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Hackett: Spotlight continues to shine on women's sports

We’ve truly entered a unique era in women’s sports. I know I wrote about a similar subject not too long ago, but recent events have forced me to circle back and really emphasize how far we’ve come.
Byron Hackett Managing Editor

We’ve truly entered a unique era in women’s sports. 

I know I wrote about a similar subject not too long ago, but recent events have forced me to circle back and really emphasize how far we’ve come. 

Two occasions in the past couple of months have hammered this home. 

The first was at the Alberta Schools Athletic Association high school basketball provincial championships in March. 

As a former sports reporter, I have been to all different sports events in this community. Very few events over the past eight years drew the type of crowds that came out to the 4A high school basketball championships, but it was why they were there. 

Delaney Gibb, a guard for the Raymond Comets and a member of Canada’s U18 national team, brought so many people out to the games over three days. I should know, I worked the gate for all three days of the tournament and when I asked person after person why they were coming out, so many replied, “here to see the girl from Raymond”. 

The Lindsay Thurber gym was packed to the rafters for the final on the Saturday when Raymond played and even at their game Friday at RDP, there weren’t very many empty seats. 

Gibb’s story is just one small puzzle piece of the overall success and impact women’s sports is having and another basketball event last weekend was the icing on the cake. 

An exhibition game between the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm drew more than 16,000 people to Roger’s Place in Edmonton. 

Canada’s Kia Nurse suited up for the Sparks and drew a significant ovation from the fans when introduced. 

“I was nervous before, in all honesty,” Nurse told the Canadian Press post-game. 

“That’s a lot people, and I spent a lot of time building my career here in Canada, from the jump all the way through high school. And to be in an arena that is filled for a WNBA game on Canadian soil is not something you put on your dream board as a kid. 

“So to be in this situation now, to see how things have changed, and how it’s propelling women’s sports forward, and particularly in Canada, it’s really, really special.” 

And to further emphasize how far the women’s game has reached, the cheers for what should have been a lesser-known star spoke volumes to me. 

The second overall pick in the WNBA draft, behind Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, Stanford’s Cameron Brink got one of the bigger ovations of the night, showing the depth of knowledge Canadian fans have of the women’s game. 

That’s a minor anecdote because the competitiveness of the game and the talent of these stars should not be understated. 

It wasn’t a night where the stars played a few minutes at half pace and then checked out for a third-stringer. The stars played – they balled out and pushed the pace and played hard defence all night long. There were no easy buckets, no fly-bys or lazy close outs. 

It was entertaining until the final whistle. 

The merchandise lines were endless, and even by halftime, stuff had been picked through and was down to mostly children’s clothes. It wasn’t even team gear, but league gear or gear supportive of women’s sports. 

There were so many young female basketball fans in the audience, glued to their seat or waving signs to encourage the players. Men and women alike, bringing their young kids to see the growth of a professional sports movement. It is to show, particularly young girls, that if they believe in a dream hard enough, there is a future for them in pro sports. 

For a long time, that dream didn’t exist. 

It wasn’t that long ago that it was an egotistical pastime for many to rip on women’s sports. 

While that may still happen in some circles, you can’t deny the numbers or the audience. 

For the first time ever, more people watched the women’s NCAA March Madness final than the men’s. It’s hard to argue that 18.7 million people turned on a game only to “humour” it. Star power played a part, as Clark, perhaps the best female college basketball player ever, was playing. It was also the most-watched basketball game in the U.S. period since 2019. 

Clark has transcended the sport and helped it reach audiences that a decade ago were likely only pipe dreams. 

I’m sure a good portion of the audience for Saturday’s game in Edmonton hoped that Clark would somehow find her way onto one of the two teams that was playing. It didn’t work out that way, but it didn’t seem to matter at all. 

It is early days, but we are seeing that popularity creep into women’s hockey in Canada with the PWHL. 

It is time to recognize that these are incredible athletes, doing incredible things. It has been that way for a long time, but the audience just never responded in a way that demanded credibility from top networks or sponsors. 

That’s no longer the case. Fans are busting down the doors to watch women’s sports. 

It was just reported Friday by CBC reporter Shireen Ahmed that Toronto will be getting a WNBA expansion franchise in 2026. 

What a time for women’s sports. 

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and Regional Editor for Black Press Media. 

Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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