WEYBURN – Weyburn city council will consider the appeal of the Weyburn AAA U18 Gold Wings to proceed with a fundraiser proposal, with the plea that the city may lose the team if they are not able to turn things around financially and with a quality program on the ice.
Ryan Birnie represented the team’s board of directors as he presented the details of where the team is at and the situation they are facing, with pressure bearing down from Sask Hockey to improve things or they may force a move of the team out of Weyburn.
The team was established in 2006, and is made up of female hockey players ranging from 16 to 18 years of age. They pay in the Female Under-18 AAA Hockey League, which is the highest calibre of hockey for midget-aged girls.
The Gold Wings won the national Esso Cup championship in 2014, and two years later, helped host the Esso Cup championship here in Weyburn.
The record of the team has not been good since that time, admitted Birnie, noting they have only recorded four wins in 135 games.
“Sask Hockey has pushed for the organization to make significant changes,” he noted, and pointed out the provincial organization has made teams move when there are years of competition issues.
Asked by Coun. Jeff Richards if Sask Hockey would really do this, Birnie pointed out that the Bears AAA team currently based in Estevan was moved there from Beardy’s First Nation due to similar circumstances of not winning any games.
He presented a new fundraising strategy, after the team had initially approached the Weyburn Leisure Services committee “with zero success”.
“We have not been provided a clear logical reason why the committee has denied our proposal. It has been stated that the City has a historic agreement with the Red Wings, although we have clear support from the Red Wings organization,” said Birnie.
The Red Wings club provided a letter of support for the Gold Wings’ proposal from team president Jamie Blunden, as the girls team is not proposing to take away any of the on-ice or board advertising that are in support of the Red Wings team.
Blunden, who was at the council meeting, said they support the Gold Wings as it’s important the girls team stay in Weyburn.
The Gold Wings is proposing to sell advertising with plexiglas advertising, using a narrow four-to-five-inch strip along the bottom of the glass above the boards, as some rinks already use, such as in Humboldt.
Showing photos of how it looks in the Humboldt arena, Birnie said, “Humboldt is one of the most advertised facilities in the province, as they just about cover every square inch in that arena.”
He estimates that with 185 panes of glass in Crescent Point Place, if they charged $200 for every pane, they would raise $37,000, and initial interest from corporations and businesses indicate they have about $25,000 worth of interest already.
The reason the funds are needed, he explained, is part of the direction from Sask Hockey is for the team to have a top-notch coach and high-level training to help improve the win-loss record on the ice, and this costs money.
This would be on top of the pressures inflation is putting on the team, with travel expenses and accommodations expected to be going up by 25 to 35 per cent. These line items have increased their current budget of around $192,000 to $220,000, and this fundraiser proposal will help them meet that target, said Birnie.
The financial pressure is also due to low attendance, which has been caused by the poor play on the ice.
The Gold Wings are increasing the fees charged to the parents of the girls who come to play for the team, but as Birnie pointed out, the parents want to know there will be quality coaching and training for their daughters if they’re going to be paying more.
The Gold Wings have hired coach Chandy Kaip, who has had success coaching at the university level of women’s teams, and they have brought in specialized instructors for goaltenders and for hockey skills training.
Asked what the Leisure Services committee had proposed in regard to the Gold Wings request, Birnie said one of their ideas was to sell ad space on the back of benches along walking trails, and to sell ads on the electronic sign at the entrance to the fair grounds.
With the financial need of the team, he said bolting a sign on the back of a bench on a walking trail is not going to do it, as corporations and companies interested in signing up to help them want their exposure in the rink, and the plexiglas space is the only one available without infringing on the Red Wings’ advertising spaces.
Coun. Dick Michel said he’s watched the Gold Wings play and sees how they work hard every shift. He told Birnie a key word that council will be considering is “compromise”, and hoped Birnie and the Gold Wings will agree to that.
Birnie pointed out with up and coming girls playing hockey in Weyburn, including the U13 team which won a provincial championship this year, they want to make sure there is still a Gold Wings team here when they get old enough. He also pointed out that a contingent of players from that team were with him there in the council chambers as support for the team’s plea to the city.