You could say the Toronto Blue Jays have had an effect on more youth around the country playing ball of some kind.
But once they’re in, you have to sustain that growth. NWT Softball tried to do its part this past weekend at Tommy Forrest Ball Park.
Several players from Yellowknife, along with their counterparts from four other communities, hit the diamond for NWT Softball’s summer fastball clinic, which finished up on Sunday afternoon. The clinic was open to players between the ages of 11 to 16 from communities in the North and South Slave region. More than 50 players took advantage of the opportunity to take on some new skills.
The lead instructor for the clinic was Bryan Sask of B.C., who was making what seems like his annual visit to the NWT. Sask has been instructing clinics each year for the past six and he said he looks forward to coming back each time.
“I look forward to it because of this,” he said as he pointed to a field of players playing on their own. “There’s such a difference in the mentality of the kids up here. The kids here love these camps as opposed to some in the south, such as in the lower mainland, where I’m from. Some get bored with it after a while, but not here. A lot of kids don’t get to experience this sort of thing here and they absorb it.”
The weekend included everything a good softball player needs to know: fielding, hitting, throwing and, some might say most important, pitching. Every player got a chance to try out each module with fun games tossed in, such as rabbit chasing around the bases.
Several players from the YK Fastball League chipped in their time to help out over the course of the weekend. Jennifer Lukas, NWT Softball’s vice-president of coaching and development, said that is both good and important to have happen.
She said it’s important to keep the momentum of Yk Minor Fastball and the fastball league itself going.
“We’re only going to be as good in the North as the competition allows,” she said. “We do have a small population and the more opportunities we can give kids to play, the better and that’s why something like this is only going to help grow the sport.”
The clinic also featured some players from Yellowknife Little League, which plays baseball as opposed to softball. The idea behind both games is the same, but there are differences, such as the size of the ball.
Lukas said it was nice to have them get the chance to play a different ball sport.
“They see that fastball does have a good presence in town and even though it’s softball, it’s still competitive and it’s still fun and something that can challenge them,” she said. “It’s neat to see them play because there’s a bit of a difference in the approach they take to the game. Little League is game-based and that’s great because the kids have a good game sense. They understand things such as double plays, footwork to make things happen.
“In Yk Minor Fastball, we focus on skills and we work indoors for the first month so the kids have a sense of the mechanics, such as where you should be when you’re throwing the ball and pointing at the target. It’s a really interesting mix and they’re learning from each other but I enjoyed seeing it.”
One of those Little Leaguers, Zack Chung, said he had lots of fun playing, especially the scrimmage games.
“I like batting and catching the best,” he said. “For the catching, we had to put on the back catcher mask and they threw balls at us and we had to be on our knees. They taught us that we have to stretch to catch the ball, no matter where it was.”
NWT Softball hosted the clinic courtesy of funding from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ Regional Youth Sporting Events (RYSE) program, which provided the help for the second year running.
Paul Gard, NWT Softball’s president, said what impressed him the most was the amount of help received over the weekend.
“It was great to have so many volunteers,” he said. “People said they would be out and they came and that made everything a lot easier on everyone.”
He also said these sorts of events need to continue and one way that could happen is through an exchange between the NWT and Yukon, similar to the deal the Yk Minor Hockey Association has with their counterparts in Whitehorse.