The Moose Jaw Koseikan Judo Club will have a unique honour this weekend - hosting the first-ever judo provincial championship.
While a roughly analogous tournament known as the SaskOpen has been held for years, it featured several competitive athletes from outside Saskatchewan. The winner was considered something of a provincial champ, but club coach Jim Wiens says the label was somewhat diminished.
"It's never been true because some people were knocked out by people from other provinces, or they beat people from other provinces and got a lot higher up in the draw than they would have (otherwise)," says Wiens.
Now the sport will be able to crown true provincial champions for the first time, something that has been sorely lacking.
"The person that wins this is going to be recognized for one whole year as Judo Saskatchewan champion," says Wiens. "This is going to be the first time where we'll crown a justified provincial champion."
As many as 100 to 120 athletes are expected to take part in the tournament, which begins today at 10:15 a.m. and runs until completion. The uncertainty over the exact number is a virtue, not a curse, says Wiens.
"It's one of the benefits of our club. We've got a great set of volunteers to be able to run it that way. The people who are going to compete don't have to pre-register," he says, noting that the competition begins half an hour after the weigh-ins.
Several local athletes will be vying for Saskatchewan supremacy as well. In addition to notables Haley Walz, Brianna Walz, Rebecca Hanson and Adam Langdon, the club will be fielding a sizable amount of younger competitors.
"We're going to bombard the entire tournament with younger kids, but for most of them it's only going to be their first or second tournament," says Wiens. "They're going to be there a lot more for the experience than for their placing."
Given the lack of experience for some athletes, it's a bonus to have a big tournament on their own turf.
"The benefits of home-field advantage are (important) for a sport like judo," notes Wiens. "The crowd cheering for you and... being in familiar surroundings. It makes it so much easier for the kids."
The tournament is open to the public, free of charge.
"We (usually) get a pretty good crowd from the town," says Wiens. "People come out because they want to see judo. Either they know someone who has done judo in the past or now, or they're just curious about the sport."
The Moose Jaw club is one of the strongest in the province, so it's no surprise it was nominated as host. Still, Wiens says it's a thrill to be hosting the first-ever provincials.
"We've always put on such a good quality tournament here," he says. "I understand why they picked us, but it was still such a big honour to be picked."
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald March 7, 2009