As the fifth season of the Pembina Ringette Association draws to a close, I have been reflecting back on our time as an association. In some ways, I cannot believe it has already been five years, and at the same time I cannot believe it has only been five years!
In the summer of 2012 I went to the Barrhead Agrena for minor hockey registration, chequebook in hand. I was there to register my oldest daughter, Tapanga, for her third season of hockey. There was no ringette in the area and Tapanga was a natural skater, so registering her in hockey two years prior was an automatic. She wanted to learn it, my family loves hockey and ringette, so there was really nothing to consider those first two seasons.
This time however, I was in for a surprise. “I don’t want to play hockey. I want to play ringette like you did, that’s what you did when you were little right?”
“Yes, I played ringette, but there is no ringette here.” I replied slowly.
“Oh, so can you drive me somewhere else to play?” She inquired with all the innocence and hopefulness of youth. I replied that I could not drive her to another town for ringette, the nearest city with a program was nearly an hour away. Travelling that far three times a week at her age was too much for her, and our family. With that, Tapanga decided she would not play anything until she was old enough for me to drive her somewhere to play ringette. After a bit of cajoling she agreed to let me register her for hockey, so she could continue to improve her skating and be able to keep up with the other girls when she finally joined ringette. All the while, a thought would not leave my mind.
Why can’t there be ringette here? Could we…?
I decided to chat with my mom, aunt, and nana about the idea of trying to get ringette re-established in the area. They hesitantly agreed to help me a bit with coaching if I was able to start something, but none of them had any better idea how and where to start than I did! Also, if we are being perfectly honest, none of them really thought we could get ringette back in the area. It had been years since there had been a team, and where would we get ice? What on earth was the first step even?
I am not sure who’s great idea it was, but eventually I contacted Ringette Alberta (RAB)for advice. I spoke with Kristen who suggested we do a “Come Try Ringette Event”. Ringette Alberta would pay for the ice, the advertising, and bring the coaches and other promotional materials. The ice was booked at the Westlock Rotary Spirit Centre, and all that was left was to invite as many people as I could, cross my fingers, and hope!
Our first “Come Try Ringette” (CTR) event had 11 little skaters present. After getting my girls off the ice I met up with the RAB ladies in the lobby, and an incredibly enthusiastic mom.
“So who is in charge of this? Where can I sign my daughter up, is there a team already?” Her questions were rapid fire and laced with enthusiasm. My first impression of Janice was, this lady knows and loves ringette. The RAB ladies pointed Janice my way, and we began the first conversation in what has become a true and lasting friendship. Meeting Janice, and encountering her enthusiasm and passion for the game encouraged me so much. Here was someone I had never met before who loved the game, and wanted to see it in our area as much as I did. Not only did she love ringette, she was not one of the people I already knew from our old community of ringette players; maybe there would be even more former ringette players in the area who would want their kids to play ringette!
A few days after the CTR Janice and I had about an hour and a half long phone conversation about our ringette history, and what we could do to establish the sport in our area. To be honest, a lot of those early times are a bit of a blur. I know I checked price and availability of ice in the local arenas, tried to figure out a budget, and immediately recruited the help of others. In October of 2012 a small group of us met at Boston Pizza for our first ringette meeting. We decided we would practice in Linaria on Sundays at 2, we discussed who our first few executive members might be, and brain stormed plans for the future. We were still very much in the early stages, and completely unsure of what we needed to do first, and which steps would come later.
In our first season we recruited 8 of our original CTR kids, and another 5 joined to give us a total of 13. Not bad for our first season. Janice was the head coach and myself and a couple of other moms were there to help. The St.Albert Ringette Association (SARA) was there for advice, and allowed us to use their bylaws as a template for our own. Ringette Alberta was of course an indispensable resource as well.
Tapanga looking small in a borrowed jersey. St.Albert Ringette’s mentorship included coming out and blending one of their teams with ours to allow us to play a game. This allowed our players to begin to learn the sport from other athletes in a game setting. Athletes mentoring athletes.
The actual step-for step details of how we went from day one to where we are now are not only fuzzy, they are unimportant. Of our original 13 players, 9 are still registered with the Association at the end of 5 years. While preparing for my final Annual General Meeting as the first President of the Pembina Ringette Association, I looked over our registrar’s tables of player information from our first five seasons. I knew we had lost a number of players, and that we now sit at 65 registered athletes but I was wondering, how many kids have we directly impacted in our first five years? The results surprised me. We have had at least 89 different children registered so far. We have also experienced significant steps onward and upward in our growth each year in a number of ways.
2012-2013: 13 registered players, 1 “team”, 1 arena (Linaria), 1 hour of ice per week
2013-2014: 32 registered players, 2 “teams”, 2 arenas (Westlock and Linaria), 2 hours of ice per week
Chalice Stewart Photography
2014-2015: 46 registered players, 3 teams (2 U10 teams, 1 U12 team), 2 arenas (Westlock and Barrhead), 3 hours of ice per week for practices, plus game times, our first season in the Black Gold League, the National Ringette School (NRS) used Westlock as one of its venues for the first time
Chalice Stewart Photography
2015-2016: 62 registered players, 4 teams (2-U10, 1-U12, 1-U14), 3 arenas (Barrhead, Westlock and Thorhild), 4 hours of practice ice per week plus game times, our second season in the Black Gold League, NRS offered ringette camp in Westlock again
Chalice Stewart Photography
2016-2017: 65 registered players, 5 teams (2-U10, 1-U12, 2-U14), 4 arenas (Westlock, Barrhead, Linaria, and Thorhild), 7 hours of practice ice per week plus game times, our third season in the Black Gold League. One U14 team went to Provincials, they ended up ranked #6 in the province, NRS is offering ringette camp in Westlock for the third time
Not only have we grown our number of athletes, number of teams, and hours of ice time, we have grown our volunteer pool. Although I cannot quantify easily the increase we have seen in number of volunteers and the increase in total volunteer hours, I assure you it has been significant! Each year I am a little more proud to be involved in this association. Each year my job as president got a little easier as more and more parents offered to take on the little jobs myself and the other executives were carrying. With our increased volunteer support, the program we offer has been improving every year.
National Ringette School, 2015
With that being said, I cannot express how much the support of our “first families” of ringette meant. Committing time and resources to a sport organization is a big decision, even when that organization is well established and offers a great program. There are a number of questions one must answer:
“Will my child enjoy this?”
“Will this sport benefit my child?”
“Can our family afford this?”
“Does our family have time for this?”
So, every time a family commits their time and finances to the sport of ringette as offered by our association, I am grateful. However, to the families that joined our ranks in the first year, and even those who joined in year 2 and 3 year…wow. The leap of faith they took made all the difference. As hard as it is to decide which sport to commit to when comparing established organizations, it is even harder to commit when the program being offered is clearly in its introductory stages. When families would ask questions, we often had more questions ourselves than answers! Not knowing when and where our ice times would be made recruitment difficult. In addition, in our first two seasons we did not even know if we would be able to play any games because we were not involved in the league and our teams had such diverse age ranges. In our first season we had 13 kids ranging from barely standing to skilled skaters, age 5 to age 10; all on the same ice surface once per week. This motley group was led by Janice, Beth, Tanya, and I as we tried to rediscover (or discover for the first time) how to coach ringette. In addition, coaching a diverse group was as challenging for the coaches as it was for the athletes. How does one keep advanced athletes engaged while still giving beginners enough assistance? It was a challenge, but it was still fun.
To the families who had faith that ringette was worth a try, who had faith in us, thank you. To those of you who registered in our first seasons when we had very little to offer, to the individuals and groups that poured out volunteer hours and finances to help us build the structure we have today, from the very bottom of my heart; thank you. Pembina Ringette has had such an outpouring of financial assistance from community businesses, other non-profit groups, and individuals that our membership fees have not been used to pay for a single set of jerseys. Let that one sink in a little, 5 sets of home jerseys, 5 sets of away jerseys, and our first 2 sets of original jerseys, all purchased with donated or fundraised dollars. Our players have also received donations towards team wear and tournaments. The generosity of our communities has been truly astounding.
St. Albert ringette has provided us with wonderful mentorship as well, and in fact one of SARA’s coaches has gone above and beyond in his mentoring. Coach Michel has become a dear friend to many in our association, as he has been mentoring our coaches for the past 3 seasons. His advice and support has been so outstanding that a simple thank you hardly seems sufficient for all he has done for us.
Janice posted on Facebook one day that the association being what it is today is a dream come true, and I cannot help but second that sentiment. If someone had asked me five years ago what I hoped to see for ringette in our area, this would be it. However, to be perfectly honest, I am so amazed at what PRA has become in such a short amount of time. Pembina Ringette is more than I could have hoped for in those early days. Days when we felt like all our recruitment efforts were falling on deaf ears and blind eyes. Days when we did not know what to do next to grow. Days when we were assured by Ringette Alberta and the President of St. Albert Ringette Association that these are growing pains and it will get better.
And it did.
Our supporters at Ringette Alberta and St.Albert Ringette Association were right, it did get better; and it was worth every sacrifice. The wonderful volunteers we have had over the years have built an organization that offers a great program, and it will only get better. We have learned a few hard lessons along the way, but these lessons will serve to grow us. Each year the Pembina Ringette volunteers are learning, and each year Pembina Ringette is improving.
It is exciting that our association has impacted 89 athletes in five years, that we are coaching the next generation of ringette players in our area. Seeing my daughters both playing ringette and absolutely passionate about the sport that captured my heart hits me, well, right in the heart. Each season it becomes a little more clear that ringette is no longer a sport my girls play because mom likes it, ringette has become their sport.
My Sport, my passion. The motto of Ringette Canada is true for so many girls in our association, and I could not be happier about that.
With a tear in my eye, and a smile on my face I am stepping back from my role as the President of the Pembina Ringette Association. I feel a great peace at this decision, as I know it is good for me, my family, and the Association to give someone else a chance to hold the reins. As Janice has said a number of times, this association is our baby so it could be hard to let go of her. However, I am so excited and pleased to see such a capable and caring group of volunteers ready to lead our baby on to the next stage of development, and with her other mama, Janice, in the lead.
Well, I thought that was my closing paragraph but it turns out I have a little more to say, and this is important. Playing ringette in my youth connected me with people I would otherwise have not known, my ringette friends. I am still connected to many of those girls (even if it is only over Facebook). The creation of this association, and my involvement in ringette, has once again resulted in new and lasting relationships. I have been so blessed by new friendships, for myself and my daughters, that my words in fact fail to express how much PRA and the people involved truly mean to me.
So, once again, thank you all. Not only for what you have done for the association, but for what you have done for my family.