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A Different Type of Cheer: 5 Sporting Events in Halifax to Enjoy Sober

Guest Post by Denton Froese – find him on Twitter @Labville

Professional sports have long been intertwined with drinking culture. Recreational adult leagues are commonly called “beer leagues”, and curling and golf have traditions of ending every game with drinks at the clubhouse, if not during play. Televised events like baseball and hockey typically involve a night at the pub, and football games have parties which are centred around finger foods and alcohol.

However, attending live sporting events avoids many of these pitfalls, and can be a new and enjoyable experience even for someone who isn’t a sports fan. For two hours, you’re seated with your friends, enjoying company and conversation, the game is in full swing, and you’re right there in the middle of the action, as part of the community. No one is paying any attention to what you’re drinking, because everyone’s focus is on the game. There are no servers stopping by to take orders. Instead, people will have to fight through crowds and wait in lines to get their drinks. You’ll be part of a wild night on the town without drinking anything, and you’ll have a wild story to tell your co-workers the next day, too.

There are other benefits to going to see live sports. Physical exercise is always vaunted as part of any mental health program, so it can be motivating to see just how much an athlete can accomplish. In a way, the close-up camera of a televised game can shut you off from the action, and you forget just how much a player has to work, even when they’re not part of a highlight reel.

Speaking of highlight reels, it can actually be refreshing to see sports that aren’t at “world champion” quality. The gaps in defences can allow for risky plays.. You can sense that failed scoring attempts weigh upon a player differently — they’re not just trying to win, they’re trying to get better, and they’re learning from every mistake. The level of exhaustion becomes visible, and you gain an empathy for the losing team.

So, with all that said, here’s a list of the places where you can take in some sports entertainment, without any stress or expectations about drinking.

One last caveat: there’s no such thing as a dry venue on this list. There’s always the chance that you’ll be sitting next to someone who’s drinking, and there’ll be advertising for alcohol at all these locations. Still, the focus is on the game, and your neighbours probably won’t care about your choices. Even if you can’t help but notice a particularly loud and out-of-control fan, you generally don’t get drawn into their antics. And unlike bars, sporting events are all-ages and security personnel are everywhere. If you need to retreat, or report someone else, staff will be supportive.

The Halifax Mooseheads
Sport: Hockey
League: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QJMHL)
Pay: A stipend of $30-$150 per week
League Composition: 18 teams in Québec and the Maritimes.
Season: September to March, approx. 35 home games
Tickets: approx $20 for adults

If there’s one team Halifax is familiar with, it’s the Mooseheads. Junior league hockey means you’ll be watching the players grow up on the ice. It’s easy to cheer for them, but don’t get too attached to your favourite player, because they’ll be moving on in a few years. In addition to the game itself, the other appeal to junior hockey is the prospect of seeing a young star before they hit it big in the NHL. I’ve heard that’s happened once or twice here…

At this time this post was published, the Mooseheads aren’t having a great season, but that’s also a reality of junior league sports: there’s no such thing as a dynasty.

Alcohol Atmosphere:

Well, for one thing, they’re called the Mooseheads. For another thing, they usually get a good crowd, which means there’s usually someone selling beer in the aisles. But there are plenty of kids and families in the stands, too.

HFX Wanderers FC
: Soccer
League: Canadian Premier League (CanPL)
Pay: salary cap undisclosed, but rumoured to be around $800,000 with a 23-player roster
League Composition: 8 teams across Canada, from B.C. to Nova Scotia
Season: April to October, approx. 15 home games
Tickets: $20-25 for adults, $35 for midfield

After a single year in business, the CanPL has surprised a lot of people with the quality of its teams, but one of the biggest surprises was the incredible support the team had in Halifax. In a way, it makes sense — there are a lot of immigrants in Halifax who came here from soccer-loving countries, and there are a lot of families who have their kids in a soccer program.

Whatever the reason, it looks like soccer is here to stay in Halifax, and on game days there’s a party atmosphere throughout the whole downtown as fans make their way to the Wanderers Grounds.

Alcohol Atmosphere:

A whole lot and not too much, depending on the seats. “The Kitchen” is the loud, standing-room end zone section full of raucous cheers and many beers. The Grandstands tend to be a bit more demure, with lots of kids’ teams in sections 101 and 107. There’s still a lot of alcohol for sale on your way to the stands, but the majority of it stays either in The Kitchen or in the beer gardens in the corners of the field.

The Kitchen can be overwhelming — if you don’t feel comfortable in their proximity, I’d suggest a seat in Section 102, where they sing more family-friendly chants on the other end of the field.

The Halifax Thunderbirds
: Lacrosse
League: National Lacrosse League (NLL)
Pay: salary cap is around $600,000 with a 26-player roster
League Composition: 13 teams (8 teams in the United States, as far away as San Diego and Georgia, and 5 teams in Canada, from B.C. to Nova Scotia)
Season: November to April, approx. 9 home games
Tickets: Anywhere from $20 to $60, but there are frequent promotions and discounts each game.

Not only are the Thunderbirds new to Halifax, but so is the sport itself. The game works on a shot clock, like basketball, so there are no offside rules and it’s much faster than hockey. Perhaps it’s because of the clock which kills possession, or perhaps it’s because the ball doesn’t often get tied up at the boards, but while lacrosse is more aggressive than hockey, it’s also less violent.

There’s also music playing non-stop during the game, and you can request a song online before the game for them to play. It’s surprising how much that changes the experience.

Alcohol Atmosphere:

Less than a Mooseheads game, since there isn’t quite enough attendance to justify opening all the concessions. Occasionally the “fan camera” will settle on a guy who chugs his cup of beer while the crowd is watching and cheering, but that’s about it for “drinking games”.

The Halifax Hurricanes
: Basketball
League: National Basketball League of Canada (NBLC)
Pay: salary cap of $175,000 with a 12 player roster
League Composition: Eight Canadian teams, Windsor to St. John’s
Season: November to April, approx. 20 home games
Tickets: about $25

I want to clarify something about the ticket price: I walked up to the box office 15 minutes before the game, bought a $25 ticket, and ended up in the second row. I could hear the squeak of sneakers at court side, and the players arguing with the refs. It’s not technically a good thing that people aren’t buying Hurricanes tickets (the available sections were filled to about 35% capacity), but there’s still a bright side.

The sound system is a bit weird: when the Hurricanes have the ball, the DJ plays an instrumental track. As soon as the opposition gets the ball, you hear a looped “D-FENCE (boom boom)” chant. Not only is it weird, it sort of emphasizes the fact that there aren’t enough fans to keep the chants going.

In a way, it’s sort of an ideal situation for introverts new to sports. Get a good seat, stay quiet, let the sound system do all the work, and let the players interact with the folks who paid for courtside seats. Even the mascot, Swish, has a more laid-back vibe than the other mascots in Halifax.

Alcohol Atmosphere:

Roughly the same prevalence as a Thunderbirds game.

The Miscellany

If there’s something not on this list, you might be surprised if you look for it. There’s the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League. There’s the Halifax Xplosion, a women’s tackle football team. There’s a giant table tennis tournament every year. There are events which Halifax gets asked to host, like the Scott Tournament of Hearts, or the CFL’s Touchdown Atlantic.

Attending some of these games can be as simple as finding out where they are, and then walking up to the stands and sitting down. Some athletes might be surprised that people want to watch them play; others might be delighted. Regardless, you’ll have a good story for the next day, and you’ll probably have learned something about the city in the process.

And there you have it — a list of fun, social events in the downtown nightlife which don’t require any alcohol. As an added bonus, watching a game live does something that televised sports can never do: it makes you part of the community.

Another way that sporting events build community is, of course, through the athletes. As you may have noticed in these write-ups, the athletes who play in Halifax may be talented enough to be able to do this for a living, but that doesn’t quite translate to million-dollar contracts and getting mobbed for autographs. Even a foreign player who moved to Halifax last month is still waiting in the checkout line at Sobey’s and pushing cars out of snowbanks. They’re not insulated from Halifax in a small sports complex — as soon as they sign the contract to play here, they’re one of our own, another worker who took a chance, and moved here for a job.

All the more reason to cheer them on!