The Alberta Winter Games (AWG) is a multi-sport event hosted in Alberta every two years since the inaugural event in 1976, hosted in Banff. The 2018 AWG was hosted in Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray and area) on Feb. 16-19.
The AWG divides the province into eight zones, which then compete for the most medals, much like the nations at the Olympics. Each zone has a color, and athletes, coaches and chaperones are all issued sweaters and toques emblazed with the particular color to represent their zone in the opening ceremonies and throughout the games. The AWG are as close as a junior high school-aged athlete can come to an Olympic experience, with fun and competition developing both life skills and lifelong friendships for all the competitors.
Wetaskiwin area is in Zone 4 (Parkland) which covers much of the center of the province, from Red Deer in the south to Millet in the North, and from the Saskatchewan border in the east, to Rocky Mountain House in the west. Zone four has been represented by the color orange for over a decade, but wrestlers from zone four have been very sparse in the past five games, with Wetaskiwin being the only wrestling club in the zone for many years. Since 2010 our numbers have declined from nine wrestlers for 19 weight classes to only two wrestlers in 2016!
Remaining weight class openings can be “filled” by wrestlers from other zones that did not win their trials competition. “Zone 4 has been represented by more fills than local wrestlers for the past decade,” said Wetaskiwin coach Shamus McDonnell, “I competed in the 1984 Winter Games for wrestling, and back then we had a full roster from our zone, which included wrestlers from Red Deer, Stettler, Rocky Mountain House, and several schools in Wetaskiwin. It was sad to see such a declining interest in the past several years, even since 2010 when I first coached the Zone 4 team.”
But the stats have begun to change. With the start of Wetaskiwin’s growing elementary program three years ago, and with the addition of one new wrestling club at Crank Gym in Eckville, Zone 4 had 11 wrestlers in 2018 – six of which were from Wetaskiwin! Even more encouraging is that of these six, four placed fourth or higher! With more than dozen athletes in the Wetaskiwin elementary program, the future AWG which is for junior high school aged wrestlers looks promising for 2020.
The Winter Games Wrestling tournament is a dual meet format, where two zones face each other and wrestle from lowest to highest weight class, with team points earned for each pin or win by decision after two rounds of wrestling; each round being two minutes in duration. Points start at 5-0 for a pin, 4-0 for win by technical superiority with no points scored by losing wrestler, 4-1 for technical superiority with points scored by losing wrestler, and 3-2 for decision after a full four minutes of wrestling.
The first dual Zone 4 faced was against Zone 5 at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. The score was 43 to 39 for Zone 5 going into the final match – Zone 4 lost, giving Zone 5 the victory. Such a close round against a phenomenal team, who earned the victory… this time.
The second dual was against Zone 1 at noon on Saturday and ended with 43 team points for Zone 4, versus 44 points for Zone 1 to going into the final match. “We came close, and we only just barely lost this one, despite some amazing wrestling,” said McDonnell on the second loss, leaving the extremely strong Zone 6 Edmonton team to face in the pool of four zones.
“After a hard fought battle against the Edmonton zone, we saw a tie in team points after the girls finished, but in the end we came up a few points shy for the final, leaving us in last place in our pool. Despite such close losses, morale was still high on our team,” said McDonnell.
The next dual was a crossover for 7th/8th place in the event, versus the last place Zone 7 team in the opposite pool. Zone 4 finally found its pace, and the final score was 58 to 30 for Zone 4, earning seventh place overall. “Awesome wrestling from both teams, and some really close matches that ended in our favor gave us this much needed win for our team.
“Three really close duals which was an incredible showing, exceeding our expectations. I speak for all three Zone 4 coaches in saying how proud we are of these athletes, and how hard they tried,” said McDonnell of the two-day event.
After the team points for Zones were finalized, the top two individual wrestlers from each weight class, in each pool, went on to the individual crossovers and finals for individual medals. This is where four of the Wetaskiwin wrestlers, two Eckville wrestlers, and one Edmonton Zone fill all advanced into some of the best wrestling matches of the weekend.
Coach McDonnell wanted to give a special thanks to Eckville head Coach Adam Laporte and Drew Persson who not only chaperoned and coached the team, but also coordinated special events prior to the games and sought sponsorship to support the team with custom team suits and singlets. A special thanks to the sponsorship from Denali Oilfield Services, and Drillers Directional for their generous donations to support our young athletes.