The Cowichan 2018 BC Summer Games — which run throughout the Valley this Thursday to Sunday — won’t look a lot like the first BC Summer Games did 40 years ago.
The first Games took place in Penticton in 1978, conceived by Premier Bill Bennett as a way to bring British Columbians together. Initially, the Games included athletes of all ages, but the focus gradually turned toward younger athletes, with the goal of helping them to achieve their potential on their way to higher levels of their sports.
According to Kelly Mann, the president and CEO of the BC Games Society, the move toward youth started in the late 1990s and was firmly established by the 2004 Games.
“Over 40 years, that’s probably the single largest change that has taken place,” Mann said.
The change was made gradually in order to help provincial sports organizations make the transition.
“We gave sports the opportunity to get to that place,” Mann explained.
The youth format was a big change for some sports, but they learned to embrace it.
“Golf had players in their 40s, 50s and 60s,” Mann related. “They went away and came back, and now it’s 12- to 16-year-olds. There are some ridiculously good golfers. That’s one of the sports that really stepped up and asked, ‘How can we invest in developing youth?'”
Mann has been with the BC Games Society for the last 26 years, and in his current position for 19 years, and he doesn’t want to take the credit for the switch to the youth-focused event.
“That’s not because of me; it’s because of the society,” he said. “I was simply lucky enough to be here.”
Among the benefits of concentrating on young people, Mann explained, is that the age limits make it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the vast majority of the participants, which is reflected in the athletes’ excitement and enthusiasm, and in their discipline and focus.
“These kids understand the importance of the Games,” Mann said. “They train harder and pay attention to what their coaches are offering.”
Sports tourism didn’t suffer as a result of the switch, either, with no drop-off in interest and attendance.
“The adults who competed were replaced by adults who came to watch their children and grandchildren,” said Mann, adding that he is now seeing a second generation of athletes whose parents competed in the BC Games when they were young.
Participants in the BC Games often go on to the next tiers of their sports, competing at the national and international levels. The percentage of athletes who have gone on from the BC Games to represent the province at the Canada Games is in the high 50s, Mann said.
Swimmer Brent Hayden, who competed at the 1998 BC Games in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, then went on to win medals for Canada in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Championships, will be speaking to the athletes at the 2018 Opening Ceremonies on Thursday. Other noteworthy alumni of the BC Summer Games that come to Mann’s mind include wrestler Carol Huynh, who won gold for Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics and bronze at the 2012 Olympics; cyclist Ryder Hesjedal, who won the Giro d’Italia in 2012 and finished fifth in the Tour de France in 2010; and Brett Lawrie, who played in Major League Baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s.
The BC Games Society is proud of the opportunities it has offered to all athletes, even those who didn’t pursue their sports at higher levels.
The Cowichan 2018 Games will mark Mann’s last as president and CEO of the society, but he is confident about the direction the organization is heading in.
A key aspect of that is the Powering Potential Fund, which helps fund infrastructure that will be used during the BC Games and afterward, in their communities and around the province.
A permanent dock at Quamichan Lake, starting blocks for the competition pool at the Cowichan Aquatic Centre, a new mat for the Cowichan Valley Wrestling Club, and triathlon transition racks that will be moved around the province, all purchased from the Powering Potential Fund, will have a lasting impact on sports in the Cowichan Valley and around B.C., something Mann is proud of.
“We can go home at the end of the day when it’s all over with,” he said. “But what is our legacy?”