There were a record number of teams for the $50,000 Handgames Tournament held recently on the Hay River Reserve.
Sharon Pekok, the recreation director with K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN) and the tournament organizer, said 38 teams participated.
“That’s a full roster,” she said of the event held from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.
Pekok noted it was the highest number of teams in the five years the tournament has existed, topping last year’s record of about 25 teams.
“There were four games happening at one time,” she said of the play in the arbour on the Hay River Reserve.
Despite that, she said there is probably space to accommodate even more teams.
Pekok is not quite sure why there was such an increase over last year.
“I think just more people are getting interested,” she said, noting there are other handgames tournaments and more people are hearing about such events.
The tournament on the Hay River Reserve featured traditional handgames, meaning they were only played by men.
First place – and the top prize of $14,000 – went to Team Whati #3.
Second place was claimed by Team Deline, which won $9,000. And in third place was Team Frank Bets’ina of the Yellowknife area, which won $7,650.
In all, eight teams won a cash prize.
Along with Yellowknife, Whati and Deline, teams came from numerous places, including Behchoko, Fort Liard, Hay River, Lutsel K’e, Fort Providence and several communities in northern Alberta.
“Some of the teams are made up on the spot,” Pekok noted. “They look for players throughout the tournament and even prior to them coming to the tournament they look for players. But then there are always people that are free agents, they call themselves. Sometimes where there are enough free agents they make up their own team.”
Each team has eight players with one optional alternate.
That means there were about 342 players at the KFN tournament.
Pekok noted that players were often accompanied by their families, and many of the visitors camped out on the Hay River Reserve.
She estimated there were about 1,200 more people – players and their families, visitors, spectators and tourists – on the reserve each day of the tournament in addition to the approximately 250 residents.
The tournament is good for the economy of both the Hay River Reserve and the town of Hay River.
“Let’s just say every hotel room was booked in the town of Hay River,” said Pekok.
The tournament also attracted vendors selling arts and crafts, clothes, food, and even ice cream.
Pekok, who organized the tournament with input from the KFN chief and council and other members of the community, hopes that a committee can be created in the future to plan and run the event
“It is a lot of work,” she said of putting the event together.