By Kathy Yanchus
In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, it’s competition, camaraderie and sportsmanship that form the crux of the CANUSA Games.
In their 55th year, the Games draw little attention outside of the organizers, participants and their families. Yet the three-day competition involves hundreds of young athletes in a myriad of sports. The Olympic-like CANUSA Games are in fact, North America’s largest and longest running international games.
Hoping to raise the profile of the Games in time for next summer’s 56th version in Hamilton are two young Waterdown residents who participated in this year’s Games in Flint, Michigan.
Both 12-year-old Jarrett and 10-year-old Joel Matthews had the opportunity to experience the Games’ traditions that begun in 1958 when the American Amateur Athletic Union and the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union joined forces to devise a competitive format in two cities of comparable size and alternate locations each year.
The boys’ dad Rick suggested the competition and they were keen to participate.
“I wanted to try something new,” said Joel, a flag football player, along with his brother, the latter who also plays tackle football through the Hamilton Wentworth Minor Football League.
“We had never tried anything like this before,” added Jarrett.
The U12 flag football team representing Canada managed to eke out a team of six players and a week of practice, and although the games on the field didn’t go their way, the boys came home with great stories of their experiences.
All participants billet with host families to make new friends and it’s a big part of the fun for the kids involved, said the boys’ mom Kelly Ferguson.
Buses transported the Hamilton team to Flint for the August weekend event, where the competitors attended Opening Ceremonies at a local high school. The highlight was the arrival of runners who circled the track and lit the large torch to officially open the Games, after a 245-mile run and ride beginning the night before from Hamilton city hall.
The Closing Ceremonies were amazing as well, said Joel, with skydivers floating to the ground, one holding a Canadian flag and the other an American flag, and all competitors massed together to play pickup games.
In between, competitors ages 9 to 18 (some sports such as bowling, skeet and darts have teams members over 18) spread out in venues across the city to participate in everything from basketball and swimming, to tennis and track.
As a non-profit organization, CANUSA Games are funded through a variety of sources, including donations and grants.
With all participants receiving a T-shirt, commemorative gift and transportation, it’s a great deal for a mere $30, said Ferguson.
As spring approaches next year, Hamilton organizers will be searching for competitors for the August 9 to 11 CANUSA weekend, and the Matthews are already talking up the Games with their friends and classmates.
“They say, ‘cool, maybe I can do that,’” said Joel.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a better team next time,” smiled Jarrett.
One of the “by-products” of the lack of awareness of the Games is that it’s difficult to field teams, said Ferguson.
“Although this year was the 55th anniversary of the Games, I found that very few people have ever heard of them,” she said.
With the city hosting the Games next year, “it would be great if there could be a re-energized vitality infused into the experience.”
It’s a tremendous opportunity for young people to participate in an Olympic style competition, she adds. “Because not all are going to be Olympians.”
For more information, visit the web site at www.canusagames.ca.