Best of Richmond 2014: Sports & Recreation

Robin Eder-Warren and Jacqueline Ko improve their personal best for running the 100-metres in their opera gowns. - Richard Lam
Robin Eder-Warren and Jacqueline Ko improve their personal best for running the 100-metres in their opera gowns.
— image credit: Richard Lam

Best small town hockey game

It doesn’t matter if there was a healthy group of Aldergrove Kodiak fans in the crowd, Minoru Arenas was packed. The atmosphere was wild. The Richmond Sockeyes squared off against the Kodi-yaks in Game 7 of the Pacific Junior Hockey League Championship final earlier this spring. The worn wooden benches of the Minoru rink were crowded, and hockey fans formed a nearly impenetrable ring around the concourse. The Aldergrove players quickly quieted local fans by scoring two early goals, and the visitors eventually won the game. It was memorable nonetheless. Seeing a recreational institution like Minoru Arenas packed with hockey fans was like a scene straight out of a small town, where citizens rally around the only team in town. Sure there are newer venues—Langley Events Centre is a fantastic facility—but Minoru Park’s rink is still a great place to watch a hockey game. Even if it’s a heartbreaking loss.

Best reason to tune into a draft

The weeks leading up to the 2014 Canadian Football League Draft May 13 were anxious ones for Richmond’s Matthias Goossen. The big offensive lineman knew he’d likely go high in the annual draft of college players, possibly in the first round. What he didn’t know was where. At least not for sure. Fortunately, Goossen, joined by his fiance and his family didn’t have to wait long, as they gathered in front of the TV to watch the proceedings unfold. Just after 4 p.m. Pacific time, commissioner Mark Cohon got the ball rolling by announcing the first pick belonged to the Calgary Stampeders, acquired from the expansion Ottawa Redblacks less than an hour earlier. The Stamps promptly used the pick to select offensive lineman Pierre Lavertu of Laval. Now it was the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who wasted no time in announcing Goossen as their selection, second overall.

Best example of smarts equalling success

It takes more than athleticism to win the Dolphin Classic. It takes athleticism and smarts. That was borne out at the annual summer streetball basketball tournament at Thompson Community Centre last July, where a team made up mostly of former University of B.C. players won the coveted title for a record fifth time. Led by Richmond’s Alex Murphy and Kyle Watson, the savvy X-Falcons outscored defending champion Runnin’ Rebels 60-54 in the much anticipated final, doing so with poise and creativity instead of simply showmanship.

Best way to get a league to name a trophy after you

After spending the better part of two decades (between the mid-1980s and 2000s) sitting in the president’s chair, Don Taylor has been recognized by the Richmond Adult Soccer Association which has renamed its League Cup in his honour. Taylor—the former teacher, not the broadcaster—was on hand March 12 to present the award to the Richmond All Blacks, who successfully defended the title with a 1-0 victory over the Clippers in the tournament final at Minoru Park. “I think the teams really appreciated having him there,” said current league president Steve Valenzuela. “Many of us remember Don at the helm of the league in our younger years, so to have him come out and share some memories and reconnect with several players was really great to see.”

Best city project worth the wait

Somewhat hidden in the foliage of Terra Nova Rural Park, a playground is taking shape like no other. The play environment, now under construction, has been touted as a one-of-a-kind place. Plans last fall called for a “Gymcrazium,” a “Log Jam,” a sky-high playhouse, a double zip-line, mega swings and trampolines. The price-tag put on the project was $1 million, and a completion date was supposed to be last year. It’s not ready yet, and considering how unique these play pieces are, it’ll be a some supernatural feat if the project stays within budget. But never mind all that. This playground has promise. No pink-coloured plastic slides or cookie-cutter climbing walls here, Terra Nova will soon (we hope) boast a jaw-dropping jungle gym so cool it should be among Richmond’s Seven Wonders, if there was such a thing. We’re guessing even adults will let down their guard and get climbing—when the kids aren’t looking.

Best place for watching the river flow

The No. 7 Road Pier Park  is a small park off River Road. It’s a quiet park with  a small green area, a tiny playground and a pier. It’s not uncommon to see someone with a fishing rod casting a line into the water. Not a lot of people know about it, but it’s a nice, peaceful spot to take in views of the North Arm of the Fraser River.

Best defiance of age and time

It’s said that wine gets better with age. Gwen McFarlan just gets faster.

On Sunday, at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon, Richmond’s McFarlan set a new world record for the women’s 80-and-over division in four hours, 12 minutes and 32 seconds. The previous record was held by another renowned athlete B.J. McCue, who finished last weekend’s marathon in 4:36.57.

Long an inspiration to her Richmond Kajaks Track and Field Club teammates, McFarlan’s incremental times were also near world records. She completed the first five kilometres of the race in 27.52, reached the 10 kilometre mark in 55:52 and the half marathon point in 2:00.06.

Best showing by a Giant sophomore

Richmond’s Carter Popoff was a valued contributor in his first full season as a Vancouver Giant during the 2012-13 Western Hockey League. He scored 27 points, but the coaching staff really appreciated his ability as a defensive centre. Popoff continued to display his defensive prowess during the 2013-14 campaign as well, including a great proficiency in the faceoff circle. But rewarded with more ice time, he also showed an ability to create offence leading the team in scoring at season’s end with 13 goals and 51 assists in 72 games.

Best Olympic memorabilia deal

Remember the height of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games? Hours-long lineups formed outside downtown Vancouver’s Bay store where official Olympic gear, stuffies and trinkets could be had. Naturally, the popularity of 2010 merchandise waned after the two-week celebration of cold sports came to an end. A surplus of plush Mucky-Muck’s, Sue-Me’s and Watchie’s (their names are already fading for us) began popping up in bargain stores for a couple bucks each. But a surprise came earlier this year, ahead of the 2014 Sochi Games. City of Richmond officials cleaned out their closets and discovered a cache of authentic 2010 street banners. They began selling them to citizens for the bargain price of $10 a pair. Some were believed to have even flapped in the winter wind around the Richmond Olympic Oval and O Zone celebration site. Review brass considered buying up the designs to drape the office in 2010 glory—an Olympic legacy of our own, if you will—but alas, we moved at the speed of Sochi plumbing and missed out.

Best show of perseverance

Seafair Peewee A4 Islanders won the local minor hockey association’s first provincial championship in six years in March. While that in itself is noteworthy, it was the fashion in which they captured the B.C. title that will in time become more memorable. After all but coasting through the season, the Islanders didn’t face their first real hurdle until the district playoff banner game which, after leading by a goal heading into the third period, they lost in the final two minutes of regulation to the North Shore Winter Club. The players were devastated, said coach Terrence Lau. But thanks to Lau’s encouragement, they never lost faith in themselves. A week later they defeated the same North Shore Winter Club team in the opening game at the provincial championships, re-establishing the confidence that ultimately led them to a 4-3 final-game victory over Fernie’s Elk Valley in the title game played at Minoru Arenas.

Best celebration recognizing Richmond’s good health

Capping a week of health-related programs, the annual Move for Health Festival at Minoru Park each May promotes the ideals of staying active. Many of the recreation opportunities that exist in the city are presented, with Richmond Sports Council—the collective voice of 18,000 participants in over 50 community sports—overseeing Discover Your Sport, which provided residents of all ages the opportunity to learn about and try out a number of different sports ranging from baseball to basketball and football to martial arts. Not surprisingly, Richmond boasts the highest average lifespan—83 years—in the country. And there’s further good news to share from the “This just in” file: Richmond has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the country. According to Statistics Canada figures released this week, the level of obesity in the Richmond health region was 13 per cent in 2012. The national average was 25 per cent.

Best display of family unity

Karate’s first family continually make Steveston, and Canada, proud. All members of the Steveston Karate Club, siblings Sumi, Toshi and Hidemi Uchiage were representing their country at last October’s Commonwealth Games in Karate when all reached the podium. Sumi and Toshi both won gold in women’s and men’s kata respectively, while Hidemi earned silver in women’s kumite and bronze in team kumite. In April, competing at home at the Richmond Olympic Oval, Toshi won his sixth consecutive Canadian men’s kata title.

Best example that those who teach can also do

Mo Zhang proved that those who teach can also do last summer, when she won the women’s singles and doubles titles at the 2013 Butterfly Canadian Championships. A coach at the Richmond Olympic Oval Table Tennis Centre of Excellence, Zhang defeated Ontario’s Anqui Luo in the singles final and partnered with B.C. teammate Shirley Fu to win the doubles draw. Zhang won eight straight matches—four singles and four doubles—over three days at the competition in Halifax. Zhang is a two-time Canadian Olympian, placing 33rd in the women’s singles event at the 2012 Summer Games in London. She is a three-time North American champion.

Best soccer camp tradition

Last spring, Mike Quinn dispelled rumours of an impending retirement. And true to his word his annual summer camps at Hugh Boyd Park went ahead as planned. This year, for the 17th consecutive summer, Quinn will be overseeing the 2014 camps July 7 to Aug. 25. The camps are clearly a labour of love for the Mighty Quinn, who has been coaching youth soccer in Richmond for 35 years after playing professionally back in his native England. Endorsed by Richmond FC (formerly Richmond youth soccer), the camps continue to grow every year. Most of the instructors are themselves young players from the R.A. McMath high school team and players—both boys and girls—from the local youth program. Several more are graduates of the youth program now playing at the post-secondary level. Quinn hopes the campers better their skillset and learn the importance of conditioning, but equally important is that they leave having had fun.

Best show of respect

One of George Keeley’s greatest legacies during his lifetime was his contribution as the “Voice of Steveston Park.” Throughout the history of the Richmond Senior Men’s Fastball League, which folded in the 2000s, Keeley “called” just about every league and playoff game during which he acquired an immense popularity among the fans and players. Last summer, one of those players, Marshall Shields of the Stealers, headed up the organizing of the first annual George Keeley Memorial Fastball Tournament at the venerable old Moncton Street ball park. Seven teams participated in the inaugural fastpitch classic, including Team B.C.’s under-21 team featuring local talents Ryan Shields (Marshall’s son) and Jake Doyle. Also on hand was Sam Aldridge, who during Keeley’s era was one of the league’s ace pitchers.

Best example of a good guy  finishing first

Renowned for his humanitarian efforts, Ethan Cox is also clearly a pretty talented hockey player. Winner of the U.S. Hockey Humanitarian Award in 2010 while a college player at Colgate University, Cox has been a member of two of the last three ECHL Kelly Cup championship teams. Last year, he contributed seven points in 22 playoff games as the Reading (Pennsylvania) Royals defeated Stockton (California) Thunder four games to one in the final. But it wasn’t so much Cox’s points as his steady play every shift—reflected in his plus-11 rating—that made his contribution so valuable.

Best way to conclude your high school career

Asianna Covington’s final performance in the senior girls’ discus event at the B.C. High School Track and Field Championships was—fittingly—record-breaking. The Richmond Kajaks’ thrower was competing last spring as a member of Vancouver’s Little Flower Academy when she broke Joan Pavelich’s 42-year-old mark of 47.37 metres in the senior girls’ discus event at Langley’s MacLeod Park. Convington also defended her title in the hammer throw with a winning distance of 53.83 metres and placed second in the shot put with a throw of 12.83 metres. These days, Covington is competing for the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Earlier this season she competed at her first conference championships and finished third in the hammer throw at 61.4 metres at the Texas A&M Invitational.

Best man to whip us into shape

Twenty-five years ago Wei Foung Yuan founded an exercise club with some serious staying power. He created Richmond Wellness Club in 1989, an exercise group that uses space inside Richmond Centre mall. What started with 50 participants has become a club with much more clout, drawing hundreds each morning to the mall before regular store hours for tai chi sessions. Participants pay a small membership fee, which benefits the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Now in his mid-90s, Yuan still leads exercise sessions.  He’s living proof that getting up and moving is good for us.

Best reason to keep at it

As a first-year engineering student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Joshua Stuart has plenty on his plate. But the workload is at least doubled when you consider the 19-year-old Richmondite is also one of Canada’s most promising young gymnasts. The fact he was the top all-around athlete on the Canadian Gymnastics Team at the 2013 World University Games in Kazan, Russia—competing among a field of 13,000 athletes—helps to keep Stuart motivated to at least try to remain among gymnastics’ elite. “It’s challenging,” says Ferenc Szabo Jr., his coach with the Richmond Gymnastics Association. “But he’s adjusting and sometimes stays longer in the gym just to fulfill the workload required. I still believe he has a lot of (success) ahead of him.”

Best way to kick off your college career

Summer Clarke long ago began showing signs she’d grow up to be one of Canada’s top young female soccer players. But when she accepted an opportunity to attend Louisiana State University on a soccer scholarship, it’s unlikely many folks in the southern state were too familiar with her. That quickly changed last summer when she scored in her Tigers’ debut, a 4-1 exhibition win over Nicholls State Colonels. She scored her team’s only goal in the next game, and again in a 4-2 loss to No. 6-ranked Brigham Young to close out the exhibition schedule. Coupled with a pair of early regular-season matches, Clarke had scored five of her team’s first eight goals to serve notice she would be one of the conference’s most prolific scorers despite only being in her freshman year. She finished the 2013 campaign with 29 goals and a team-best 71 shots on net. Clarke’s older brother, Caleb, is apparently no slouch on the soccer pitch either. A 20-year-old forward prospect with Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, Clarke is currently on a year-long loan to FC Augsburg in Germany, where he scored eight goals in 25 games this season.

Best Workout to Conquer Cancer

Once a year, at least for each of the last two, the BC Cancer Foundation has encouraged local residents to grab their sneakers and head on over to the Richmond Olympic Oval for a workout—specifically a Workout to Conquer Cancer. With motivation provided by one of Canada’s most sought-after fitness coaches, former B.C. Lion Tommy Europe, and former Vancouver Canucks’ fitness co-ordinator Peter Twist, participants enjoyed up to a full day of upbeat group exercises classes, each supporting the life-saving cancer research going on in B.C. This past March, the workout generated $379,000 to power further research.

Best source of inspiration

A goalkeeper on Canada’s national women’s field hockey team and a three-time member of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport champion University of B.C. Thunderbirds, Bea Francisco is both thoughtful and talented and most deserving of the accolades she receives. But the 21-year-old human kinetics student’s greatest quality may well be her quest to live every day to the fullest, a gift she inherited from her older brother, Raffy, who was born with cerebral palsy. “My parents were warned that he might not be able to walk,” she said. “When I was eight or nine I watched my dad teach him how to ride a bike. For months I watched him fall countless times only to get up and try again. His persistence and positive attitude helped him accomplish something amazing despite his disability. Every day he inspires me to be the best I can be no matter what the circumstances are.”

Best show of leadership

Taryn Lim has always been passionate about the beautiful game, and equally so when it comes to providing leadership. It was a bittersweet moment when her university soccer career ended last October in Victoria, as Lim scored the University of B.C.’s lone goal on a penalty kick in a 3-1 loss to University of Victoria Vikes in the third-fourth place game at the Canadian Inter-University women’s soccer final four championships. She also stepped up to head home the Thunderbirds’ only marker in a 2-1 overtime loss the day before to University of Alberta Pandas—a day after being honoured with selection to the Canada West First All-Star Team. Lim played fullback at the national championships, a position she easily readjusted to having been a defender most of her soccer career. But the previous season, for the betterment of the team, she agreed to become a striker—and to score goals, rather than help keep them out of her net. Not surprisingly, she responded with great success. Lim’s leadership was apparent early on. Always giving her best and rarely not winning a challenge, she earned the captaincy on her senior girls’ high school team at Matthew McNair despite only being in Grade 9.

Best park few seem to recognize

Among Richmond’s vast and impressive inventory of parks, which includes playing fields, Gibbons Park stands out. The little West Richmond ballpark, located at the corner of No. 1 Road and Westminster Highway,  is a tribute to a time when life was simpler. Backing onto Forsyth Crescent, it looks and feels like a baseball park right down to the old-style announcer’s booth behind home plate. There’s also plenty of green space to simply lounge, soaking up the rays while watching a game.

Best reason to loan your nation’s flag

Steveston merchants, led by Bean & Beyond owner Davood Khatami, are hoping local residents catch the World Cup soccer fever when the biggest sporting event on the planet kicks off June 12 in Brazil. A village-wide cultural celebration will have shopkeepers each adopting a country, and showcasing its colours in Steveston for the month prior to the Sunday, July 13 championship final, where one country will snatch bragging rights for the next four years until the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Selected as the host pavilion for Nigeria, the Army, Navy and Airforce unit 284 in Steveston will also be the adult international pavilion for the semifinal and final matches.To help make sure your country of choice is well-represented, organizer Marc Bowley is asking for a little help. He’d like to display flags and jerseys of each of the participating nations in the club. If you can lend either, he’d like to hear from you at 604-278-9302.

Best reason to walk fast

Like anyone, Evan Dunfee enjoys a leisurely stroll now and then. But most of  the time when he walks it’s competitive. Dunfee is the Canadian record holder in men’s racewalk. The 23-year-old Richmond man bettered his previous personal best by more than two-and-half minutes recently at the 2014 IAAF World Race Walking Cup in Taicang, China. Dunfee finished 11th overall in one hour, 20 minutes, 13 seconds—just ahead of longtime teammate and friend Inaki Gomez who was 12th in 1:20:18 and Benjamin Thorne who was 13th in 1:20:19. The three Canadians were all below the previous Canadian record in the men’s 20-kilometre race.

—with additional stories from Matthew Hoekstra and Bhreandáin Clugston

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