Only two people in the room knew what was coming.
Calgary Centennial Little League president Shawn Botterill and secretary Danya Tesarski had been waiting a painstaking couple of weeks, unable to tell their secret to fellow board members, volunteers, parents or young athletes.
More than four hours north, Whitecourt Minor Baseball president Randy Lynch found himself in the same situation, circling April 22 on his calendar for when he could share the news.
In both communities, watch parties were organized as the annual Jays Care Foundation Field of Dreams recipients would be unveiled on SportsNet.
One by one, the announcers unveiled the names of the 16 projects sharing $1.2-million in much-needed funding to help improve their local ballparks.
Among those named: Centennial Little League and Whitecourt Minor Baseball.
“I can tell you that this has been the hardest two weeks to not be able to tell anyone,” Botterill said in a statement posted on the Centennial Little League website. “We couldn’t even tell the rest of the board.”
Each community had to go through an application process to show what improvements needed to be made and the impact they would make on their baseball programs.
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It was a lot of work, but all worth it to see the smiles on everyone’s faces when the announcement was made.
“You always hope a grant you work on will come through but you certainly don’t expect it, as that’s not always the case,” Lynch said.
“Now, we are very excited, there’s a buzz in the community, and we can’t wait to get to work on the project.”
A BIG WISH LIST
The scope of the Centennial Little League project is immense, as they plan to overhaul the Sandarac ball diamonds in northwest Calgary.
Botterill says kids of all ages use the three fields for games and tournaments, but they needed to be better.
“First off, we will be covering all of the dugouts there to increase safety for the players,” he said. “We’re also working with the city to put in warning tracks and fence caps along the lower fences to protect players and fans from the top of the chain link fence.”
The organization is also looking to install safer foul poles, improve the on-site batting cage, and add a storage shed to store equipment on-site, among a few other items.
The entire project is expected to run in the six-figure range, which Botterill hopes will be covered off by the Jays Care funding as well as donations and other grants they are applying for.
“It’s important to note that over 95 percent of this project will be funded from grants, donations in-kind, and outside support,” he said.
“This allows us to keep our regular fundraising efforts directed towards the kids and their teams.”
The hope is that when the project is complete, Sandarac will become Centennial’s premier diamond complex in north Calgary.
A CHALLENGING FIELD
You don’t see many grass fields in minor baseball nowadays, and that is a major challenge for one of the baseball fields in Whitecourt.
A rejuvenation of the old field has been on the local association’s wish list for a while, so news of the Jays Care funding was music to everyone’s ears.
“The funds will be used to convert the diamond to an all-shale infield,” Lynch said. “The bases and mounds will be upgraded and have inserts installed to allow the diamond to be used for multiple age groups.”
The improvements will also impact another major group of athletes.
“That shale infield will also create a safer, more usable space for our Challenger Baseball program, which is designed for children, youth and adults living with cognitive and/or physical disabilities,” Lynch added.
It’s a win-win for everyone in the community, as minor baseball continues to grow in popularity.
A LASTING LEGACY
With the shutdowns and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities across the country were able to take stock of the needs and wants they had for infrastructure.
The growing need made it imperative to get moving on as many projects as possible for when the kids got back on the field.
“We believe that now, more than ever, it is vital for kids to have spaces where they can safely play, connect and learn,” Jays Care Foundation executive director Robert Witchel said in a statement.
“We are excited to continue a legacy of investing in infrastructure to support Canadian children and youth, and look forward to celebrating with communities in the months ahead.”
For the two Alberta communities, they can’t wait to get the shovels in the ground.
“Our next steps are to begin the process of securing the development permits, working with potential suppliers and contractors to get the best pricing and service, and begin planning out these improvements,” Botterill said.
While the renovations might mean some schedule shuffling, he believes everyone will understand, adding they will also serve as a blueprint for other facility upgrades in the future.
In Whitecourt, Lynch says the community is still buzzing after the watch party.
“Our program has been suspended for two years due to COVID, and it is a challenge to get youth and parents back, so the buzz and the grant will help with that,” he said.
“We hope the space created will create a legacy for our programs that will last for many years to come.”