Published June 15, 2016
BY JENNIFER THURBIDE
More district youth are running into the outfield and swinging bats this year, thanks to some fundamental changes to local programming.
Red Lake Minor League Baseball organizers reported last week registration for the summer activity reached more than 140 participants, the most the league has seen in many years.
“Baseball kind of dropped off a bit and I think now parents are seeing that there is organization and the kids are learning and having fun,” said League President Michelle Kowalchuk on June 11. “They are going to school saying ‘yeah I have baseball tonight’. When you go into the school grounds you see kids playing catch.”
Kowalchuk says the biggest change to the league has stemmed from an idea last year to partner with Baseball Manitoba and switching the leagues to hard ball.
“Joining Baseball Manitoba has given us more guidelines so we know what kind of baseball we are playing. We know the age groups. Everyone is on the same page and it shows. The kids love it,” she adds.
Youth hard ball stretches from those aged 2 to 14 years old and includes four leagues: T-Ball (6 and under), Grand Slam (7-9 yrs), Mosquito (10-11 yrs) and Pee-Wee/Bantom (12-14 yrs).
League Vice-President Josh Cousineau adds that the league’s growth would not have been possible without the volunteers who have come forward to be coaches and to assist out in the field.
“With the amount of volunteer help we have it has allowed us to increase our number of teams per division while keeping our numbers low.”
Cousineau says there are currently six certified coaches in the district after a June 2-4 training session and all volunteers have completed Respect in Sports modules.
Although Red Lake is the only community in Northwestern Ontario currently associated with Baseball Manitoba, youth are finding opportunities in Kenora and southern Manitoba to play and compete.
“[At the Mosquito level] I put out to the parents to make one team and I took the kids to a tournament in Warren, MB. It was an eye-opener. They got to see how some teams operate and how it works. It was a great experience for them. They went from losing their first game 11-0 to winning their last one 14-4. It was really cool for them and the coaches,” recalls Cousineau.
Pee-Wee/Bantom players Jordan Baranesky, Braidy Botel, Hayden Geary and Adriane Miller were also in Warren, MB that same weekend as part of a Fort Frances team and brought home a silver medal from the tournament.