Like pretty much every once else in the province of Saskatchewan, Regina native Sara Burkart grew up a Roughriders fans. She had a jersey, went to games and cheered for the hometown team.
Her favourite player was Craig Butler, the young Canadian defensive back the team drafted in 2011. An all-star his rookie season, Butler helped the Riders win the Grey Cup over the Ticats two years later.
The following off-season, however, Butler left Saskatchewan to join the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in free agency. But instead of bidding farewell to her favourite player, the 24-year-old Burkart went with him to the Ticats.
“I started out cheering for the Riders but cheering for Craig when the Ticats were playing,”Burkart says. “But then I got to know the team and their players more and now I’m a die-hard Hamilton Tiger-Cats fan living in Regina.”
It isn’t easy not being green, Burkart says, especially in a city where fandom is almost universal. Decked out in her Ticat sweatshirt as she walked around CFL Week festivities the last few days, she’s received some sidelong glances and the occasional chirp.
“The worst comes from my family and friends,” she says, laughing.
It would appear her conversion is complete, however. Last summer – even with Butler out for the season with a knee injury – Burkart drove more than 2,500 km each way to watch her first-ever game at Tim Hortons Field. She sat in the third row, right behind the Hamilton bench.
“I wanted to experience what it would be like to be surrounded by other fans cheering for the same team,” she says. “And I wanted to go to a Ticats game and not be heckled by Riders fans.
“It was something like 50 hours of driving but it was totally worth it.”
Burkart lined up with dozens of other fans at an autograph session this week and while most of them were interested in current Rider Rob Bagg or former Rider Weston Dressler, Burkart made a beeline for Simoni Lawrence.
“When I found out Simoni was going to be here, I knew I had to come,” she says. “He was great. I’ve run into a number of players and they’ve all been really nice.”
Burkart is planning to attend the Ticats’ home opener in July – she’s flying this time – and she’s hoping that Butler will be back in the line up. But there’s still one small detail to take care of.
“I just need the tickets. I bought a package at Christmas time that allows me to redeem my coupon at the end of May,” she said “But the entire trip is booked. I’m excited.”
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