The Western Canadian Ringette Championships began with the passing of a rubber ring, a torch passed of sorts between the oldest and the youngest in the game.
On one side of the exchange at the tournament's opening ceremonies at the MTS Iceplex Wednesday night was Kiera Pattie, just three years old and already finding her way with a stick and skates.
On the other was 86-year-old Alda Tait, who organizers believe could be the most senior woman to play ringette in Manitoba. She started playing when she was 60 and still passes the ring with her St. Andrews-based team today.
About that team, the Black Ice. Tait and some of her friends started it up so women who hadn't played much competitive ringette could have a chance to try it out. They're still going strong, with their last game of their Manitoba Ladies Recreational Ringette League season slated for tonight.
"We have a lot of fun and we don't keep score," Tait said Wednesday, hours before making that ceremonial passing of the ring. "A lot of exercises are boring. this way you get to skate. It's a skating game."
And in these western Canadian championships, over 460 ringette players from across Western Canada will skate and play at the Iceplex from the time games kicked off this morning, to when the gold medals are won over the weekend. They hail from 23 teams that earned their place in the tournament, from the AA under-14 teams to the A-level squads at the under-16 and under-19 age groups.
All those teams earned the chance to represent their province at the tournament, which rotates each year between the four western provinces. As host, Manitoba will have two squads at each level of play.
"It's nice to host," said WCRC spokesman Al Gowriluk. "It's nice to showcase in your community, and for families who may or may not have seen the sport in the past."
Because from the past to now, sport -- especially for young women -- has come an awfully long way. There were no events like these Western Canadian Ringette Championships, when Tait was growing up in Winnipegosis. "We would have died for the opportunity," she said. "I think it's great. You sat by so long and watched all the opportunities for boys and the girls were like spectators. You went out to watch your brother play."
Tait was lucky, on that end, she said. Her father built boats in the summer and worked on the town's hockey rink in the winter, so she and her siblings would bundle up to go and skate. When the Second World War came, "all the organized sport and everything just went down the tubes," she recalled. "There was nobody there to coach and we just had to make our own fun."
So in the summers, Tait and her friends would bandy about with homemade cricket bats and handmade footballs. They put together a softball team and even organized some tournaments around Winnipegosis, though gas was rationed so they couldn't drive too far.
Now, all these years later, she's still playing sports, and now passing a ring to open a tournament thronged by players from across the country.
So yes, things have changed.
"I just feel so happy for these girls that they have this opportunity," said Tait while her infant granddaughter cooed beside the phone. "Hopefully women will get more opportunities."
Here's a testament to how those opportunities are lived: After a decline from its peak in the late 1980s, enrolment in ringette in Manitoba has been growing over the last decade, up to around 3,600 players today.
"Ringette is a game for life," Gowriluk said. "Promoting physical activity among girls promotes self-worth, and group sports have an even greater impact. It's not just being part of a team, but being part of a community."