHES BELIEVED IN THEM, as did their parents....And they believed they could do it too!... It was their dedication, committment and belief in themselves that shocked the basketball teams of the nation this week!....This team of young men have been working like dogs the last three years, and it showed! No one, and I mean no one, including our own local association ever expected them to be competitive at this level, in fact, the parent liasion fundraising committee were told that the best the boys could do was 9th place, well, the guys showed them, didn't they!....In less than a 12 month period, the boys/parents raised over $35 000 to send these boys to a training camp with team Ontario before Christmas, an AAU tournament at Disney, 11th Grade Division 1 Red Division, Spring Classic, which they WON 1st place, along with tournaments in Halifax, Saskatoon and Springfield Massachussettes, all since January of this year! One only 2-3 weeks prior to the games. That is why they competed like they did. I can't end without letting the province know either, that THERE WASN'T FULL ACCESS TO THE SPORTS CENTRE EITHER!!!. Our parents PAID for practice time, on a weekly basis for MONTHS, which should never have been necessary, it should have been made available for us, even in the month prior to the Canada Games, our boys showed up for practices at the NLSC only to find that there time had been given away to other teams/events! That just isn't good enough! How can you expect a team to develop and make a showing when their own facililities aren't made available. And these boys took every opportunity that was made available and more, the fitness/conditioning sessions with Jerome were mandatory, the parents also PAID for these kids to have personal sessions with Phil Alcock of Core Fitness & Spa, not to mention these boys joined a gym at their own expense since the fall of last year and met most mornings at 6:30 am every day for a workout before going home to get ready for school, and practices/games later in the day on a weekly basis, and all this outside of their school work, and school team activities. Coaches Erica Kennedy and Ian Coultas did something special with these kids the last three years, and they know it! Our boys did us proud this week, were the talk of the tournament, even a Quebec athlete interviewed after their game commented they didn't expect NL to be that strong! No one did! Anyone watching the games could clearly see every single game was competitive and we almost got there this year! The boys did themselves, and us parents proud! AMAZING JOB GUYS! We believe in TEAM ROCK!!!!!