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Whenever there’s a big sporting event involving gymnasiums in Yellowknife, there’s a good chance you’ll see the finals held at St. Pat’s and Weledeh Gymnasiums.

After all, it’s a large venue when you combine both gymnasiums and there’s plenty of room for everyone to move and sit to watch, which makes for a great atmosphere.

Allana Zettler tries a dump shot at the net during the girls U15 AA final of Senior Spike It! at Sir John Franklin Gymnasium earlier this month. You can see the crowd in the background and they made for a terrific atmosphere.
NNSL file photo

Senior Spike It!, though, provided a bit of a change in scenery and it’s one I enjoyed seeing if only to make things a bit more exciting and intimate.

Sir John Franklin Gymnasium got the chance to host the AA finals for the U15 and U19 boys and girls divisions. A much different experience, to say the least. I can’t believe I’m saying that after all these years of living in Yellowknife because you’d think I would have covered big events like that in that venue.

Not so much which is why I revelled in it.

This is not a slight toward St. Pat’s or Weledeh whatsoever. Plenty of noise can be made – and heard – there and that won’t ever change. It works for me when I’m working because it gives me room to move around and get different angles for photos.

But if you were at Sir John Franklin for the finals, you’ll know what I mean when I say it was loud. So loud that whistles could barely be heard and it was hard to not get caught up in it all.

The big reason for that was because it’s just one gymnasium, that makes for great acoustics. The cheers are that much louder. It’s already hard enough for young athletes to keep their emotions in check and when you throw in the close quarters, the nerves get that much more loose.

Toss in the fact that Sir John Franklin and St. Pat’s were involved in three of those AA finals and you can imagine how that went down. It was a carnival-like scene, much like how the Wade Hamer Challenge Cup is every year (and will most likely be again this year on Nov. 22).

It reminded me of how it is playing in small gymnasiums where everyone and everything is right on top of you. I had that experience back in Toronto playing high school sports. Not every gymnasium is cavernous, especially in the older high schools. In fact, there are a lot of gymnasiums in Hogtown that are smaller (see Eastern Commerce Collegiate) than what you get at either high school here in town.

I know for a fact that the intimacy of the gymnasium gave the athletes a boost. They may tell you it’s just another volleyball game against the old enemy but teenagers feed off of emotion. They’re teenagers, after all. We all remember the days when we played high school sports in 19-ninety-something (not dating myself at all, there) and it was all about emotion.

Sure, the coaches can try to keep things in check and tell them to ignore what’s going around them. Yeah, who are they kidding? The second I heard people in close quarters cheering or jeering my team, it was on. I can wager that it was the same for those players on the court.

It only serves to make you play harder. Every little mistake is magnified when you’re in close quarters and you don’t want to be the one making them.

As hard as it for the teams to keep composure, imagine what it’s like for the officials. I can sympathize with them because no one likes the officials (believe me) but just like the players, any close call goes under the electron microscope of the amateur referees and linespeople sitting in the stands. Rob Hart said it best to me after St. Pat’s won the U15 AA girls final:
“As I’ve always said, we coaches seem to know the right call from the bench.”
You’re not kidding, sir. Everyone knows the right call when they aren’t the ones having to make the split-second decisions. A small gymnasium simply makes an official’s job that much tougher because they have to contend with people shouting less than a few feet away.

I know Sir John Franklin has been the site for several tournaments and events in the past and I don’t need letters and phone calls from people telling me about how they were great as well. I’m sure they were and I was probably there for several of them at some point. What I’m saying is that it was the first time I had been at the school’s gymnasium for a big event final with a loud crowd and an atmosphere to boot.

I hope the school gets to have more of those types of finals because it was fun for everyone involved, even me. I try to be professional but I’m human and it’s OK to get caught up in it sometimes.

Now if only people would stop texting me telling me to cheer up during games …

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James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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