Hopes were high for Mike Keenan and Tom Bowen when they were passed the BC Games flag at the closing ceremony of this February’s Winter Games in Fort St. John.
The president and vice-president of Maple Ridge 2020 BC Summer Games had travelled up north with their directors and spent four days being greatly inspired by their hosts and the athletes who were competing.
Although a Golden Ears-sized mountain of work lay ahead of them, everyone was confident in their ability to rally the communities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to put on a spectacular event.
“We all came back with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of real energy to come back here and put on a great games,” said Bowen.
“But it was not to be.”
Within the last two weeks, a domino-like cancellation of sporting and cultural gatherings began due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on March 25, what seemed like the inevitable happened to the Maple Ridge event many locals were looking forward to.
“Keeping British Columbians safe and healthy is our top priority. Through conversations with leadership at the BC Games Society, it became clear that there was no viable path forward to host the Games this year and that they must now be cancelled,” Tourism Minister Lisa Beare said.
Bowen said the announcement, while predictable, came as a disappointment to the organizers, who were keen to impress.
“We have put a lot of work into it,” he said.
“A lot of man hours. We’ve run into some challenges but we were dealing with them as they came and getting things done. Mike and I were forging ahead with the crew we had, and we were very proud of all the efforts.
Keenan agreed, saying the team can still hold their head high, and arguing the efforts were not completely in vain.
“We put the hours in voluntarily and we all had the same goal in mind,” he said.
“Certainly, we’re fallen short of that [goal] but it was for all the right reasons, so nobody has any regrets in terms of the amount of time that we’ve invested.
“It was time well spent, and for those that step forward in 2024 and want to continue, they now have the experience of having been down this road somewhat, so that’s kind of a positive spin on all of this.”
With the 2022 BC Summer Games already being hosted by Prince George, the City of Maple Ridge was given the opportunity to host the 2024 Summer Games, and voted unanimously to do so at a March 24 council meeting.
“Our community will be ready to welcome the athletes, coaches and their families for an outstanding Summer Games competition,” Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden said.
For many athletes, that will mean a chance to compete at the highest level in front of their own community, will no longer be an option.
“As a former softball coach, I can attest to that,” Bowen said, ” I saw kids who took it to [the B.C. Summer Games] and that was the high level for them, so it’s sad to see.”
“It’s nice to be home and have your family and friends watching you, and this is a starting point or a spring board for those competitive athletes that would like to make their way through to Western Canada games, a national stage or, for some an international one.”
A nugget of hope remains for some of the competitors who want to ensure their training doesn’t go to waste.
“We’re currently in discussions with all our provincial sport organizations (PSOs) to look at what the future can hold,” said B.C. Games president, Alison Noble.
“While we can’t duplicate the games, we can work with our PSOs to see if there are some creative alternatives where kids can have that opportunity in a future year.
“For young B.C. athletes, this is the first step in that multi-sport games opportunity where they have that chance to compete with others across the province and travel as a team, and be part of a team throughout the games weekend, which is continued on through their sports career.
“It’s an important stepping stone, and we’re very proud to hold that place in the sport development spectrum.”
She added the board in charge of this summer’s games were on the right track for a memorable event.
“They were doing an excellent job,” Noble said.
“By all accounts it was looking like [it would have been] a very successful games based on the work that had been done to date.”