Throwing It Into Summer: The Business of Fun & Sports
When thinking about Canadian children playing sports, baseball may not be the first sport that jumps into your head, but in the Wood Buffalo region, children and families have immersed themselves into the sport.
The Fort McMurray Minor Baseball Association has managed to give parents and community members the opportunity to volunteer through various roles. The opportunities are endless when looking at how parents can stay connected and involved with their children in extracurricular activities. Positions vary from coaching to umpires, and smaller commitments such as park cleanup, and working at the canteen.
Executive Director of Baseball Operations, Andrew Swagers, explains how the coaching clinics work: “We teach the coaches how to be coaches. We’ve hired two coaches from the United States, as well as another coach from British Columbia. These guys not only coach for the travel team, but they help coaches to become better at what they’re doing. We get the volunteer coaches certified through the National Certification Program through Baseball Canada (NCCP) and all of our coaches will go through that.”
With summer right around the corner, the programs are ramping up with many of them well on the way. The House League is Fort McMurray Minor Baseball Associations (FMMBA) first priority.
“We hold a House League Season which hosts about 320 kids. That ranges about 5-years-old to 15-years-old. Everyone is able to play, and they’re encouraged to try all the positions through a rotation at the younger levels like T-ball and Rookie.”
The House League runs by the mission: “To foster and encourage the growth and enjoyment of the sport of baseball by teaching the value of sportsmanship, skills and competition” with the rule that everyone plays. This runs from the month of May right to the end of June. Within those months, there are games and practices that are held two to three times a week to encourage continual growth and practise.
The House League also gives the opportunity for kids to undergo player evaluations, which take place in the early spring. This is one way coaches observe the skill level of each individual to see that everyone continues to have fun while playing. “The kids that are a little bit ahead of other age groups, we will let them play a year up. This way they’re not just playing for fun but also with the proper skill set for athletic growth and for safety reasons. When we get the younger kids playing, and they have to rotate through positions, it’s a little difficult. They have a fear of being a catcher and putting on all that gear because they’re scared of the ball still. We have to reassure them and walk them through that position to give them some more confidence.”
FMMBA allows kids of all ages the chance to build relationships and become more active while building character that will follow them for their entire life. “I think one of the big ones is building that relationship within your community. We do Santas Anonymous in the winter and we really try to get the kids involved in their community from around 8-years-old and up. Once the kids are 10, we try to get them to give back and help out with the younger group. It’s really good in terms of learning to treat people with respect and building friendships.”
The friendships that the kids form through baseball help to bring them together. On an even deeper level, diving into what playing baseball does for the youth, Andrew talks about how it preps players for failure in everyday life.
“One of the biggest life skills baseball teaches you is failure. It teaches you that sometimes you’re going to fail, and that’s okay. It helps kids turn the failure into motivation or a drive to be successful. Everything for kids now is very happy, and everybody wins, but once they start playing at a certain performance level, it’s not like that. You’re going to lose, strike out, make an error, and when that happens you have to know how to control your body language and how hard work is needed to correct your mistakes.”
Businesses in Alberta are taking notice of the ever-growing FMMBA. With a total of 520 kids from all age groups, this association is jam-packed with talent. For comparison, some of the larger associations like Edmonton and Calgary have just as many kids enrolled as Fort McMurray.
In order to make travel and other expenses possible, sponsorships are key. Recently, FMMBA’s Midget team received a donation from Canada Pump & Power for $10,000.
“It’s $1,200 a day just for a charter bus for us. These companies that sponsor the Association really help the kids do something they love.”
The FMMBA is not showing any signs of slowing down when it comes to enrolment. For the first time ever they have had enough talent and interest to create two Midget teams. “Instead of everyone trying out and making it, we have 30 kids trying out for 20 spots. I think the kids are really following their Dads in terms of watching the Blue Jays on TV, they’re looking up to the guys who play on those pro teams. Last year we even did a gala-type event where we had two of Blue Jays show up. We will be sure to do something next year where we will get some other guys out for an event.”
According to Andrew, this type of event really helps show kids and youth in the association that there is an outlet.
For the youth that have the skill set for the pro leagues, FMMBA is having them write the ACT and SATs to go to the States for potential scholarships. For the first time, there is scholarship opportunity with coaches that are in place wanting to help these kids find post-secondary schools.
The reality now is, if they have good grades, attendance, work ethic, and have participated in volunteer hours they can move forward when they’re of age. Without preaching it, we have helped some of them achieve their goals of University.”
With the future of Fort McMurray’s Minor Baseball Association looking even brighter than just last year, Andrew continues to push the Association forward with help from board members while continuing the upward growth it has seen. “The big thing is teaching coaches how to be better coaches; it really starts from them. It’s about giving the parent coaches the tools to be successful, whether that means going on our website and downloading the coaching PDFs or getting them certified through the NCCP.”
Often, with hard work and perseverance comes success, so it is no surprise that Fort McMurray will be hosting Midget Nationals next year. “We put in the bid and were picked and it’s going to be huge. We hosted the Canada Cup this summer after the fire and got amazing reviews. Usually, there are about 18 teams over a 10 to 12-day span. Baseball will be taking over the town during this time...it will be great.”
All the games and most events are free of charge so anyone can stop by to watch the regular season.
FMMBA is always looking for volunteers to help out. To find out how you can volunteer or, if you have any questions about the Association, visit their website at FMMBA.pointstreaksites.com.