The Northwest Territories hasn’t had many of those lately, but Allie McDonald is learning to cope.
She and other organizers of Fort Smith’s Lawrie Hobart Memorial Volleyball Tournament decided that no matter the exhaustion of an evacuation that lasted more than a month – the event had to go ahead.
“We were a little bit wary of going forward with the tournament,” McDonald admitted on Wednesday evening, less than 24 hours away from the first teams arriving in the town.
“We didn’t start school until well into September, so we were a little bit hesitant. But as a committee, we decided it would probably be best just to go forward with it as scheduled.
“We already had all of the stuff organized like the T-shirts, the banners, the medals, so we figured just rip the Band-Aid and go ahead with it. But it feels very rushed – way more rushed than it typically does.”
The Lawrie Hobart tournament has been a cherished element of Fort Smith’s sporting schedule for decades.
Not only is it a major event for volleyball in the NWT, but it’s also – like Hay River’s track and field – one of relatively few such events held outside Yellowknife. (It is named for the late former principal of the town’s Paul William Kaeser High School, who helped to create the tournament in the 1990s.)
When Covid-19 forced Lawrie Hobart’s cancellation in 2020 and 2021, that was a big blow.
“The kids are very excited. They were really worried, starting the school year, that it was going to be another weird year,” said McDonald, a teacher at Paul William Kaeser for the past 11 years.
“They were really scared that the tournament was going to be affected by everything that happened within our community. But thankfully, it wasn’t so.”
Fort Smith’s 2,500 or so residents were under an evacuation order from August 12 until September 18, a period of 37 days.
Teams from Fort Smith, Hay River, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Ndılǫ, Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀ are taking part in this year’s tournament, meaning that – extraordinarily – every single player in an event featuring more than 30 teams is from a community evacuated at least once because of wildfires this summer.
Behchokǫ̀ is coming “with a whole ton of teams this year, which is awesome,” McDonald said.
Teams will begin to arrive from 5pm on Thursday. A pep rally starts in the Paul William Kaeser gym from 3pm.
Games begin at 7pm on Thursday and run through until early on Sunday afternoon.