British Columbia’s top teen athletes are upon venues in Ladysmith and Chemainus this weekend as Cowichan Valley hosts the BC Summer Games, with several locals vying for gold on home soil.
The 2373 athletes, including several hundreds from right here at home in the Mid-Island representing Zone 6, are from every corner of the province and have trained hard to earn a place at the Games.
Competing in 18 different sports, the athletes are an average of 14 years old and for most, this will be their first experience at a multi-sport Games. These athletes will be supported by 453 coaches and 246 officials.
Ladysmith has been busy preparing as it hosts field lacrosse at Forrest Field, baseball at the Holland Creek ballpark and beach volleyball at Transfer Beach. Chemainus Secondary is hosting wrestling while box lacrosse is at Fuller Lake Arena.
Upwards of 1,500 people, including athletes, spectators, volunteers and officials are expected daily in Ladysmith this weekend from July 19-22 for the event.
The town’s director of Parks, Recreation and Culture Clayton Postings said participating communities across Cowichan Valley have been working “flat out” for two years to collaborate and make this premiere sporting event come to life.
“These partnerships are really beneficial for us. The community has been able to put our mark on this and work as a region to deliver a games that really emphasizes our region and some of the qualities,” Postings said.
A steering committee of Cowichan stakeholders coordinated everything from parking to security at each of the venues with support from the BC Games and provincial sport governing bodies to ensure the sites meet all necessary requirements.
The Holland Creek ballpark is already in line with Baseball BC criteria but some minor upgrades were done to the bullpen as well as parking improvements.
“We’re making sure that those venues are in a state that are ready to have these athletes from around the province come in and really enjoy the region and make sure the sport is the number one priority,” Postings said.
At Forrest Field, new lines were painted on the turf field for lacrosse as well as grandstand improvements to add comfort in the form of an enclosed area perfect for wet weather. And 600 tons of good quality sand has been dropped at Transfer Beach to create two additional beach volleyball courts. Volleyball BC is hosting a weekend camp at Transfer Beach following the games and the sand can then be reused afterwards as top dressing around town.
In total, the town budgeted $60,000 for facility improvements the prepare for the event.
“It’s a legacy piece so that’s nice that we’ve been able to add some value that everyone in the future will benefit from,” Postings said of the upgrades. “We’re making sure that our facilities are at a level so that we can always be part of this regional initiative.”
A committee will also be formed after the Games to distribute legacy funding.
Field lacrosse head coach Sean Walmsley has help lead two teams to BC Summer Games silvers and said the Ladysmith venue at Forrest Field is second to none on the Island.
“It’s a great setup. It’s got the perfect amount of seating. I wish we had one of these in Victoria,” he said. “The Parks and Rec department here have done an awesome job.”
With the venues prepped, it’s now the athletic talent taking centre stage.
Ladysmith’s Devyn Zunti has been playing box lacrosse for 12 years, following in the footsteps of a long family history of involvement in the sport.
The 16-year-old plays midget level with the Cowichan Valley Thunder and was part of the bantam provincial team that finished 4th at nationals in 2016. Zunti was picked for the BC Summer Games team after two try-outs in Nanaimo and was then invited to a provincial team selection camp where he was once again selected along with five other Island athletes for the midget provincial team to play at nationals in Calgary.
“I’ve always wanted to tryout for the Summer Games and play in it just because of the experience,” he said. “I’ll get to meet new people. It’s going to be fun making friendships.”
Zunti said he likes the fast pace and contact of box lacrosse and looks forward to having a crowd of supporters in the stands for what he hopes is a game with gold on the line.
“It will be exciting to have my friends come out and support,” he said.
On the field, Ladysmith’s West Cateaux is one of the keys to the Island team’s offence as he plays attack, a position that requires both speed and a high level of stick skill.
He was picked for the 19-man roster from a group of 57 that tried out in May at Forrest Field.
He took up the sport six years ago and currently plays for the Nanaimo Raiders, Nanaimo District Secondary School Academy, box lacrosse for the Nanaimo Timbermen and is an alternate for the field lacrosse provincial team.
Cateaux said he enjoys the intensity of the sport, good sportsmanship and the fact that “it’s a good time with the boys.”
“I think high intensity and quick passing. A lot of running and fast quick passes, fast shots, just everything leveled up a bit,” he said about the style of play the Vancouver Island team will be emphasizing.
The Island team is expecting Coquitlam to be among its toughest opponents.
“I think seeing the different level of skill on each team will be nice,” Cateaux said. “I think it’s going to be fun. We’ve got a good amount of skill on this team. I think we have a chance to win the entire thing.”
Ladysmith’s Kaleb Freer plays multiple field positions for the AAA Cowichan Valley Mustangs and was looking sharp on the mound several weeks ago after throwing his first ever no-hitter in Vancouver with 54 pitches.
He’ll likely be the third base for the Island Central Coast A team for its games, which all take place at Evans Park in Duncan. The bronze medal game is at Holland Creek ballpark on Sunday morning.
There were two tryouts in May for the team and Freer had made it a goal for this year to be selected.
Joining Freer on the team is Ladysmith’s James Joyce, Chemainus’ Dru Wright and head coach Lorne LaFleur of Saltair, part of the other Island Central Coast team.
“It was pretty cool,” Freer said, describing the feeling of receiving the good news he’d been selected.
Freer is also featured in the official BC Summer Games program with a bio and dramatic photo of him pitching at sunset.
Four years ago he was part of the Ladysmith 49ers peewee team that won provincials, and the year prior he played mosquito with a Duncan squad that also was tops in B.C.
“It will be pretty fun just the experience of playing in them,” Freer said about the BC Summer Games. “Just work hard and do our best.”
Dru Wright was also part of the peewee 49ers provincial championship team and will likely be at first base for the Central Coast team this weekend. He also currently pitches with the Cowichan Valley Mustangs.
Wright said he enjoys all aspects of the sport and expects the BC Summer Games will lead to new friendships.
“We’re a pretty solid team so I think we’ll do good,” he said. “It will be good competition. It will be harder than provincials.”