Athletes and Sportsman of the Year recognized

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Shantel Kalika, left, Ian Litzenberger, Kalen Kovitch and Jesse Byrne were each honoured Friday night during the 11th annual Prince Albert Kinsmen/Raiders Sportsman Dinner.

The diverse sports scene in Prince Albert was on display by the recipients of this year’s awards at the 11th edition of the Prince Albert Kinsmen/Raiders Sportsman Dinner at the Ches Leach Lounge Friday night.

Bullfighter Jesse Byrne and stock car racer Shantel Kalika were named as the Athletes of the Year for 2018, while the Sportsman of the Year trophy was given to the Project Triple Play committee that oversaw the renovations of the diamonds at Prime Ministers’ Park ahead of this summer’s Junior Men’s Softball World Championship.

Proceeds from the evening, which also included Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Adam Oates as the guest speaker, will go towards the Prince Albert Raiders Education Fund and “Our Community’s Greatest Need” through the Kinsmen Club of Prince Albert.

Jesse Byrne – Male Athlete of the Year

With his father Ryan being inducted into the Prince Albert Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and his brother Tanner being named Male Athlete of the Year three years ago, Byrne was finally able to join his family members in being honoured by his hometown.

“No one really wanted to bring it up because I was the odd man out,” Byrne joked. “There’s never a dull moment when you are in a rodeo family.

“It’s really cool for me growing up here and now joining my family members in the ranks of being honoured by Prince Albert.”

With his busy schedule on the Professional Bull Riders tour, Byrne isn’t home all that often, but he does try to make it back each May to the Clunie-Cooper Memorial PBR event at the Art Hauser Centre.

“It’s always nice to be involved with that event for a number of reasons,” Byrne said.

“There’s the great feeling of sharing the sport of bull riding to the people of Prince Albert and showing everyone what it is that we love do each week, plus we get a chance to honour the namesakes of the event (Max Clunie and Wade Cooper). It’s always tough to mourn a loss, but I’ve found that the best way to grieve is to carry their legacies as we move forward.”

Byrne is currently preparing for his final event of the season, as he’ll serve as a bullfighter at the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas, Nev. from Nov. 7-11.

“This will be my 11th time going and it feels crazy for me to say that out loud,” Byrne said.

“The top 35 riders that compete at that event vote on who they want to see out there, so to be picked by them and know that they trust me to be out there and help them is the greatest honour you can have.”

Shantel Kalika – Female Athlete of the Year

It was a banner year on the track for Kalika, as she captured the Sportsman division title at the Wyant Group Raceway in Saskatoon and was named as the Rookie of the Year in the class.

She also made her debut in Canada’s top stock car tour, as she raced at NASCAR Pinty’s Series events over the summer in Saskatoon and Edmonton.

“It’s been kind of a whirlwind at times but it’s really been a surreal and amazing year,” Kalika said.

“The support from our sponsors and everyone here in Prince Albert has been huge, so to be named as the Athlete of the Year is the icing on top of the cake.”

Having captured the Pro Truck title two years ago, Kalika’s family owned team adapted well to a new class as they picked up a pair of feature wins and finished in the top five in all eight main events during the season.

“Our consistency was the biggest thing that stood out from the year,” Kalika said. “We had one race in July where we hit the wall and ended up bending the rear end, but we were able to battle through it and still get a top five finish.

“It’s the little things like that builds the bonds of the group during the course of the season, especially with our team where everyone in the family helps out.”

In addition to gearing up for a trip to Charlotte, N.C. in December to attend the NASCAR Pinty’s Series banquet, Kalika and her team are already hard at work in getting everything ready for the 2019 racing season.

“There really isn’t an off-season as we’re working around the clock to put things in place for next year,” Kalika said. “We’ve really hit the ground running to put things in place for sponsors that will help us reach our goals, and we’re excited about what lies ahead.”

Project Triple Play – Sportsperson of the Year

It was a four-year process from coming up with the idea to host a World Junior Softball Championship to the event coming to Prince Albert in July, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the Project Triple Play committee.

The work behind the scenes by the group led to $1.6 million being raised to renovate what is now known as the Max Power Ball Parks at Prime Ministers’ Park, in order for the facilities to be able to host an international tournament.

“For us, we didn’t get in this to be given awards or things like that,” said Kalen Kovitch, who accepted the honour alongside fellow committee member Ian Litzenberger.

“Everyone wanted to try and showcase the game of softball in Prince Albert and leave a legacy for future generations. Tonight has been special for us as it gave Ian and I chance to publicly recognize everyone behind the scenes for four years of hard work.”

The preparations paid off in spades with packed crowds throughout the week, especially during a round-robin game between Canada and New Zealand.

“Neil Headrick assures me that other than when the Olympic Torch Relay came through ahead of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, that was probably the most amount of people in one place for an event in Prince Albert,” Kovitch said. “From our figures, we believe there were 6,000 adults that came through the gates that night, and that’s not even including kids that are 12 years old or under who got in for free.

“It was a special week for everyone. Not only did we see the community get behind the tournament with the spectators coming to the ballpark, but they also wanted to be a part of the experience with over 300 volunteers helping out during the week.”

Given the smashing success of the tournament and the high-class facilities that are now available in Prince Albert, softball fans might not have to wait long for the next major event to come to the city.

“There were people with the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) asking us after the first two days of the round-robin about what event we wanted to host next, but we told them that we wanted to get through the week first and see what happened,” Kovitch said.

“With how great things went and with what Project Triple Play was able to accomplish, we now have a facility that can play host to any major men’s, ladies’ and junior competition.”