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Dawson Invitational Volleyball Tournament celebrates 40-year anniversary

“It was everything we envisioned for the 40th to commemorate all the years of supporting sport”
The Vanier Crusaders senior boys team, seen here during a Super Volley match on Oct. 4, won the senior boys division of the Dawson Invitational Volleyball Tournament. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)

The 40th annual Dawson Invitational Volleyball Tournament was Oct. 25 to 27 at Robert Service School in Dawson City, and this year’s tournament included not only volleyball, but also an acknowledgement and appreciation for its origins.

Sara Stephens, part of the DIVT committee tasked with organizing the event, said the weekend lived up to the expectations of organizers.

“It was everything we envisioned for the 40th to commemorate all the years of supporting sport, especially in the communities,” said Stephens. “We kind of starting talking about it last year at the DIVT — the 39th — and we’re like, ‘Oh, next year is 40. I guess we better make it a big one.’”

The tournament “started” — games actually began play at 7 a.m. — with opening ceremonies the afternoon of Oct. 25, which included the gym teachers who initially started the tournament in Dawson, one of the coaches from Whitehorse who first brought a team to the tournament 38 years ago, Mayor Wayne Potoroka and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph.

Robert Service School traditionally has a pep rally for the tournament, and this year organizers challenged other schools to also prepare a routine.

“We did a throw down to all the other schools to bring one and that was really fun,” said Stephens. “All the kids from every school were in the gym together and then each school brought a pep rally to bring out school spirit.”

Last year’s tournament included an alumni game, but this year’s was bigger and better, in keeping with the theme.

“We just sort of wanted it to be bigger and celebrate 40 years of good volleyball in Dawson,” said Stephens, adding this year’s tournament included the return of games between players and coaches.

“We have a teacher here who is a past (Robert Service School) Knight and she said she remembers fondly playing her coaches at this tournament, so we thought we would bring it back.”

Peter Grundmanis, executive director for the Yukon Schools Athletics Association, said its clear the tournament still means a lot.

“That was good to see former players still enjoying the game and still kind of reliving those days that Dawson was an important tournament to them,” said Grundmanis. “And they’re still involved.”

Joining the Knights on the volleyball court were athletes from Whitehorse — F.H. Collins Secondary School, Porter Creek Secondary School and Vanier Catholic Secondary School all sent teams — as well as teams from Tantalus Community School in Carmacks, Eliza Van Bibber School in Pelly Crossing, Watson Lake Secondary School and a team from Del Van Gorder School in Faro with some reinforcements from Mayo and Dawson.

In the senior division, the F.H. Collins Warriors were the overall winners in the girls division and the Vanier Crusaders won the boys division.

Watson Lake had the best performance of a community school, earning a spot in the girls semifinal.

“They were pretty emotional and so excited to have made the semifinals,” said Stephens. “They won (the quarter-final) by one set, so that was pretty cool.”

Grundmanis said the Whitehorse schools always have a bit of an advantage because they get so many more opportunities to play games.

“In terms of the skill level, that was the advantage that the Whitehorse teams had — just the game experience,” said Grundmanis. “The highlight for the rural communities was Watson Lake … which is a great advance for them. (It was) a real growth opportunity for them to see the sort of volleyball that is played by people with more game experience.”

In the junior divisions, the Porter Creek Rams won both the girls and boys divisions.

The junior boys Rams also took the honorary win in the seldom-seen beach volleyball division.

“Normally the thing about (the DIVT) is, always, the tournament is close to being cancelled and it’s always an issue (where) it’s -30 C — should we be travelling?” said Grundmanis. “I got there on the Wednesday and it was 8 C and there was no snow to be found anywhere, so I called down to a bus that hadn’t left and said, ‘Bring up the beach nets. We’ll play on the grass because we can.’”

While it was still too cold to play outdoors in the morning, Grundmanis said there was a period in the afternoon when the weather warmed up and the nets were raised.

The first group out to use the beach court? The junior boys Rams.

“I declared them beach champions,” said Grundmanis, adding that the court helped include even more students.

“What happened is the younger kids from (Robert Service School) who weren’t involved in the tournament, they took full advantage,” said Grundmanis. “So they participated to some degree and it was just a fun thing to do.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at