When the Saskatoon Minor Football Field opened in September 2014, it was like opening the floodgates for youngsters who had never played the game before.
The user-friendly numbers are unbelievably high: 1,600 hours of usage for 6,000 participants annually, with the ages ranging from three- and four-year-olds in the Tykes on Spikes program, up through minor football and high school football to tenants like Saskatoon’s junior Hilltops and Saskatoon women’s champions, the Valkyries.
“Our dream was one of heavy participation when we started the conversion of the Gordon Howe Bowl,” said Johnny Marciniuk, a founding member of the Friends of The Bowl. He is still active on its board of directors and the co-ordinator of almost every event which is played at the new facility. All on the board play voluntary roles.
“I cried when the last piece of green turf was put down. I’m still moved by it all. When Field Turf completed the job on the area 185 yards long and 90 yards wide, they told us it was the largest field they had built anywhere in the world. That’s what we wanted. On any given Saturday in football season, we can have eight minor football games going at the same time.”
The next step in the vision will be spectator-friendly.
Beginning in July, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will release grandstands, with 4,000 individual seats, as well as the six press boxes and suites, from their former facility in Regina to the Saskatoon field. Installation of the individual seats will start on the east side of the field during the summer and fall, with installation on the west side to be done by May or June 2018.
The spectator phase of the project will cost about $10 million, of which $4 million has already been raised. Members of the public will be able to choose and put their names on their own seats.
Marciniuk considers his role “a labour of love” and on Feb. 8 at TCU Place, he will be honoured as the Kinsmen Sportsman of the Year, an award which is bestowed upon individuals by those who have been recipients in the past.
Marciniuk has been with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools for 32 years. His path in life has been driven by the values of growing up in a rural town and then embracing the values of urban life when he moved to Saskatoon for the final year of high school.
“My father, Dan, was a teacher and principal in Hafford. My mother, Olga, was also a teacher and homemaker. She died when I was 13 and it was a horrible loss. A year after her death, my father moved the family to Saskatoon. There were three of us and we all got the opportunity to go to the University of Saskatchewan,” said Marciniuk.
A brother, Larry, went into education and has just retired after being principal at Cold Lake, Alta. A brother, Darcy, is a specialist in internal medicine and his wife, Carla, is also a doctor; two children, Tanya and Jeffrey, have followed in their footsteps.
Marciniuk received his degree in physical education in 1984, his degree in education a year later, and was hired immediately to teach at Bishop James Mahoney. He was soon named on a full-time basis at the central office to direct physical education, health and athletics programs and manage environmental centres at Blackstrap and Eagle Creek.
He was involved with both the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate and the provincial association for three decades, ultimately winning the provincial award of merit in 2014, the highest honour of its kind.
He assisted with many championship events in Saskatoon, many at a provincial level, and his love of football was particularly evident.
As a director and organizer of the Kinsmen Football League for 10 years, he was a game day co-ordinator and manager of the equipment inventory, distribution, maintenance and storage.
It was partly because of the shortcomings in equipment storage that Marciniuk, Brian Kosteroski, Brent Smith, Al Gibb and Carey Humphrey founded Friends of the Bowl and were in active talks with Sandra Schultz, a consultant, about the dreams they had for football. Before long, they had a team on board that launched the $11.5-million campaign for the rejuvenation and redevelopment of the bowl. A $2-million contribution by James and Cora Yausie was the first major sign of community support.
The first construction project was the 5,000 square foot warehouse where equipment for youth programs could be stored. At any given time, there can be 10 sets of team equipment, 800 helmets and shoulder pads and more. There is a laundry, and all helmets are sanitized before they are used again.
The second phase was the installation of the turf and the third project was the construction of a two-level club house, 1,200 square feet on each level where there are nine dressing rooms, officials’ rooms, nine administration offices, a concession and washroom facilities.
“The amazing thing,” said Marciniuk, “has been the generosity of the community. Initially we received $2.6 million from the city, $1.5 million from the province and the rest has come from donations. We raised $2 million alone from donors who wished to remain anonymous.
“I’m an educator at heart,” he added. “But how I saw the community react was outstanding. Lorne Wright was the general contractor and his family has always been associated with good deeds for the city.
“We were in a meeting one day looking out at the snow on the field. Bruce Rempel stepped out, made a couple of calls and soon he had friends clearing the field. We had a water drainage problem another day and Curtis Brunner’s construction company came to the rescue, extending the downspouts into a basin so the water could run into the sewer system. Al Gibb with Amtech Electric did things for us and I don’t ever remember seeing any bills. Dave Paslawski with ASL Paving came through when we needed him.
“There are many stories I can tell where people in our community rallied around an immediate emergency cause. They are the heroes.
“I love my job with the Catholic school division and I’m thankful that the division believes in creating partnerships within the community and that becomes a perfect formula for success.”
And then there’s another partnership. Shelley Hoath, who is president of Saskatoon Football Inc. and now sits on the Hilltop board of directors, lost her husband, Carl, in 2012. Carl wore No. 68 as a Hilltop player; his sons, Tristan and Tyler, followed and also wore the same number. This year, the Hilltops retired the number in honour of the three of them.
“Half of the Hilltop players call her mom now,” said Marciniuk, “and Shelley’s into football every bit as much as, if not more, than I am. We’ve worked many events together and we’ve become partners in life.”