Sports can have a powerful impact on the lives of athletes, as the lives of three well-known athletes were shared with residents during the 11th annual Sports Dinner and Auction for the Weyburn Red Wings.
The Sports Dinner was sold out, with a crowd gathered at McKenna Hall on Saturday to listen to speakers Brendon LaBatte, offensive lineman for the Saskatchewan Roughriders who grew up and was raised in Weyburn; Jeff Adams, a three-time Olympian and five-time Paralympian; and Wendel Clark, the “Captain Crunch” of the Toronto Maple Leafs who captained the team from 1991 to 1994.
LaBatte, the first keynote speaker of the evening, was very humble about his career. He said that there is not a whole lot of glory about being an offensive lineman, and claimed that he was as average as they come.
“One of the things that I believe very much is that when you visualize yourself doing something, then it can happen,” said LaBatte. “All you can do is go out there and be as prepared as you can.”
Brendon started playing football in Grade 9, for the Weyburn Comp Eagles. He credited the coaches of the Eagles for teaching him the fundamentals of the game, “They showed me a lot of things that I still carry with me today, when I play on the field.”
After playing at high school, LaBatte spent four years with the University of Rams. He said that during his time in Regina he was very ‘obsessed about football’, even though he wasn’t sure where it would take him.
“What really mattered was having the desire to compete. It doesn’t matter if it is against another team or the other guys on the offensive line, I want to be the best,” said LaBatte.
His career went to the next level in 2008, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers selected LaBatte in the first round of the Canadian Football League draft.
“Winnipeg took a gamble on me. I didn’t run the fastest, or bench the most. But they still wanted me,” said LaBatte. “As luck would have it, I was able to start during my rookie year.”
After playing four years in Winnipeg, LaBatte was signed as a free agent by the Roughriders last year. Brendon is very honoured to playing back in his home province.
He expects a lot of pressure on the team this year, as Regina will host the Grey Cup in 2013. “The expectations are sky high,” said LaBatte. “Football can be a cut-throat business; if you are not going to go out there and get the job done, then they will find someone else that can.”
“Definitely it is a violent game, especially for an offensive lineman. In the guard position, you are seeing the biggest and strongest players of the other teams. You are going against monstrous men, but I just go out there and give it all I got.”
Despite the pressure, LaBatte plays to the best of his ability. “You just have to have the mentality to be in there for the whole game, and by being tenacious and being in there.”
Next to speak was Jeff Adams, a three-time Olympian and five-time Paralympian who has been inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame.
Adams said that sports can be one of the things people can do to help them pursue greatness.
“The lessons that you learn (in sports) can be applied in the lives that you lead, and can be brought back to your community,” said Adams.
As a child, Jeff loved playing sports during his youth. It made him happy and he had his own dreams and goals. “Having something to chase after sets us on a path, because when we are trying to achieve something, we are making decisions to achieve that goal.”
Adams underwent radiation therapy for cancer as a child, and the aftermath of the treatment led to a spinal injury at age nine that paralyzed him. One of the toughest things for him at that time was adjusting to the ‘norm’. When he returned back to playing sports, he had to change how he played. But he didn’t stop dreaming, instead his dreams changed to fit his new life.
When Jeff got older, he was able to participate in sports designed for people with disabilities, his very first experience with wheelchair basketball. “It became obvious that there are things that sometimes set people apart, but if we take the steps to understand each other then we can come together as a community. We can stop looking at differences and start looking at diversities.”
His sacrifices led Jeff to competing at six consecutive Summer Paralympics from 1988 to 2008, winning a total of three gold, four silver, and six bronze medals.
The last keynote speaker was Wendel Clark, a former athlete with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Born in Saskatchewan, Clark was selected by Toronto first overall in the 1985 draft.
Visualization is very important for any athlete, no matter what sport they play, according to Clark. “The team that has turned on before the game, who have visualized being the best, will be the one who wins.”
“As you move up from level to level, odds are the talent is the same from player to player. The difference for the athlete who makes it to the highest level can be who loves the game, and who just likes the game,” said Clark.
Athletes have to be prepared to make the visualization and the dedication to make that highest level of sports. “This can be applied to any sport,” said Clark.
Wendel’s own love for the sport started during his youth. He played double AA hockey in Yorkton, midget hockey in Notre Dame and played in the Western Hockey League for the Saskatoon Blades.
Even though Clark had qualified for the Blades at age 16, his parents decided to send him back to the midget level, to give him more experience as a younger age level. “They knew that it had to be a marathon, not a race, to get to that level. I had to take my time and get there slowly.”
During his time playing with the National Hockey League, Clark was known for his physical play and his offensive mind combined with scoring prowess.
He reflected on the changes to the NHL style of playing since he competed, to what players are competing in now, sharing stories of his own experiences.
“In today’s game, the tough guy can’t do anything to change how I play,” said Clark, referring to the instigator rule. “There is less of a need for the heavy-weights anymore.”
Another change is the rinks themselves. “Back in my day, teams were built around their arenas so they could have home-ice advantage. But now, all the rinks are the same.”