When it comes to sports, the ball is in the West Shore’s court.
Make that the hockey puck, the football, and the mixed martial arts gloves as well, all of which ricochet off the end boards, get spiked into the turf and strain ring ropes in the region of choice for many of the sports franchises and sports fans of Greater Victoria.
“(All) that has happened in the last three years, which has been incredible for any community,” said Langford parks planner Mike Leskiw of the new sports infrastructure in the West Shore.
In that time, the municipality has constructed two full-sized artificial fields and a stadium at City Centre Park. To open this year, the new Sportsplex introduces a National Hockey League (NHL) standardized ice surface and 10-pin bowling to the mix.
The two new fields, one made to National Football (NFL) standards and the other to Canadian Football League (CFL) standards, also bear the mark of FIFA and World Rugby Board standards. The fields currently stand as one-of-a-kind facilities on Vancouver Island and tell the story of how the West Shore is giving the rest of Greater Victoria a run for sporting dollars.
“(Langford) mayor and council believe in health and recreation and promote it heavily by building facilities that attract sports activities,” said Drew Finerty, general manager of the Victoria Highlander’s soccer team. “There are a lot of young families in the West Shore and the best thing for family is sports. If you live here, everything is close and you can play almost any sport.”
In addition to playing, watching their favourite sports teams is a big West Shore draw and Bear Mountain Stadium is expected to grow to a 3000-seat facility in 2012 — bringing in further spending and economic help to the West Shore.
Meanwhile attendance at Victoria Highlander’s soccer, Rebels football, Shamrocks Lacrosse, Grizzlies hockey and the Armageddon Fighting Championship’s MMA events continue to remain stable and lead the charge to continued growth in the West Shore’s sports segment.
“We believe it is a younger community, a growing community and we are very much looking forward to growing with it,” said AFC president Darren Owen. “The infrastructure is in place which makes it an easier choice to bring my organization, and the thousands of fans who attend every event and the dollars they spend, here.”
Owen believes sport brings significant traffic and dollars from outlying areas. His own estimates peg more than 80 per cent of his ticket-purchasing clientele commuting from outside the West Shore. He sells more than 500 tickets in Island towns such as Nanaimo and Campbell River and several hundred more in Greater Vancouver.
Their home in Bear Mountain Arena, run by West Shore Parks and Recreations Society, also hosts a plethora of sports teams. The site is so well used even the fitness centre was so busy staff were forced to turn people away before a recent renovation effectively doubled its capacity.
WSPRS administrator Linda Barnes said more than 150,000 participants registered in paid programs last year with thousands more served by soccer, minor hockey, figure skating, curling and BMX. There were more than 250,000 participants in their drop-in programs alone.
With the infrastructure in place for professional teams, Island youth are able to get in on the action early.
“(The students) are looking for something to connect to … It connects them to school and the community,” said Kevin Harrington, Belmont secondary school PE teacher and football coach. “We have some amazing kids, that have come through here that wouldn’t have graduated for sure if it wasn’t for sports.”
The Belmont grad who still lives in the area, didn’t have infrastructure like this when he grew up and believes that the importance of sports transcends dollars and cents.
“The facilities are the best in (the region) Victoria by far,” Harrington said. “When you are talking about community in (Greater) Victoria — the growth of that recreation component has been by far best looked after on the West Shore.”
Find your teams online:
Rebels Football | www.westshorerebels.com
Grizzlies Hockey | www.victoriagrizzlies.com
Armageddon Fighting Championships
WestShore Parks & Recreation
City Centre Park, Eagle Ridge Arena