PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- While the 2010 Manitoba Winter Games are a coming-out party for more than 600 talented young athletes from around the province, these Games have also been a coming-back-out party for the sport of ringette.
Ringette is back in the Manitoba Winter Games -- held every two years alternating with summer -- for the first time in 12 years having missed the past two cycles due to lack of numbers.
To be included in the Manitoba Games, sports must demonstrate active registered participants in at least five of Manitoba's seven regions. Ringette was unable to do that until this year as the sport is enjoying a resurgence in the under-12 age groups.
"We have teams from five regions with two from Winnipeg for a total of six teams," Cheryl Adlard, executive director of Ringette Manitoba, said on Thursday.
Adlard noted the Parkland and Westman regions don't have teams here since the players in those regions are too young for the Manitoba Games' designated age range of 16 to 19.
"Being back in the Manitoba Games is absolutely critical to our evolution as a sport. It's an opportunity to give players their first taste of a multi-sport venue and show the younger girls there is something very special to aspire to where they can represent an area as part of their regional team."
Lauren Ruud, a goaltender with the Winnipeg Gold team which has a 3-0 record after two days of play, said she is thrilled to be part of ringette's resurgence.
"I love being part of the Manitoba Games and I think it's a sign that ringette is coming back in general," said Ruud, 17, also a goaltender with the defending Division I champion Oak Park Raiders of the Winnipeg Women's High School Hockey League. "Years ago, I know a lot of people used say, 'oh, don't play ringette, hockey is so much cooler' and it went that way for a while and I used to hear that a lot.
"Most people go into ringette to learn skating and then go to hockey after but girls change and now more are sticking with ringette because they're less affected by trying to conform when they see how fun it is."
Ruud said she's a lot busier in net with her ringette team facing upwards of 40 shots per game while seeing an average of only about 14 with her Raiders hockey team.
Adlard said Come Try Ringette (CTR), a free day aimed at trying to recruit new players, has been successful in numerous regions in Manitoba.
"In terms of registration, we're now at our highest level of registration, 3,009 players, which is the highest we've been in over 10 years," said Adlard, noting the last time ringette registration was over 3,000 was in 1997-1998 when it was 3,005.
Lauren Morse, a centre with Team Central (1-2) which includes players from Starbuck, La Salle, St. Jean and Sanford and a member of the Magic ringette team, said this is her second Manitoba Winter Games experience but this one is special.
"I came to the Manitoba Games in volleyball in Grade 8 (2006) but volleyball's not really my sport, ringette is my favourite sport so to be able to play it here has been so great. It's like a mini-nationals," said Morse, whose Magic team will be competing at the Ringette Canada nationals next month.
"I find that ringette kind of gets brushed off to the side because it's not really a boy-girl sport. So being back in the Games can show girls there is a higher level to the sport that they can go for. It's going to help spread the word about our game."
The gold medal for ringette will be played on Saturday at 9 a.m. followed by the male hockey gold-medal final at 11 a.m., both at the new PCU Centre arena. The closing ceremonies will follow at the PCU Centre to conclude the 2010 Games.