It was lights, camera, action and $25,000 for Fort Smith in August as the small but big-hearted town stepped up to host speciality sports channel TSN’s first Sportscentre broadcast in the Northwest Territories.
Not bad for a little town of about 2,500, who had to go up against Whitehorse to win the broadcast as the first stop on the 2013 Kraft Celebration Tour, an annual campaign to help communities across the country in need of funds for various sports-related causes.
In an online voting matchup, Fort Smith crushed Whitehorse (with a population of 27,000) over a 24-hour period. Some Fort Smith residents stayed up all night, clicking for a chance to win the $25,000 and a visit from TSN. They were joined by supporters from across the NWT and as far away as Finland and New Zealand.
It paid off and 253,022 votes later, Fort Smith became the little Northern town that could, while Whitehorse came in with a mere 35,566 votes.
The money was much needed after a fire ravaged the Fort Smith Centennial Arena in May, leaving what was to become of the 2013/2014 ice season in question.
“We couldn’t have done it without the community,” said Pam Walsh, who nominated the town as chairperson of the Fort Smith organization committee for the Kraft tour. “This really built up community spirit and gave us a sense of hope…When we found out about the fire, we were really worried about the winter ice season.”
The dollars went towards the purchasing of one of two portable change rooms and washrooms to support figure skaters and hockey players still using the ice.
After a relentless downpour subsided just in time to allow the show to go on, all the glamour of the small screen hit Riverside Park on Aug. 16, with music pumping and a massive stage dwarfing the rest of the area. Various games and Kraft booths were set up to provide taste-testing samples of products like Cheez Whiz and the new Philadelphia chocolate cream cheese spread.
Sportscentre anchors Darren Dutchyshen and Jennifer Hedger had the crowd cheering and dancing as they delivered the top headlines in sports and turned the spotlight on the town nestled beside the Slave River Rapids, the powerful river itself flowing in the background of the live broadcast.
It marked an unforgettable first for the town – not to mention a huge bonus for tourism – as well as the anchors who couldn’t get enough of kayaking on the “amazing” rapids with the local paddling club.
“We were immediately jacked up for this when they told us we’d be going to the Northwest Territories because we’d never been here before,” Dutchyshen told The Journal backstage after the show.
“And you never forget your first time,” Hedger added with a laugh.