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AVENS seniors spend evening watching fastball action at Tommy Forrest ballpark

AVENS: A Community for Seniors arranged a night out for residents to the Tommy Forrest Ball Park on July 14. The Yellowknife Fastball League greeted about half a dozen senior spectators for action on the diamond. Back row, from left, Garrett Hinchey; Devin Hinchey, fastball league president; Braden Holick; Mabel Knutsen; Andrew Goodwin; and Anthony Stapleton, recreation coordinator.

It may have seemed like a regular night of fastball action at Tommy Forrest ballpark on July 14, but the teams on the field had some special spectators savouring the atmosphere.

AVENS: A Community for Seniors transported several residents to the ball diamond as part of the organization’s recreation department programming. The evening included barbecued hotdogs and beverages to create an authentic baseball fan setting.

The AVENS visit follows the grand opening of the park after its total revamp as part of the Tommy Forrest Field Revitalization Project on June 23.

Anthony Stapleton, recreation coordinator at AVENS, said activities like live baseball games allow seniors to get out via the AVENS bus and that such experiences add to their quality of life.

“When the summer season provides these kinds of opportunities like baseball and when we can include the seniors in those activities, it adds up to being more than just the average night of bingo,” Stapleton said. “The idea is of course that we want to provide a broader recreation package to the seniors and obviously our department at AVENS facilitates that throughout the days and weeks and months of the year.”

Broadly speaking, the recreation department is a health and wellness department, Stapleton said, noting that he oversees activities including live music, movie nights, bingos and armchair travel sessions at Aven Manor.

But the green and white AVENS bus, purchased in 2020 after a highly successful Operation Care on Wheels, has allowed for seniors to travel abroad. The vehicle accommodates three to four wheelchairs and has other features that help older people who have mobility challenges.

Although the bus has been in limited use due to Covid-19 pandemic, Stapleton said the vehicle is a complete game-changer for being able to liven up the lives of residents.

He has events like picnics at Yellowknife River and day-trips to the North Country Stables for seniors in the works with the bus.

“I find that kids and seniors suffered the most during the pandemic and now that the pandemic is over, we are emerging wisely and have more opportunities to enjoy broader programming,” he said.

With a successful night of baseball action, he said he would like to get seniors out for the Territorial Fastball Championships this weekend.

“If we can find out other activities throughout the city like territorials that seniors would like to go to or if they would like to go to a minor hockey game or watch soccer with kids — we find there is so much knowledge and stories that they bring and are willing to tell.”

Last week’s baseball evening, for example, included AVENS resident Mickey Forrest – brother of Tommy Forrest, for whom the field is named.

“Mickey’s been with us barely a month or two but we figured why not take him to the park because Mickey knew what it looked like 20 years ago,” Stapleton said. “The field is a lot different now and it gave him a chance to see how far it has come.”

The Yellowknife Fastball League posted to its Facebook page on July 15 its special recognition of Mickey being in attendance.

“The league was so happy to welcome some of the residents of AVENS: A Community for Seniors to Tommy Forrest last night for an evening at the ball park.,” the post stated. “The residents came out to take in a game, complete with hotdogs and plenty of stories.

“Everyone had a great time and we can’t wait to welcome our neighbours to the park again soon!”

League president Devin Hinchey said after years of revitalization work on the field that the league just wants to make sure it can be as accommodating as possible, including for groups like AVENS, who may have special accessibility needs. This is on top of ensuring that the entire property is clean and serviceable for both sports users and visitors.

“Throughout the night we really talked about how to make it more accessible for some residents — or anyone who may have special needs if the only way to get around is with a wheelchair or a walker,” Hinchey said.

He pointed out that upgrades to the beer garden area and gated site that can allow parking of the bus went a long way to helping AVENS residents. As a result, larger groups may be hosted in the future.

“The whole story is more about how although some are limited in what they can do, from a league perspective we really want to be a part of the solution as much as we can,” Hinchey said.