Training camp has become as much a rite of passage for fans as it is for Saskatchewan Roughriders’ players and prospects.
Over the last five years, Lisa Lukye has taken time off work to watch the first week camp.
“See how things are going, and I usually take a bunch of pictures and post them in one of our Rider fan pages,” she said. “Everybody kind of looks forward to it, who can’t make it to the training camp.”
Lukye – sporting a signed Tyler Crapigna jersey – is also taking mental notes to share with others online.
“They just want to know who’s here, how people are doing, if there’s been any injuries,” she explained.
“For instance, last year Chad Owens was here, but he wasn’t really doing anything. This year, he’s doing awesome.”
While Lukye watches closely, leaning on the fence beside SMF Field, others – like Les Wilson – sit comfortably in the stands with binoculars.
The 83-year-old admitted it’s been a tiring few days. Wilson took a ferry and then a train for nearly two days of travel just to get to training camp in Saskatoon this year.
But there were no complaints as he sat under the blazing sun Tuesday morning.
“My first game was in ’45. I’ve been a Rider fan ever since,” he said, adding there’s something special about watching training camp.
“Just to see the prospects and the development of the new players. I’m very optimistic for this year.”
Great morning with the #fans at @sskroughriders training camp in #yxe. Met some who’ve been to the last 50+ camps (consecutive) along with a dad who brought his 5-year-old son to camp ahead of the little guy’s first game this season.
— Daniella Ponticelli (@Ms_dponticelli) May 22, 2018
Wilson became a fixture in the stands at training camp when Riders’ legend Ron Lancaster became head coach in 1979. He attended every year after, until starting a family in 1995.
“Football became less important then,” he laughed.
In 2007, Wilson got back to it – travelling every year from his home on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast to watch his beloved Riders.
It was that year Wilson “accidentally” met Stan Sandomirsky – his now-constant companion at camp.
Even though he’s a few years younger, Sandomirsky has a longer history of taking in the Riders’ annual camp.
“I’m 79 and I first came when I was nine years old, so it’s 70 years now,” he said, adding he only missed 10 years while studying out east to become a urologic surgeon and eventually work in England.
Against his own plans at the time, Sandomirsky returned to Saskatchewan. He bought season tickets and became enthralled with everything green and white.
“I used to go to a lot of Rider practices – when they practised in their old field out by the old Gryo golf course, where half the players twisted their ankles in gopher holes,” he said.
Sandomirsky said there was a time when he knew a lot of the players, coaches and executives, but that has changed now. He also recalled personal moments and touching conversations he shared with players over the decades.
“It’s the personal stuff, it’s not about football when you get to know the people,” he said.
While Sandomirsky and others continue their traditions, some are just beginning.
Marshall Catterson, who coincidentally booked some vacation days this week, pulled his five-year-old son, Jacob, from school to watch training camp Tuesday.
“He’s at the age now where you want to get him to take a look at it and see what’s going on. Hopefully get him into it a little bit,” Catterson said. “This is the first time he’s seen football, besides on TV.”
While Jacob confidently answered “no” when asked if he’s a Riders fan – his dad thinks there’s a good chance that will change this year.
“He’s never been to a Rider game before, and I plan on taking him this summer.”
Training camp resumes 9 a.m. Wednesday at Griffiths Stadium. The annual Green and White Day takes place Saturday, June 2.