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Gees to play home games at Beckwith Park

Daniel Cress | Fulcrum Contributor

photo courtesy of Sports Services

THE GEE-GEES have found a temporary home away from home and will now be hosting their football games at Beckwith Park.

With the Lansdowne Park renewal project in full swing, Frank Clair Stadium—the former home of the Gee-Gees—became unavailable. As construction delays pushed back the opening date of a new field at Lees campus, the Gee-Gees were forced to look elsewhere.

According to Jennifer Elliott, Sports Services information and events officer, the search for a new field began in June, as fields in the area were scrutinized and choices were narrowed down.

“There were some backup plans, but I think hopes were all on the Lees Avenue field,
said Elliott. “That’s what we were focusing all our energy on at the time, but when it became apparent that wasn’t going to work out, the energy shifted.”

On Aug. 14 it was announced that Beckwith Park, the field 40 minutes outside of Ottawa in Beckwith Township, would be the home of Gee-Gees football for the 2012 season.

Although the decision making process was not lengthy, the work in selecting a field was extensive.

“We basically considered all the fields that were in the area, looked at them and their availability [and] what they had to offer for the team and for the fans,” said Elliott. “The scenario that we found at Beckwith was the best combination of things we were looking for—once you get out to the field you realize how beautiful a facility it is. We just realize the challenge is getting people there.”

The field is a football-first facility, as opposed to other mixed-use fields the committee considered, a factor that gave Beckwith a clear advantage.

Beckwith Park was available for all scheduled home games, another edge in its favour. The committee responsible for choosing the field was also concerned about the players’ comfort level with their new turf.

“What we were really keeping in mind is what was going to be the best option for the players,” said Elliott. “First in our minds, really, was how the players were going to deal with this.”

Support from the community and Beckwith Township’s  council has been tremendous.

“People from the area have already bought up a bunch of tickets, so we know that the community is going to support us,” said Elliott. “The community and council of Beckwith are very proud to have us coming. We just want to make sure we’re providing a chance for our regular fans to come out as well.”

Sports Services will continue to run a free shuttle bus service from the Minto Sports Complex to the field, as they did to Lansdowne.

According to Alex Murata, a fourth-year U of O communications student who has been attending football games since 2009, the free shuttle service to games is necessary.

“The free shuttle is a must if this venue change is to work at all,” said Murata. “I can’t see many students shelling out cab fare or busing 45 minutes, no matter how committed they are to the team.”

Elliott hopes the space at Beckwith Park will help change the atmosphere of the football games.

“We want to take advantage of the extra space so this can feel like a big field party, with barbecues, music, and more of a festival kind of vibe,” she said.

Murata believes the festival approach Elliott described will help fill seats in the new stadium.

“Tailgating and barbecues in combination with free shuttles would make for a good time and help boost attendance,” he said.

According to Murata, field changes have worked in the favour of football teams in the past.

“It’s hard to say how much a venue change can affect a team’s performance over the course of a season, but if you look at the CFL’s BC Lions, in changing over from Empire Field to the newly renovated BC Place, the jump in attendance seemed to increase morale and help turn a 0-5 start into a run to the Grey Cup,” he said. “If support from both the student body as well as the outlying community is high, it could only be good for the Gee-Gees and the [win] column.”

With the new Lees Avenue field set to become the permanent home of the Gee-Gees in 2013, the goal of the current season is improving the football fan culture at the U of O.

“Next year we will be at our own new stadium that we can call home and make some new traditions in, so we can try to get people looking forward to that,” said Elliott.

For Murata, the new field could lead to a revival not only of football appreciaton, but also of school spirit.

“Hopefully, with a new stadium at Lees, we will see a growth in football culture within the student community at the University of Ottawa,” he said. “University sport is a great way for students to interact and bond, creating greater feelings of comradery on campus.”

As for Lansdowne, once reconstruction to accommodate Canadian Football League (CFL) teams is complete, Sports Services hopes to host bigger games, with expected crowds of more than 5,000 people.

Beckwith Park will get its first taste of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m., as the Gee-Gees host the defending Vanier Cup champions, the McMaster Marauders.