Games Profile: Ash Young and the Really Big Show

By Myra Ross - Monday, May 4 2015

One of the longest to-do lists for the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games belongs to Ash Young, Coordinator of Culture and Ceremonies & Protocol.

A partial list of his responsibilities includes the opening and closing ceremonies, special events, ambassadors, VIPs and protocol, medal ceremonies, the Torch Relay, Athletic Village entertainment and the Observers Program, which comprises representatives of the participating four provinces and three northern territories engaged in the Games.

Today, as he has for nearly a year, Young, 34, is busily overseeing the 11 crucial areas of the Games’ operations. And he’s confident all requirements will be met before the Games begin in August.

“I’m not worried,” Young says. “We’re moving along just fine. In the first few months of the New Year we’ll have some major deadlines to meet and, after that, we’ll have time to look into the finer details. But we’re always going to be busy.”

From Groves Point on Cape Breton Island, Young first arrived in Wood Buffalo in 2011 to begin an eight-month contract for the municipality as a Recreation Coordinator. Meanwhile, before and after, he has helped organize and execute a number of large-scale events for the East Coast Music Association, the provincial Saskatchewan Games and the 100th anniversary of flight in Canada.

“I went to the Centre for Arts and Technology in Fredericton for event and talent management as well as the New York Film Academy," Young says, "and I’ve since made some short films and gorilla feature films as well. I’ve always been strongly connected to the arts and entertainment cultures.”

One of the first of the 17 Western Canada 2015 Summer Games staff members to be hired, Young assumed his role at the end of May 2014 and he’s been creating and completing his daily action lists since. He relies heavily on his past accomplishments in working with volunteers and community committees because they will ultimately leaven the success of the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games and (it’s hoped) set an enviable standard for the Games that follow.

“Relationships are critical when hosting an event of this magnitude,” he says. “I enjoy working with volunteers and empowering them to make decisions so that they can turn around, look and say ‘I did that.’ Really, this is a huge event that requires the participation of all of our community resources, and in particular, our Board of directors and every one of the 3,000 volunteers that we’ll need to ensure a memorable Games. We have such a diverse culture regionally and the Games present the opportunity to show off the region, an opportunity we want to take full advantage of.”

“We have great committee chairs, a great director and second in command, Cindy Amerongen and Angele Dobie, who have connections throughout the region when it comes to Culture,” Young says.

“It’s my job to take committee direction and cultivate and maintain those connections and bring them all together for the Games so we can expose the talent and entertainment that we have here among our many cultural groups, including First Nations.

“We’re a multicultural region and we want to showcase that aspect of the region as well. We’ll have a lot of dance groups, the Big Sky Spirit event, a two-night event to be held at Shell Place on August 10 and 11. The talent will range from individuals and groups with an Alberta connection to our local and regional talent. Other special events we’re planning for are the 100-day out celebration, the Torch Relay and our volunteer wrap up event, which are all critical.”

The opening and closing ceremonies are of paramount concern since, logistically, the competing athletes will be present for one or the other, but not both, so they both have to be spectacular.

“They’re going to be big,” Young says with unabashed excitement.

“The opening and closing ceremonies are contracted to Patrick Roberge Productions of Vancouver and Toronto. (Some of their credits include the Grey Cups, the FIFA Women’s World Cups, the Gay Games ceremonies and the 2014 Special Olympics Canada.) Of course, I can’t discuss the ceremonies at this time, but they’re going to be awesome.”

Young says the exhibits and displays component of the Games will feature local art exhibits and a Canstruction event, featuring sculpture built using cans of food. At the end of the event, the food is donated to local hunger-relief organizations.

“They do them in Calgary and Edmonton and this is the first time in Fort McMurray,” Young says, adding that Canstruction is a charitable effort “to feed and inspire the world — one can at a time.”

Attire is another focus of the Games, intrinsically connected to the overall branding of the event. Everyone engaged in the Games will be in uniforms, from volunteers to staff to games ambassadors to medal presenters. “We want everyone playing a role in the Games to be easily identifiable to our athletes and guests.”

Young says his professional experience to date has taught him some "always" that he’s applying in his role.

“Always be cool and always be calm. Always be friendly. Always have manners. And always have fun. There can be some stressful situations at every turn, but we don’t do this stuff if it’s not fun. It’s what we get into it for. It’s a lot of rolling with the punches.”

As for the legacy of the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, Young says, "It’s going to showcase the facilities we have for hosting national sporting events as well as other events, but most of all, it demonstrates our community spirit of hospitality, volunteerism and finding solutions to challenges.”

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