The COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stop the sights and sounds of youth baseball in Alberta in 2020. Through the cooperative efforts of administrators, coaches, parents and players, reduced schedules of games were played safely and successfully in various communities.
Heath and safety measures designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus were paramount in keeping bats cracking and gloves snapping. Associations across Alberta are now looking ahead to the 2021 season. With precautions in place, the Alberta Amateur Baseball Council (AABC) is optimistic about a spring and summer that has players in the swing to one degree or another.
“I think we have to run things similar to what we did last year to keep the kids safe,” said Dale Tilleman, high performance coordinator for the AABC, a provincial organization that receives funding from Alberta Sport Connection to distribute to its member organizations, namely Baseball Alberta, Little League Alberta, American Legion, Babe Ruth and two collegiate baseball programs – the University of Calgary Dinos and the Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs. The AABC is also responsible for bringing teams together to represent Alberta, and zones within Alberta, at provincial- and national-level competitions.
“We’ve had the pandemic with us almost a year now,” Tilleman continued. “We have to respect it but we can’t live in our basements. If I had a son or daughter still eligible to play, I’d make sure that they have their hand sanitizer, I’d make sure they have a mask. I’d make sure that when I went to the ballpark, I pay attention to the (public health) rules and regulations.”
Passion for baseball has always been high in Alberta and it appears to be heating up even more, especially at the grassroots level. As an example, Tilleman pointed to Red Deer, which had about 300 kids playing baseball five to six years ago and now has more than 1,000. Total player registration across Alberta last year, he said, was around 34,000.
When coronavirus shutdowns started in March of 2020, the situation was disheartening for those in Alberta baseball circles. On the bright side, conversations between Little League Alberta President/CEO Kevin Kvame and the provincial government helped keep the ball in play in some locations.
“He presented the case to the Alberta government and we got the young kids playing, primarily those between 12 to about 18. They got involved in playing quite a bit,” said Tilleman, who is based in Taber, about 50 kilometres east of Lethbridge.
“Some of the teams here in southern Alberta and Calgary, they got up to between 20 and 25 games. That was pretty good. That was basically the coaches and the baseball executives that did the grunt work there. They kept the kids safe and played their games. You walked into the ballpark and you saw some sanitation going on, some spacing going on. That was gratifying to see that happen, and it had to be a cooperative effort because if you would have had one or two outbreaks at ballparks, we would’ve been shut down. For the people to work together and pay attention to that, they all deserve some accolades.
“The one thing that was most gratifying of all, I was at a couple places where they were having their first games of the year, and the smiles on the kids’ faces, they were from ear to ear.”
Baseball grins weren’t limited to the southern portion of the province. Tilleman said some Edmonton-area teams played 12 to 14 games, and that was also the case for some clubs in central Alberta.
Tilleman also attended a number of practices and small group workouts during the 2020 season. At those sessions, he saw safety measures being taken seriously.
“When the kids came in, they brought their hand sanitizer, they added their own face masks – lots of places, they required them to wear masks,” he said. “They had their own chairs to sit on along the fence. There were lots of programs that made a good effort and they were able to keep the kids safe.”
Tilleman said not a single case of coronavirus in Alberta was linked to baseball in 2020.
For the 2021 season, baseball in Alberta will adhere to rules and restrictions set by Alberta Health Services and the provincial government. Updated measures came into effect on Feb. 8 (please click here to view).
At this point, practices are permitted (maximum of 10 individuals, with physical distancing and other protocols in place). Games are not currently allowed but the situation is ever-evolving.
“The pandemic is not on the back burner yet, for sure,” Tilleman said. “But if we follow the guidelines, I think there are lots of people who really want to get out and get playing this year.”
Jason Peters is a freelance writer and editor based in Prince George, British Columbia. Visit his website at www.frontpagepublications.net.
Oikawa, Ianetti latest AABC weekly Honorees
Alberta Amateur Baseball Council is recognizing those individuals who have contributed to significantly to Alberta baseball, at the youth level.
Nominees for the past two weeks, regarding “Passion for Baseball”, are Scott Oikawa, of the Lethbridge American Legion program and Dutche Iannetti of the Fort McMurray Minor Baseball program.
Oikawa played in the Picture Butte and Lethbridge Little League programs, and later competed in the Lethbridge Legion program. Once his playing days were done, he became a coach in the Lethbridge American Legion program.
Scott’s interest in baseball started by coming from a baseball family. His parents, Mary and Tricky, were avid supporters of youth baseball in the Lethbridge and Picture Butte area (the Lethbridge Elks hold an annual tournament named after Mary in appreciation of her volunteerism). Mary and Tricky impressed upon Scott the need to give back to the game after enjoying it for several years. Regarding his mentors, he gained some knowledge and perspectives from each one of the coaches he had as a youth baseball player in the Lethbridge area. Scott would like extend his gratitude towards his co-coaches Jim Kotkas and Chad Layton; he feels they are both good teachers and have great baseball minds. Today, he is inspired by getting a chance to work young people as a baseball coach.
Scott is proudest when he sees his past players, and realizes how much they have grown as individuals. He is extremely pleased to see them contribute to the Lethbridge Elks or Miners’ programs, but even more satisfied to see them become good citizens and positive contributors to society.
He is also proud of coaching one of the top Alberta U18 programs called the Lethbridge Elks. Scott is honoured that the Lethbridge Elks are a program that is well-known in Alberta, but also throughout Montana and the Pacific Northwest.
Regarding the future of Alberta youth baseball, Scott would like to see the sport continue to grow in numbers, and steady improvement regarding player skill sets. He also appreciates it when coaches emphasize teamwork and good citizenship, when fulfilling their duties as a youth baseball instructor.
Scott also hopes that coaches remember, their best coaching jobs may not be reflected in the win/loss ratio; it is shown by your approach when working with players, and how you help them to grow as players and people.
Ianetti has served on the Fort McMurray executive, and coached several Fort McMurray teams. As well, he has rolled up his sleeves and been part of facility maintenance groups.
Dutche interest in baseball stems from being a participant in many Cape Breton Little League teams, growing up in Nova Scotia. He really liked the game, and cites his youth coaches, Monte Bradley and Billy Foster, as being positive influences regarding his love of the sport. In Fort McMurray, his children, Joey, Josh, and Felicia, motivated him to get involved in Fort McMurray Minor Baseball. The entire family enjoyed the travel and competition that youth baseball provided. As an adult, he would like to acknowledge Jerry McPherson as person who convinced him to get more involved in youth baseball; he is happy for Jerry’s encouragement.
Dutche is proud of all the new relationships that evolved from his association with youth baseball. He has made great friends in his community, but also throughout the province. Baseball has enhanced his social network. Dutche also is very satisfied that he has the capacity to give back to his community, through his volunteerism regarding youth baseball.
In the future, Dutche would like all baseball associations to “get on the same page” when it comes youth players. The emphasis should be on what is best for the kids, not individual associations. Check egos at the door, and step it up for deserving kids, not your geographical location. As well, coaches need to try and move kids forward, no matter what their starting level of skills are. .
The Alberta Amateur Baseball Council, and the Alberta baseball community would like to thank both Scott and Dutche for their dedication and efforts towards Alberta youth baseball.
Baseball Alberta Seeks New Program Coordinator
The Baseball Alberta Programs Coordinator role is a comprehensive, multi-faceted role with broad responsibilities for baseball program administration and delivery in Alberta. Reporting to the Executive Director with ultimate accountability to the Board of Directors of Baseball Alberta, this role will be based out of the Baseball Alberta Edmonton office working as part of a team of employees focused on serving the member Associations of the province in developing, administering, and growing the sport of baseball in Alberta.
Application deadline is January 31, 2022.
AABC Weekly Passion for Baseball Honors to Garry Thomson
Alberta Amateur Baseball Council is recognizing those individuals who have contributed significantly to Alberta baseball, at the youth level. This week’s nominee, regarding “Passion for Baseball”, is Garry Thomson. Garry has coached and umpired for the Brownfield, Coronation, and Castor minor baseball organizations for decades.
In his youth, Garry was inspired by softball, not baseball. Once Garry moved to Brownfield, the strong minor baseball program motivated him to join their ranks. Garry began a teaching career in the Brownfield area, and once his kids were old enough to start playing, he became more involved directly with the local youth programs. All his boys played baseball in the East Central Alberta area, and today, he has grandkids playing for the same local programs.
Garry cites Coach Carter Stickler, of the Consort area, as a coach who had a very positive impact on him regarding baseball, and sport in general. He also would like to recognize Terry Schneider and Dan Buskas, as great mentors, in his involvement and development as an umpire.
Garry is proudest of his role as being a facilitator/supporter of baseball in East Central Alberta. He takes great satisfaction that his kids, and grandkids, have all had the opportunity to participate in quality local minor baseball programs. Garry is also very pleased with the relationships he has formed with people all over the province as an umpire and coach. He is humbled that he is still asked to umpire, as he was this past summer, even as he gets a little older.
Garry hopes that baseball numbers continue to grow throughout the province. He wants baseball to remain a friendly, fun, and affordable sport for all. He feels baseball helps build relationships throughout Alberta; baseball, he credits, as being a great sport for the fans as well. He wants all baseball enthusiasts to remember, a) baseball is supposed to be fun, b) it is important to show sportsmanship, c) play hard and winning is a bonus at the end of the game.
Alberta Amateur Baseball Council, and the Alberta baseball community would like to thank Garry for his volunteerism and commitment towards Alberta youth baseball
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