A group of face-painted volunteers — dubbed the Fan Club — waved signs, shouted and clapped as every bus, van and car filled with athletes turned on to the bucolic campus' main road for the first day of the Canada Summer Games.
"I'm so excited, this is going to be a great experience," said 16-year-old Ashley Nicole Kambeitz on Thursday, shortly after stepping off Team Saskatchewan's bus.
"I've never been to the Canada Summer Games, but I've been to the Western Canada Games," added the soccer goalkeeper from Saskatoon.
Kambeitz is far from alone.
There are 4,200 athletes from across Canada competing in 20 different sports over 16 days at the 2013 Games, scattered across 20 venues in Sherbrooke, Que., and its surrounding area.
"This is my third Canada Games, actually. I went to the one in '05 in Regina and '09 in Prince Edward Island," said para-athlete Cam MacDonald, a multi-discipline swimmer from Winnipeg. "It's always a fun experience and it's always a unique experience."
Bishop's and the Universite de Sherbrooke are hosting most of the events, with nearby lakes, parks, stadiums and facilities providing the other venues.
"This is the centre of the Games, it's the Games village," said Michel Dussureault, deputy CEO of planning for the Games, of Bishop's campus. "This is where the athletes' accommodations are, where there's food, socializing, games for them. It is also a workplace for the members of the missions and also our own organization.
"So this is really a little city built around supporting the athletes so they can go from here and get to their competitions."
The Universite de Sherbrooke's football stadium will host the opening ceremonies that — much like the fanfare before the Olympics — will feature dignitaries, flag bearers and musical performances.
The athletes, however, are just excited to compete.
"Yeah, pretty, I don't know," said Kambeitz, when asked if she was looking forward to the opening ceremonies. "I'm more excited to actually get seeing everything and playing the actual games. It'll be fun."
Quebec takes particular pride in hosting the Canada Summer Games and hopes to win the most medals.
Ontario led the way at the 2009 Games in P.E.I., winning a total of 202 medals. British Columbia finished with 144, while Quebec had 145. B.C., however, finished second in the medal standings because it had more gold medals than Quebec: 57 to 42.
"It's cool, man. Especially the Canada Games, it only comes around once every four years," said 17-year-old Jonathan Duforest, Quebec's catcher in men's baseball. "To be playing at home, it's going to be real cool. We had our week of preparation, we had a lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of media too."
Added the Montreal native: "It's a bigger challenge and I think it's something to rise to."
Dussureault believes Sherbrooke and the surrounding area are an ideal location for the Canada Summer Games.
"Everything is close, about 30 minutes from the Games village," said Dussureault. "This is the main aspect: less transportation between venues. ... Almost all our venues were already there. We didn't have to spend that much money to get all new sports venues.
"We have the swimming pool, tennis courts, mountain bike trails — which are all pretty new — but the rest of it was already there so all we had to do maintain and upgrade what we had already."
The organizers also believe that the Games will promote tourism, both during and after the competitions.
"Each athlete attracts, statistically, 1.5 people with them, parents, friends and so forth," said Dussureault. "And those are people that are coming to Sherbrooke maybe for the first time. They might like what they see and come back later. Just the bare fact that the name of Sherbrooke is being spoken all around Canada. ... Somebody will come around and say, 'Let's go see that, the Games were there.'"
The athletes — all under the age of 21 — are focused on the competition itself, forming lasting bonds with teammates and creating memories.
"Our team's really just about showcasing the athletes," said Kambeitz. "It'll be great if we do win and if we medal, that'd be phenomenal and obviously we'd be very happy, but more we're coming here just to showcase our players and show that we can play as a team and that we can play well."
Duforest is also looking forward to getting the events themselves started so Quebec can defend it's men's baseball championship.
"I'm pumped. Hopefully we can keep the gold medal in Quebec, but we'll see what happens," said Duforest. "I think we're a gold medal-calibre team and I don't expect anything other than gold."Suggest a correction