1 Thru 9: St. Joseph Baseball Academy

Opening Day took on new meaning for some central Alberta students during this school year.

That’s because newly opened St. Joseph High School in Red Deer began accepting baseball and softball academy students for the first time last fall.

It was a welcome addition to the school and the community for Jason Chatwood, who is the lead instructor of the academy.

Chatwood made time for Alberta Dugout Stories recently to discuss the freshly-minted program, as part of our “1 Thru 9” series focusing on Alberta baseball academies. Here’s what he said in response to our nine questions about St. Joseph Academy:

1. When did your doors open?

St. Joseph High School officially opened in August of 2017, and our baseball and softball academy was established on February 1, 2018. The program began with students at the start of this 2018/2019 school year.

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

As of right now, we are the only academy in the province that offers both baseball and softball programs. We work with students from Grades 7 to 12. All of our high school students attend St. Joseph High School, and our partner school is St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School, where our Grade 7 to 9 students attend.

3. What are the academic requirements of the academy?

The first requirement is that students must attend our school to be part of the academy. Our high school academy students will earn 10 credits per year through the program.

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St. Joseph High School fieldhouse … photos courtesy Jason Chatwood

With me being a certified teacher on staff, I am able to constantly check the students’ grades and progress in all of their classes. All of our teachers are extremely supportive of our academy students to set them up for success. They are always available to our students. Our students also have access to tutoring when needed.

4. Tell us about your annual travel schedule and tournaments your participate in?

With this being our first year we had 16 fall games scheduled with other academies and club teams. But with the fall weather that we had we were only able to get four games in.

We have spring games scheduled before students begin with their minor ball associations as well. We are planning to have a full fall schedule next year, with approximately 25 to 30 games as well as a fall trip south of the border with both our baseball and softball programs. On that trip, we will be visiting various colleges and universities.

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

With our school just opening all of our facilities are brand new. Attached to our school is a 25,000 square-foot fieldhouse with a 70-foot, drop-down cage. We have two portable mounds; pitching machines for softball and baseball; a state-of-the-art 2,100 square foot weight room; and a sound-proof yoga room that is 900 square feet.

We have multiple iPads available to students to analyze mechanics. Each player has their own foam roller and J-Band, and we have the Driveline weighted balls and Axe Bats. Our fieldhouse allows us to play catch up to 200 feet, have a full infield inside while others are using the cage to hit, and our pitchers can throw bullpens – all simultaneously.

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Batting cages at St. Joseph … photos courtesy Jason Chatwood

We are hoping to have a new field on-site in the near future. Currently, we use Great Chief Park as our home field.

6. What can you tell us about the coaches at St. Joseph baseball and softball academy?

I am the lead instructor and a teacher at the academy. I grew up playing baseball in Innisfail and Red Deer and I was able to play on multiple Team Alberta squads. I received a scholarship to Colby Community College, where I still hold hitting records and was a third Team All-American. After that I played for two years at Gonzaga University (GU), where we won the West Coast Conference in my senior year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. I played for the Red Deer Riggers after finishing at GU and won a number of provincial championships. This fall I was inducted to the Colby Community College Hall of Fame. As well, I am on the Team Alberta U-16 Western Canada Games coaching staff and work as an associate scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Scott Murray is the director of the academy. Scott grew up playing minor baseball in Red Deer and went on to play two years at Spokane Falls Community College, where he was the team MVP. Unfortunately, Scott’s college career was cut short due to injury, but he played 16 years for the Red Deer Riggers and was a member of the 1997 national championship team. Scott holds the single-season and all-time home run records for the Riggers. He has coached multiple Red Deer minor baseball teams, and Red Deer Rage softball teams.

Teri Hunter is our softball instructor for the academy. Teri grew up in Red Deer and played four years of NCAA Division 1 ball at the University of Chattanooga. She was also a member of the Canadian Junior National Team (JNT) for two years. Teri currently coaches in the Red Deer Rage softball association.

Heather Chatwood has been a regular softball guest coach throughout the year. She was the 2008 NCAA Division 2 Player of the Year at Adams State University. Heather played for years for the women’s national softball team, winning a bronze medal in 2010 at the world championships and a silver medal in 2011 at the Pan-American games. Heather was inducted into the Adams State Hall of Fame in 2017 and the Colby Community College Hall of Fame in 2018.

In addition to these coaches, we have brought in multiple guest coaches throughout the year, along with MLB scouting staff, college and university coaches, and current Team Canada softball players.

We also offered both a softball and baseball showcase camp to central Alberta athletes where they were able to get instruction from a number of high-end coaches from across North America. The baseball camp was attended by 62 players, and 45 players attended the softball camp.

7. What does a typical day look like at the academy? 

On a typical day the students will attend regular classes throughout the day, with the baseball and softball academy classes starting at 2 pm. The school day ends at 3:30 pm, but workouts and practices will often go until 4:30 pm. With the program being held during the day we really promote multi-sport athletes at our academy. We have multiple students who play various sports other than softball and baseball.

We see our junior high academy students every Tuesday and Thursday from 12:15 until 1:45 pm. They are bused over to our school and have access to our fieldhouse and equipment.

8. How much are tuition fees for students attending the academy?

Our cost for the senior high academy is $3000 per year and our middle school academy is $750 a year.

9. What defines success for your students?

At our academy we preach attitude and effort all the time. We hold our players to high standards and expectations.

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Putting in work at the batting cages at the fieldhouse at St. Joseph High School … photos courtesy Jason Chatwood

Our number one goal of the academy is player development. We want them to develop their skills on and off the field, in the weight room, in the classroom, and in our school community.  We spend a lot of time with our players having them set short and long term goals. We want to do everything we can to help our players reach their goal of playing at the post-secondary level.

The baseball and softball part of the academy is extremely important and we want our athletes to enjoy the process of growing as players and as people. We want our players to value the importance of what it means to be a good teammate and working together. Success for our graduates is that they are prepared with the skills to be successful after high school and in everyday life.

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