As Jay Onrait belted out the Bryan Adams lyric, “those were the best days of my life,” one had to think it was right up there.
Thursday’s live broadcast of SportsCentre from the Estevan Court House was an experience that won’t soon be forgotten by the roughly 2,500 people who showed up.
The party was all part of the Kraft Celebration Tour, a joint project between Kraft Canada and TSN. Estevan was the seventh stop on this year’s tour.
Aside from the one-hour SportsCentre broadcast, which began at 4 p.m., the afternoon included entertainment from local artists and the TSN anchors themselves, along with the presentation of $25,000 to Estevan football.
Officials at TSN’s head office called Estevan the best stop in the three-year history of the tour after viewing the broadcast.
Estevan committee chair Wanda Harron, who had told TSN she was hoping for 1,000 people at the broadcast, said she was “blown away” by what turned out to be the largest crowd ever for a Western Canadian stop.
“I was absolutely shocked. Everybody was well-behaved. There was no jostling for position, nobody elbowing each other,” said Harron, who added that event director Rob Cranston was astonished by how organized the local group was.
The show opened with a brief overview of Estevan, highlighting the city’s Energy City moniker, it being one of the first outposts of the North West Mounted Police and its claim as Canada’s Sunshine Capital.
That was followed by a feature telling the story of Estevan’s football programs and the flooding that devastated them this spring.
Harron and Elecs head coach Marco Ricci were interviewed, as well as deputy fire chief Dale Feser, Elecs quarterback Kolby Fleury and his grandmother Darlene Himmelspeck.
The feature included extensive footage of the flooding at its peak and the toll it took on Dana Quewezance Memorial Field.
“It’s a little overwhelming and a little surreal seeing yourself on the screen like that. I just hope I did a good job representing Estevan football,” Harron said.
“There were lots of tears in the crowd,” added Ricci, “so I’m pretty confident that it hit home and people revisited some of the heartbreak that happened during that time.”
The show also included scenes from Wednesday’s cleanup at the field, O’Toole driving a stock car at Estevan Motor Speedway and Onrait riding a donkey belonging to Bill and Val Paulson.
While the focus is on local successes, there are still scores to read and news to break.
In Armstrong, B.C., Onrait and O’Toole had taped a spectacular helicopter entrance but had to cut it when the Riders fired Greg Marshall and Doug Berry.
“It was kind of devastating, to be honest. I know Rider fans were probably happy about the move,” Onrait said.
“It’s not like we’re just there to hand out Jell-O and Kool-Aid. We’re there to actually put on a sports program too. Sometimes our bosses have to remind us of that,” O’Toole quipped.
But Onrait and O’Toole managed to get the crowd involved in the news aspect of the show too.
During a highlight pack of a game between the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, Onrait shouted “Hideki” and got the crowd to respond with “Matsui” each time the A’s designated hitter made a play.
Later on, during highlights of a press conference with Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, Onrait told the audience to shout “Where’s Bobrovsky?” in reference to the Flyers’ backup netminder.
The broadcast was shown on a giant screen beside the stage so the crowd could see how it looked.
Activities leading up to the show included entertainment from Estevan’s Chris Henderson and Lexie Tytlandsvik and dancing from the White Bear First Nation.
The local committee made its way onto the stage for the cheque presentation and followed that up by dancing with Onrait.
“The thing I’ll always remember is standing up on stage and looking out at the crowd and seeing southeast Saskatchewan coming out to support our celebration,” said committee member Brenda Lyons.
“We wanted people to have a great time and looking out from the stage, it was like a rock concert. It was better than a rock concert.”
Indeed, Onrait and O’Toole spent the better part of an hour rocking out to classic songs to get everyone warmed up for the show.
Ricci called them “probably two of the most amazing men I’ve ever seen” for entertaining the crowd.
“They didn’t need to come in before their show (but) they were wearing their suits and stayed there the whole time making sure people had fun. Their energy level did not at all once waver and it really fed off into the crowd,” Ricci said.