It wasn’t the usual banquet with all the fixings, but the Baseball Alberta annual awards ceremony still had a celebratory air to it.
While “unprecedented” feels like one of the most over-used words of the past couple of years, 2021 will certainly go down as one that officials won’t forget any time soon.
“Just with the challenges that we all faced, especially with no knowing whether we were going to have any programming or be able to be on the field,” Baseball Alberta president Jon Oko said during the virtual event held December 10. “Then all of a sudden, summer’s here in Alberta and we had about ten days or less to organize the remaining part of the summer with full-on baseball.”
While the season might have been abbreviated, it provided a reprieve for all who didn’t play a game in 2020 and allowed for memories to be made for the young athletes, coaches, managers, volunteers and officials who enjoy the game.
With the short turnaround, Oko had to turn to his inner-circle for help in organizing everything from scheduling to post-game reports.
He says the first person he called when things needed to be done was Kurtis Millar, who he named as the 2021 President’s Award winner.
“Kurtis was the first person to put up his hand and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got time, I can go in as needed,’” Oko recalled. “He’s always a phone call away to do anything and really went above and beyond this year.”
With Baseball Alberta without an executive director for most of the year, Oko leaned on his office staff of development and technical coordinator Sheen Bromley, league management and programs staff members Ryan Bird and Brendan Smith, and other board members to fill the gaps.
“The problem with this award is that it’s for a board member – not board members,” he said. “This could have easily been awarded to a whole bunch of people.”
BASEBALL ALBERTA LIFE MEMBER
A former Baseball Alberta president was recognized as the Life Member inductee during the ceremony.
Don Paulencu started his journey in the province’s baseball scene as treasurer for the Sherwood Park Minor Baseball Association in 2002, moving into the role as president the following year.
After four years there, he sat on the Baseball Alberta board before becoming president in 2009, where he remained until 2016, and stayed on the board as past-president until 2020.
Paulencu also represented Baseball Alberta as a Baseball Canada board rep for a number of years, and has received several Baseball Alberta awards in the past.
“I’m really honoured to receive the award and, naturally, it’s a surprise,” Paulencu said, before thanking several people he worked with, including Carl Linden and Darren Dekinder. “I can honestly say it has been a very rewarding experience for me.”
ASSOCIATIONS OF THE YEAR
Paulencu’s home organization was one of the big winners on the night, as the Sherwood Park Minor Baseball Association was named the Association of the Year – Large.
SPMBA president Darren Anderson sent in a pre-recorded acceptance video, saying the last couple of years have been challenging to many.
“One thing I’m most proud of with our board is that we’ve seen continuous growth in participants over the last two years,” he said. “This reaffirms what we’re offering in Sherwood Park as meeting the needs of our community.”
Camrose Minor Baseball Association president Ryan Foss was also in attendance to accept the Association of the Year – Medium award.
“I think it recognizes a lot of the people behind-the-scenes who volunteer their countless hours of their own time to help with our programs,” he said. “Thank you for all the work you do to help make this game of baseball enjoyable for our young athletes.”
The Kitscoty Minor Baseball Association was named the Association of the Year – Small winner.
The ceremony took an emotional turn when Mitch Ball was inducted into Baseball Alberta Umpire Hall of Fame.
Ball, a Lethbridge-based official, passed away in early-May.
“Mitch was loved and admired by all those who were lucky enough to have met him,” said Bird, who was the night’s emcee. “He was an amazing umpire on the field, but an even better person off of it.”
Ball’s wife Jana then spoke to those watching the virtual gala.
“I’m trying to think about what Mitch would say if he was here,” she said. “I think he would be mostly confused, but I think super-honoured.”
She thanked everyone who believed he was deserving of the honour and submitted his name.
“Mitch was passionate, he was dedicated, he worked hard and he just loved the sport,” she continued. “He loved to umpire, he loved the field, he loved the lights, he loved the crowds, he just loved it all.”
She concluded with a note of gratitude for being invited to be part of the program.
“My kids and I are so grateful and so honoured to be a part of this and to see that his legacy is still going,” she said. “Thank you for letting us be a part of this and for doing this for Mitch.”
Several other awards and scholarships were announced during the festivities.
- Junior Umpire of the Year – Clayton Wandler
- Murray Service Umpire of the Year – Marcus Erlandson
- Ted Rudd Minor Coach of the Year – Craig Veale (Calgary Cardinals)
- Baseball Canada Alberta Grassroots Coach – Darcy Warawa (Stettler)
- Wally Footz Builders Award – Andrew Swaggers (Fort McMurray)
- Off-Field Manager of the Year A – Shannon Bruns (Lacombe)
- Off-Field Manager of the Year AA – Tania Dellezay (Leduc)
- Off-Field Manager of the Year AAA – Michelle Balen (Edmonton Expos)
- Baseball Canada Alberta Volunteer of the Year – Aileen Hartman (St. Albert)
- Player of the Year 11U A 1 – Lincoln Roma (Sherwood Park)
- Player of the Year 11U A 2 – Connor Beauchamp (Slave Lake)
- Player of the Year 11U AA – Wyatt Schmitt (Red Deer)
- Player of the Year 13U A – Wilson Ohnysty (Edmonton Sox)
- Player of the Year 13U AA – Colby Campbell (Slave Lake)
- Player of the Year 13U AAA – Kaz Harris (Parkland)
- Player of the Year 15U A – Ryan Shumard (St. Albert)
- Player of the Year 15U AA – Cash Buchwitz (Stettler)
- Player of the Year 15U AAA – Michael Yusypchuk (St. Albert)
- Player of the Year 18U A – Nate Charlton (Davisburg)
- Player of the Year 18U AA – Jonathan Rilling (Calgary Cardinals)
- Player of the Year 18U AAA – Jack Wheatley (Calgary Bucks)
- Ron Hayter Bursary recipients – Lukian Podilsky (Edmonton Padres), Braedan Mandrusiak (Edmonton Padres), Kelan Polard (Sherwood Park)
- Millie Warwick and Betty Carveth Dunn Bursary – Ellie Jespersen (Parkland)
- Gordie Wilson Memorial Award – Ty Dechaine (Sherwood Park)
- Carl Linden Scholarship Bursary – Chas Wheatley (Sherwood Park)
- Bob White Memorial Scholarship – Lance Clay (Calgary Redbirds)
- Doris Taylor Scholarship – Jarek Mohr (Parkland)
FIRST PITCH 2022
With the end of 2021 fast approaching, all eyes are now on the preparations for the next 12 months.
Oko expects to make an announcement about an executive director soon, and then the planning can begin on improving upon what has already been provided while also being able to pivot should the pandemic throw us another curveball.
He believes Baseball Alberta is well-positioned with a solid foundation of organizations and individuals committed to the game.
“Baseball in Alberta in 2021 couldn’t have happened without all of you,” Oko said. “We’re all looking forward to the spring of 2022.”