Canada’s best young athletes to gather in Brandon

For the second consecutive year, the Brandon Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) Branch 003 will host what has become one of the most prestigious track and field championships in the country for young athletes.

The Royal Canadian Legion’s National Youth Track and Field Championships will be held at the Brandon Community Sportsplex Aug. 10 to 12. The 42nd version of the annual event will bring together more than 650 athletes aged 14 to 17 from every province and territory in Canada. Hundreds more are expected to attend as coaches, support staff and spectators, taking in the country’s only nationwide competition for youth and midget division competitors.

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Since 2013, the RCL Nationals are held in the same city for two years before moving on to another province. The 2017 event held in Brandon won Event of the Year at the 15th Annual Tourism Westman Awards Gala in June. Public relations coordinator for the 2018 meet, Lonnie Patterson, says the city’s solid base of volunteers alongside the wide array of services here should see this year’s championships run as successfully as the last.

“Something that brings success to many of the elite sporting events in Brandon has been the volunteers, the staff of different venues and the city’s facilities,” Patterson told The Westman Journal last week. “As a local organization, we have set the bar pretty high for ourselves. We want to put on as good of an event as possible. That’s what we’ve set out to achieve.”

Planning for this year’s RCL National Championships began almost immediately following the 2017 event. The organizing committee is made up of more than 20 volunteers, while more than 100 members of the community will help set up the site, run the field events, prepare food, run merchandise tents, tend the gates and other tasks.

“The athletes will be staying in the residences at Brandon University and there’s a large evening banquet each night, so there will be people giving us a hand with that,” she said. “Plus, there’s the track maintenance and other things to consider.”

Numja Bond, communications manager at RCL Dominion Command in Ottawa, Ont., said the National Track and Field Championships are held as a public service for young athletes seeking to further develop themselves in their respective sports. It is not a fundraising campaign, but simply a way for the RCL to support youth athletics.

“The championships continue to be an excellent way to encourage athleticism and friendship among a diverse group of athletes, to help develop leadership skills and for our communities to celebrate our athletes,” Bond said my email.

“The Legion Nationals grew out of the Legion members’ early support and promotion of youth sports as a way to help the children whose fathers and mothers were serving in the armed forces. We later developed local, provincial and national youth athletic programs, which culminate in the games.”

Many former RCL Nationals competitors have gone on to represent Canada at the international level of their respective events. About 50 per cent of the track and field athletes who competed for the country at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil participated in Legion Nationals.

About 55 per cent of Canada’s track and field entries at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia this April were RCL Championship alumni as well. Bond said these athletes collected seven of the 11 Canadian track and field medals at the Games.

The RCL’s involvement in track and field began in the early 1950s, when the Ontario Legion Hydro Branch 277 sponsored what was then the Canadian Olympic Training Plan. This included supporting invitational meets. The Legion then began sponsoring national athlete’s clinics and training camps in 1957.

Two decades later, the first National Track and Field camps were held, with the championships stationed in Oromocto, N.B. Since then, the event has criss-crossed the country, making stops in Manitoba a total of four times, including this year. They were held at the International Peace Gardens in 1978, then in Winnipeg in 1995 before arriving in Brandon for the first time last year.

The RCL also commemorates the service provided by members of the Royal Canadian Armed Forces at each championship. This year, the Legion Nationals are recognizing the end of the First World War.

“This event isn’t just about competition,” Patterson said. “It’s also an opportunity for young people to learn about the Legion and remember those who have served their country.”

Weekend admission to the RCL National Youth Track and Field Championships is $15 per day for adults, $10 for children and $30 for a family. Weekend passes are available for $40 (adults), $25 (children) and $60 (family).

For more information on the RCL National Championships, visit www.legion.ca and follow the links provided.  

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