The Riders in Humboldt: Another step in the recovery process

Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger was speaking about the importance of sharing grief when the Saskatchewan Roughriders broke their light workout with a one-word yell.

“Humboldt!’’ the Roughriders said in unison, before the players wandered into the thousands of spectators at Glenn Hall Park for a visit, autographs, photographs and a trip through the lineup for barbecued burgers.

It was perfect timing and there couldn’t have been a more perfect way for the CFL team to show its affection for the central-Saskatchewan city of 6,000 residents, half of whom apparently wanted to spend a sunny, windy Sunday afternoon with the Roughriders. While the players and coaches staged their walk-through, the crowds — mostly wearing Riders garb — gathered in the bleachers and around the grass field to talk football, enjoy the free BBQ and drinks or take their kids to face-painting, football-tossing or bouncing through blow-up tacking dummies.

Hall of Fame fullback George Reed was in attendance, as were members of the Roughriders staff, including assistant vice-president Jeremy O’Day, who were helping with volunteer duties.

“When we started looking into this, it was almost overwhelming to think about,’’ said Garinger. “We recognized, while we were talking about it, that it was about ‘How can we help you help others? How can we help you celebrate the people who have done such incredible work to help support you in your grief?’

“It’s such a humbling thing to know you’ve got an organization like the Saskatchewan Roughriders who are standing behind you and supporting you to try and reach out and help others who have helped you through this unimaginable tragedy.”

Less than two months ago, while en route to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, the Broncos’ bus collided with a semi-trailer, resulting in 16 members of the organization dying and 13 being injured.

Reactions came from around the world and the Roughriders were among the organizations that reached out to Humboldt and, specifically, the Broncos.

“This was a result of the team working in conjunction with the Humboldt Broncos,’’ said Roughriders chair Wayne Morsky. “(Roughriders CEO/president) Craig Reynolds and our marketing department have been very close to them since the tragedy.

“A lot of people in this organization and many others have been on a bus. It’s an extension of your dressing room or your locker room. Everyone felt that way. And with the Riders being a provincial team, it was only natural for us to help where we could.’’

The Roughriders have already adorned their helmets with “Humboldt Strong” on the back padding. Now they are planning a #HumboldtStrong game, June 30 against the visiting Montreal Alouettes. Members of the 29 affected families, community leaders, first responders plus people closely related to the tragedy have been invited to Mosaic Stadium; the Riders expect 250 guests to attend.

“Once they got through the grief and the tragedy, it became time to start talking about some other things,’’ said Morsky. “That’s what the game is about, a game to celebrate and move on, to recognize what happened and to move forward. It’s a bit surprising to see how many people are here, but with Rider Nation you never know what to expect. I don’t think anybody expected the impact of the accident globally, as it did. So this is another step in that process.’’

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