You may have heard that there was a football game being played in Regina this weekend. Tens of thousands of fans descend upon Mosaic Stadium to cheer on the home team at Taylor Field. There might have been people there cheering for the other team, but I'll go out on a short limb and say they were a minority.
For many of those fans, it wasn't just a trip to Regina; it's also a journey home. You might even call it a pilgrimage.
Growing up in Saskatchewan is not the most glamorous of experiences, especially when it also means living in a town with a population that hovers around 1300. Forget about stoplights, we had just two four-way stops, although I think that there might be three by now. I attended the same school from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and graduated with only 26 others. When you ask what someone's phone number is you only get the last four digits; the front prefix is always the same.
The thing about growing up in Saskatchewan is that you spend a lot of time feeling almost apologetic about it. People from other provinces joke about how they call it the "gap", that empty space between Alberta and Manitoba. The passenger trains pass through it at night. We hear about how flat it is, how boring it seems, and how lonely it must be from people who have never spent much - if any - time there. Like most things, if enough people tell you something pretty soon you start believing that it's true.
By the time I'd finished university (at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon) I was ready to go find out for myself if the grass really was greener on the other side of the border. I followed the Saskatchewan diaspora west, to the promised land of Alberta where they had mountains and no sales tax. We enjoyed living in Edmonton (seriously!), but we were staunch defenders of our prairie home to the east. And soon, we realized that there was no better place to be among friendly faces than at a Rider game. There was no better cure for homesickness than cheering on the Green & White.
It's hard to explain the feeling of community that permeates Saskatchewan from people who aren't from there. No matter where you're from, whether it's Meadow Lake or Nipawin or Weyburn or Macklin, there's a sense of shared experience that I don't know exists anywhere else (although maybe folks from Newfoundland can understand what I'm talking about).
And at some point, you realize that a wheat field just before harvest time is a sight to be appreciated, not disdained. You make sure people know that northern Saskatchewan is full of trees and lakes and hills. You are in awe of the sheer magnitude of the space before you, untouched by urban sprawl or spoiled in any way other than what nature itself intended.
When I think of Saskatchewan, I think of a place that accepts nothing other than authenticity. You won't get far by being something you're not. Wearing high fashion or going to exotic places on vacation is nice and your friends might envy you, but no one will think that you're better for it or that it makes you more important than anyone else. People might think you're crazy for putting a watermelon on your head, but they understand.
Every time I see someone wearing a Roughrider sweater in Costco, or a vehicle with a Roughrider license plate, I smile inside and think, "I know where you're from.", not in terms of place, but in terms of values. It's likely we can sit down for a drink together and within ten minutes we'll have found a connection, whether it's because my cousin married a girl you went to high school with or because we knew some of the same people from university. If I say to that guy, "Where are we going?" nine out of ten times he'll respond with "Higher!" (inside joke).
My kids' experience of Saskatchewan will be much different than mine, consisting mostly of weekend visits to their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, but we bring them up as Rider fans so that they know this part of their history. I might be romanticizing it a bit, and I realize that my concept of what being from Saskatchewan means may have more to do with my rural upbringing than anything else. I know that things are changing for my province, mostly in good ways. Kids in my hometown don't have to rely on a fuzzy signal from an AM station in Saskatoon to get their music, for example. But no matter how big our accomplishments, the underdog mentality is still there.
Rider Pride is about so much more than a football team. We cheer for the Riders because deep down we love where we came from, even if the rest of the world doesn't understand why. We cheer for the Riders because it is the thread that binds us together, no matter where we've ended up. We cheer for the Riders because we believe in the strength of community. We're loyal whether the team wins or loses because cheering for them has very little to do with the game.
It has everything to do with being proud of a place that part of us will always call Home.
An earlier version of this post appeared on Working Mother Chronicles in 2010. I've updated it for obvious reasons. Go Riders!