1 Thru 9: Dawgs Academy

It’s about time we took you to school.

More specifically, we’re going to invite you to take a closer look at some of the baseball academies operating across Alberta.

This summer we debuted a feature called “1 Thru 9” that allowed our readers to get to know some of the players who were taking the field at ballparks throughout the province.

We’re applying that same nine-question format to the baseball academies in Alberta. Our first stop is in Okotoks, where the Dawgs Academy has been molding student athletes for years.

Tyler Hollick, a former draft pick of the San Francisco Giants and the current general manager of the academy, made time for us and here’s what he had to say about the Dawgs experience.

1. What year was the academy established?

The academy was originally established in 1996 (in Calgary). It produced a number of MLB draft selections, NCAA All-Americans, Canadian National Team players, with many of the players going on to have very successful professional and/or collegiate careers. That original group of players was highlighted by Jim Henderson, who spent four years in the major leagues as a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets. Ultimately, the youth program, like the college Dawgs, effectively went on hiatus, as we constructed the Seaman Stadium complex. The academy was resurrected again in 2009, upon completion of the facilities in Okotoks.

2. What is the age range of the students you work with?

The academy operates with 6 year-round teams; including 13U (comprised of 11-13 year olds); two 15U Bantam teams (primarily a 14U Red developmental team and 15U Black elite team); 16U; and two 18U travel teams that run independent of any leagues or organizations.

We also run and facilitate camps/evaluations for local little leagues, including but not limited to: Foothills Minor Baseball Association, Rocky Mountain Little League, Cal South Little League, and Fish Creek Little League.

3. What are the academic requirements of Dawgs Academy?

Understanding that every student athlete has different goals and levels of academic achievement, we expect every player in our program to meet what they would deem as their individual academic standard.

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Behind home plate at Seaman Stadium … photo by Ian Wilson

We do hold the players to a minimum GPA (Grade Point Average) of 3.0 and an NCAA clearinghouse eligible score on the ACT of 18 (most students score in the mid to high 20’s out of 36). We also have strict attendance and punctuality requirements, and we expect our student athletes to be active members of their school and leaders within the classroom and in the community.

4. Tell us about your annual travel schedule, tournaments you participate in, and big events on your calendar.

The academy’s main goal every year is to seek out the best competition. Aside from numerous top-level Canadian tournaments, we pride ourselves on playing in the highest level travel tournaments throughout the United States and playing multiple games a year versus collegiate programs.

A few staples for the academy schedule are the Best of the West tournament in Kamloops, B.C. – we won that two of the last three years. There’s also the Four Corners Invitational in Peoria, Arizona; the Langley Invitational in Langley, B.C.; the Mother’s Day Host Tournament here in Okotoks. And some notable tournaments the academy has won in the past couple of seasons are the Ohio State University Buckeye Elite, the Spokane Firecracker and the 18U National Championship at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.

5. What amenities and facilities do you have to offer students?

We are extremely fortunate to provide our players with the best facilities in the entire country. Seaman Stadium complex features many amenities that help players develop and provide an opportunity for them to play at the next level. The entire Seaman Stadium complex is a professional grade facility, with every resource that a young athlete would need to get to the next level. Seaman Stadium itself has a capacity for 5,200 spectators and is a full service, state of the art, minor-league level facility. It was built at a cost of $16 million and bears the name of its principal donors, Alberta energy entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Donald R. Seaman and the late Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman, an original owner of the Calgary Flames. The stadium is unique in that it is dedicated solely to amateur baseball, namely the summer collegiate Dawgs, and the Dawgs Youth Academy.

Duvernay Fieldhouse includes a full-sized infield with a field turf surface, six batting cages and four pitching mounds. The fieldhouse also features Dawgs team clubhouses, along with a complete weight room and cardio training room. In addition, the fieldhouse includes coaching and administrative offices; multiple showers and washroom facilities; a team boardroom; a hospitality area with a “Wall of Fame” that celebrates Dawgs players drafted by Major League Baseball (MLB) organizations; an audio-visual room for analysis of hitting, pitching and fielding mechanics; as well as an umpire change room.

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Tourmaline Field in Okotoks … photo by Ian Wilson

Nearby Tourmaline Field was created to maximize development opportunities for the Dawgs Youth Academy. As such, a field turf infield was included as part of the design in order to enable Dawgs players to begin outdoor training as early in the year as possible. Tourmaline also includes many of the first-class features that Seaman Stadium has, including wood outfield fencing, a shale warning track, full-sized cement dugouts and an outdoor training centre with batting cages and pitching mounds.

In 2015, the Town of Okotoks and the Dawgs organization partnered to add a second bantam-sized field to the Seaman Stadium complex. Located adjacent to Tourmaline Field and the Riverside bantam field, Conrad Field is a premier bantam facility in Alberta.

Meanwhile, the Ircandia Outdoor Training Center features three batting cages (six total throughout the complex), four bullpen mounds and a practice hitting area with various hitting aids and tools.

6. What can you tell us about your coaches and support staff?

The Dawgs are proud to have the deepest professional staff in amateur baseball across the country. The Dawgs have 12 full-time staff members that work exclusively for the organization – all with varying spectrums of expertise – to maximize the development of each athlete in every aspect of their game. Hitting, pitching, infield, outfield, catching, strength & conditioning, nutrition, athletic therapy and a team physician are all coordinated directly through the program.

Our instructors include:

  • Tyler Hollick – GM, Hitting & Outfield Coach (San Francisco Giants draft pick)
  • Allen Cox – Hitting Coordinator (former Kentucky Wesleyan College coach)
  • Jeff Duda – Pitching Coordinator (former Quebec City Capitales player)
  • Lou Pote – Pitching Coach (former Anaheim Angels pitcher)
  • Val Helldobler – Infield Coordinator (Tiffin University alumnus)
  • Joe Sergent – Pitching Coach (Florida Marlins draft pick)
  • Bretton Gouthro – Strength & Conditioning Coordinator, Hitting Coach (University of Mount Olive alumnus)
  • Aaron Ethier – Catching Coordinator (Thompson Rivers University grad)
  • Jordan Procyschen – Catching & Hitting Coach (Boston Red Sox  draft pick)
  • Frank Ingram – Hitting/Infield Coach (Thompson Rivers University, grad)
  • Josh MacInnis – 13U Program Director (St. Francis Xavier University alumnus)
  • Brad MacInnis – Strength & Conditioning Coach
  • Amanda Regoto – Nutritionist (Trinity Western University grad)
  • Savannah Blakley – Athletic Therapist (McGill University alumnus)
  • Dr. Cory Wowk – Team Physician (University of Calgary)
  • Stacey Meyer – Academic Advisor (San Diego State University alumnus)
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Pitching coach Joe Sergent (foreground) at the 2018 Okotoks Dawgs Media Day event … photo by Ian Wilson

In addition to the development of the athlete, the focus in our program is on the student-athlete as a whole. Outside or above the regular classroom teachers and supports, the educational and support staff in place at the local high schools is incredible. The students have undivided access to a learning coach, an academic advisor, social/emotional wellness counsellors, an academic counsellor, a math/science tutor, a physical education trainer, a career mentor, as well as the vice principal and principal.

7. What notable alumni have graduated from the Dawgs Academy?

The Dawgs are extremely proud of the players that have come through this program during their pursuit of excellence at the next level, both athletically and academically. Post-baseball career, many of our players have gone onto very successful careers in the professional world. There have been many players placed in college baseball programs across North America and 19 MLB draft picks since the program first started in 1996. Three academy athletes in the current graduating class alone have committed to defending national championship winning programs.

A few notable alumni include:

  • Jim Henderson: Milwaukee Brewers (MLB)
  • James Avery: Cincinnati Reds (AAA)
  • Emerson Frostad: Texas Rangers (AAA)
  • Jordan Procyschen: Boston Red Sox (AA)
  • Tyler Hollick: San Francisco Giants
  • Chris Shaw: Baltimore Orioles
  • LaRon Smith: Minnesota Twins
  • Vince Ircandia: University of Southern California, MBA
  • Matt Lloyd: Indiana University
  • Justin King: University of Alabama
  • Nick Vickers: Virginia Tech University
  • Cole MacLaren: University of Pittsburgh
  • Brett Esau: University of Houston

Many players do return to the program during their playing careers or post-career, to assist in coaching and development of the next generation of Dawgs players. The Dawgs are also extremely fortunate to have one of the most successful summer collegiate programs in North America (ranking 3rd in college summer league attendance), where our top academy graduates will come back to don the Dawgs jersey again in front of 4,000-plus fans a night.

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LaRon Smith at Seaman Stadium … photo by Ian Wilson

I played in the academy for four years, was a part of the college program for two, and continued come back to assist academy players in the off-season. Following my professional career ending in 2015, I came back full time to coach in the academy where I am now the general manager. Currently we have four other academy alumni coaching in the program full time (Bretton Gouthro, Jordan Procyschen, Aaron Ethier and Frank Ingram) with multiple others coming back as seasonal coaches.

8. How much are tuition fees for students? Do you offer scholarships to help offset these costs? Tell us what financial commitments parents can expect.

The cost for the midget program includes travel and accommodation on the road, full and unlimited access to the facility, and coaching with six to 10 practice sessions a week. It is fully sponsored by Under Armour and includes a highly competitive travel schedule all around Canada and the United States. The tuition for the academy is as follows:

  • Midget – $11,000
  • Bantam – $5,500
  • Pee Wee – $4,500

With the collegiate summer team being as successful as they are, we are largely subsidized by them and this really helps keep the cost down. The true cost of what the value the kids get should be closer $20,000 per year, but we are fortunate enough to be able to keep tuition costs down to a feasible number. Understanding that $11,000 per year is a large amount of money, regardless of how much each player receives, we will – in special circumstances – be able to offer hardship fee relief.

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For bantam and pee wee age groups, travel and accommodation is not part of the fee. Parents are responsible for getting the kids to and from the games and tournaments. The only other regular additional cost parents can expect is for non-local players that are billeted from out-of-town. We ask each family to pay $500 to $600 per month to help the host family subsidize the cost for food.

9. What defines success for a graduate of Dawgs Academy?

This question is a difficult one to answer … I believe our players are held to such a high standard that success can be defined in a multitude of ways. On-field success is certainly a component, but success is also measured by academic performances, community impact, and personal growth that is developed through high demands and expectations of our athletes. While our players experience a great deal of success throughout their time within the program, we are extremely proud of the young, active and contributing members of society they become once they finish their playing careers.

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