Emelie Peacock

Northern News Services

“She pulled the ace!” organizer Mike Auge announced as the standing room only crowd at the Monkey Tree Pub erupted in cheers after Darlene Allen pulled the winning card from a shoe box.

The crowd chanted her name as a visibly stunned Allen phoned her family in Inuvik to tell them the news. Allen is the winner of both a portion of the night’s ticket sales and the jackpot.

Chase the ace winner Darlene Allen, left, embraces friend Marjorie Baetz seconds after drawing the ace of spades in the Yellowknife Fastball League Chase the Ace Contest at the Monkey Tree Pub on May 12. Emelie Peacock/NNSL Photo

“I’m still shaking” Allen said as she exited the bar surrounded by family and friends. When asked by Yellowknifer what she plans to do with her winnings, she didn’t have an answer other than needing to head home to Inuvik before making any decisions. Allen said the win was on behalf of her family, four of whom were there to watch her pull the ace of spades on Friday.

The Yellowknife Fastball League’s Chase the Ace ran for 43 weeks from a small start in July 2016 with just a few hundred dollars in ticket sales per night. With a grand prize of $319,296 for Allen, as well as just over $500,000 for YK Fastball, organizers said the contest was a great win for fastball in the city.

In previous weeks, ticket draw winners took home up to $40,000 and a chance at the ever growing jackpot. The possibility of a big win brought people out in droves to the participating bars. The Monkey Tree Pub had a line-up snaking down to Range Lake Road for most of the evening and was at full capacity from 6 p.m. until Allen picked the ace just before 9 p.m. A total of $170,360 in tickets, at $5 each, were sold for Friday’s draw.

The Yellowknife Fastball League started the fundraiser to make improvements to the Tommy Forrest Ball Park as part of NewLife4Tommy, a project to revitalize the ball park. For Carter Stirling, organizer with the league and player for the Optimum Crush Rockies, the money raised surpassed the league’s expectations.

“The idea first was to put grass on the field but now we’ve made enough money that we can improve the fences, improve bleachers, scoreboard, new backstop,” Stirling said. “The field is going to look completely different.”

Stirling said seeing the park with grass and other improvements is very moving for himself and others like his father Rod and Paul Gard who grew up playing fastball at the park. He hopes the improvements brings more people to the league and to the minor fastball teams. In addition to the improvements to the ball park, Stirling said the league also has plans to put in green space and a park where children can play.

Darlene Allen reaches into a box holding the final 10 cards in the hopes of drawing the ace of spades, while friend Marjorie Baetz, in black, stands beside her and Mike Auge, a Yellowknife Fastball League representative, holds the box. Emelie Peacock/NNSL Photo

While fastball season is just around the corner, players and fans will have to wait a few years for these improvements to be made at Tommy Forrest. The funds raised by Chase the Ace are in addition to $60,000 the city committed in December 2014 to upgrade the surface of the infield and outfield and purchase equipment, including a lawnmower and watering equipment.

After their success with the contest, YK Fastball will be passing the torch to the Yellowknife Gymnastics Club, providing $5,000 to kick-start their Chase the Ace fundraiser.

Chase the Ace has become a popular fundraising tool for community groups. Each week people buy tickets from participating bars and the earnings get divided into three: one portion for the organizers; one for the person whose ticket is drawn that night; and one for the jackpot. The person with the winning ticket takes home a portion of the night’s ticket sales and a chance to draw the ace of spades from a deck to win the jackpot. If the ace isn’t drawn, the jackpot keeps growing.

One winner of Chase the Ace organized by the Hay River Curling Club in November took home $463,079, while another in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia won $1.6 million in January.