VALLEY VOICES: North Thompson Sportsplex

The building has had its challenges but always has been a centrepiece of the whole North Thompson Valley's community life

Members of the Clearwater Timber Products team

Members of the Clearwater Timber Products team

North Thompson Sportsplex celebrates its 40th anniversary this winter season.

The building has had its challenges but always has been a centrepiece of not just Clearwater’s, but the whole North Thompson Valley’s community life.

Clearwater mayor John Harwood was Thompson-Nicola Regional District director for Area A (Clearwater-Vavenby) at the time and played a lead role in organizing the vote to get the Sportsplex built.

The arena and curling rink were completed in 1974. Unfortunately, the roof partially collapsed one or two years later.

“It was engineered for 40 pounds per square foot, which is the Vavenby snow-load,” Harwood recalled. “It should have been around 80.”

Harwood was placed in the difficult situation, as Area A director, of suing the regional district while he was TNRD board chair.

The lawsuit was based on the fact that the TNRD had given the structure a building permit when it was clear the engineering had not been adequate.

The regional district ended up paying part of the costs of rebuilding the arena and strengthening it.

Harwood was also a member of a group of 10 local citizens who went to the Royal Bank to raise money to buy a Zamboni. Each signed a note for $1,000 to get the machine.

“That’s the kind of community it was,” the present-day mayor said.

Roger Mayer, today the Sportsplex’s facilities supervisor, started work at the arena 36 years ago – just a few years after it opened.

His operations lead hand, Bob Beehan, has been working at the Sportsplex for 32 years.

The facility was pretty primitive when he started there, Mayer recalled.

The walls were bare plywood, there were no tools to work with, and there was chain link fencing along the boards at each end where the plexiglass is now.

Despite the bare bones building, it was the center of the community in many ways.

“We used to get 300 people out to watch men’s hockey on Wednesday nights,” Mayer said. “During the Curling in Hockey arenafirst season there were 36 bonspiels.”

Improvements since then including strengthening the roof, expanding the lounge over the curling rink, addition of a Zamboni room, better flooring and, most recently, the construction of five new dressing rooms.

“About 2,300 visitors came to Clearwater last year because of the Sportsplex,” he said. “The economic impact on the community is huge.”

Recently an engineer was in the building and mistakenly assumed that it was recently built, and not 40 years old.

Mayer credited the building’s success on its dedicated staff of about 10 workers, of which two are full-time and the rest part-time.

At least three local hockey players have gone on to play professional hockey: Ole Kjenstad, Brett Colborne and Dusty McLellan.

The facilities supervisor emphasized, however, that the objective of the hockey program isn’t to produce professionals, but lifetime players.

“We want people to play hockey for life, to love the game, and to bring their kids back to play hockey,” he said.

Mayer said that Raft Mountain Skating Club has been active since the Sportsplex opened.

It has produced at least two professional figure-skaters: Sheana Watt and Melissa Hole.

As with the hockey program, however, the objective has always been to teach the youngsters lifetime skills.

“That’s the value of sports, to teach the commitment needed to be successful in life,” he said.

Wells Gray Curling Club actually traces its roots to before the Sportsplex was built.

Its first rink was behind what is now Raft River Elementary School.

Then the curlers built a covered rink near where ball diamond number two is in Capostinksy Park. That collapsed under a heavy snow load and so they were ready when the Sportsplex opened.

Another program that many people don’t know much abut has students from local schools learn to skate at the arena. The Sportsplex is located on school district property and so the students get to skate for free.

Below: Participants in Raft Mountain Skating Club’s figure-skating program pose for a photograph around the year 1984. Pictured are (back, l-r) Karen Johnson, Toni Harfield, Melinda Collison, Kirsten Kjenstad, Shelley Traub, Cindy Stewart, (front, l-r) Sheana Watt, Kristy Curtis, Shane Coughlin, Wendy Emery, and Barb Wadlegger.