Fourteen members of the 2013 Grey Cup Champion Saskatchewan Roughriders made their way to the City of Yorkton this past Friday with their good friend the Grey Cup, first for an autograph signing at the Co-op Food Store, followed up by a show of athleticism in the form of a basketball game at the YRHS gym.
The Riders spent over an hour and a half signing autographs at Co-op, where lucky fans could also take their photo with the beautiful trophy that was on display for the entire afternoon.
But one might wonder why these athletes took the time to visit Yorkton in the middle of winter, all the while hauling around their most prized possession, the Grey Cup?
Well Darcy Zaharia of Yorkton Minor Football is one of the people to thank for bringing the Riders to town. "We contacted the Riders a few months ago because they did a charity hockey game here I think during the year of Riderville in 2010," said Zaharia, continuing, "We had Dan Foster, he's their community relations guy, come to the school last year with Keith Shologan who was speaking here."
"They mentioned that they wanted to do a basketball game so we said 'hey, yeah, for sure', it's a great thing to do to get the Riders here. They wanted a couple of places for the Grey Cup to go and seeing as Co-op always treats the whole community pretty good we talked to Bruce Thurston over and he jumped at the chance to host the Riders autograph session for the community."
And while the idea was started with the initial conversation between Zaharia and Foster, it was the Riders players themselves who felt they should come out to Yorkton. "We came out here because they (the fans) support us. They do everything they can to be there for us and cheer us on so we just wanted to come out and do the same for them," said Riders second year wide receiver Taj Smith.
Kory Sheets, the 2013 Grey Cup MVP and one of the most dynamic running backs to ever suit up for the Riders also made it clear that the reason they are here is not because they were doing it as a community relations gimmick, but because of each and every Rider fan in the City of Yorkton. "It really is important for us to come out here to show our gratitude and our appreciation for them (the fans)," said Sheets.
Sheets went on to mention how nice it is to visit Yorkton, saying, "It's a good, small town and a nice place to be around. The people are friendly."
With the autograph session finished it was time for the main event: the charity basketball game.
But just who was the Riders' opponents for this basketball game? Did a group of Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Yorkton to battle their rivals on the court?
Or was it a host of Calgary Stampeders that came, galloping, into Yorkton?
The answer is no on both cases. Instead, glaring into the eyes of the Riders was none other than the YRHS Raiders Senior Boys basketball team. A team of teenagers who, most likely, had spent each 2013 Rider game glued to their televisions, watching their heroes bump and thump their opposition into the ground en route to the 2013 Grey Cup championship.
But now they weren't watching the Riders on the television. They weren't rooting for them, cheering them on in hopes of seeing the Green Machine come out victorious. Instead, they were the ones facing the men who they once considered idols but now see as opponents. "You see them on the field now you see them on the court but the difference is you're on the court with them. It's actually pretty crazy," said an awestruck Braden Oystrick. "They're childhood heroes."
"It's like we're B.C. or Montreal or something, it's pretty surreal."
Oystrick's teammate Tyrell Ulmer echoed that statement. "It's very surreal. You can't really put it into words how awesome it truly is. Playing against these guys it's just a great feeling. Guarding Kory Sheets, who is one of my favourite players, and playing against Neal Hughes and Jordan Sisco, it was really cool."
And while the Raiders fell to the Riders by a score of 42-24 it didn't matter. Players on each side of the court enjoyed the experience, playing in front of a loud, proud group of Yorkton citizens and raising just over $1,500.00 for a great charity known as KidSport, which is a children's charity that helps families that face financial difficulties by paying for their children's registration fees and equipment costs.
Yorkton KidSport representative Shawna Taylor said that the charity was honoured to receive the silver collection donation, despite not even expecting to be involved with the event. "We didn't expect to be invited to this event but we are very grateful for these opportunities and we thank the sport community for thinking of us and inviting us to get involved."
"We'd like to thank Yorkton Minor Football and Darcy Zaharia very much for organizing this event and we appreciate you guys thinking of Kidsport. We'd also like to thank the Riders for coming out tonight and making this possible."
Taj Smith, however, felt that KidSport is the one that should be thanked. "Everybody needs help. I just wish I would have had this (Kidsport) when I was growing up. But I didn't. They just try to do all they can to give back."