Todd Hubka knew he would have to ask the question eventually.
Out for a regular visit with long-time supporters Larry and Mary Ellen Nolan, talking about old times over coffee and cookies, the Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) coach was also there to discuss a possible donation.
He had previously talked about installing a turf field at the academy’s home, Lloyd Nolan Park, and figured it would cost somewhere around $100,000.
Knowing it was a lot of money, Hubka was apprehensive about making the big ask.
“I finally just said, ‘So Larry, what are you thinking?’” he told Alberta Dugout Stories. “He goes, ‘Well, what do you need?’”
After outlining his plan, Hubka was astonished at what happened next.
“The next words out of his mouth are: ‘How does $500,000 sound?’” the PBA chief recalled.
“Of course, I teared up right away and was in shock. I went, ‘Oh my goodness. You just changed a lot of things about Prairie Baseball Academy in one afternoon.’”
Hubka had to keep the donation news to himself and a select few, until making an official announcement at the PBA Annual Banquet and Awards Night on February 4th.
BACK ON TRACK
It hasn’t been an easy few years for Hubka and the Prairie Baseball Academy.
Like many others around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic ground everything to a halt. The constant starts and stops of practices and possible games frayed the nerves and psyche of those who have spent their lives in the game of baseball.
Even organizing events like a banquet, which help with fundraising efforts, became a difficult exercise as subsequent waves of the virus kept many away.
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“It was nice to come back this year and have it on the weekend we always do it on,” Hubka said.
Sharing the news of the donation also provided a renewed sign of strength for a program, which has taken home several Canadian College Baseball Conference titles since being founded in 1995-1996.
The bench boss says it will go a long way in making sure the program remains viable for years to come, as it will pay for more than just the new turf.
“We’re going to apply for some grant money and capital money from the city, and hopefully turn that money into three times what it is,” Hubka said.
“We’re also going to start looking at expanding our indoor facility for the whole baseball community in Lethbridge and Southern Alberta.”
The banquet also saw community awards handed out, as well as thousands of dollars in scholarships, to the current crop of student-athletes.
It’s a point of pride for Hubka, who says the work being done by the Prairie Dawgs alumni association is working wonders in fundraising.
“I have always wanted our players to be able to come play college baseball and not have to pay a lot of money to do it,” he said.
“My goal is to keep growing the alumni to the point where they will sustain this program and kids don’t have to pay into this program anymore.”
Another major part of the evening was the induction of three people into the Prairie Baseball Academy Hall of Fame.
Long-time supporter Les Colwill, administrator Natasha Buis Deering and alumni Les McTavish were given standing ovations by the crowd.
Hubka says Colwill, who wasn’t in attendance as he is handling some health issues, was grateful for the recognition.
“Our golf scholarship weekend went from $10,000 and jumped three times that when Les took over,” Hubka said.
“His work ethic was unbelievable to grow our program and to help our scholarship program with the golf tournament.”
Buis Deering, who serves as registrar and executive director of strategic enrolment management at the University of Lethbridge, has known the Dawgs’ program for a long time through her work with the university as well as Lethbridge College.
She found out about the Hall of Fame induction after a visit from PBA alumni.
“I literally fell underneath my desk – I was shook,” Buis Deering laughed. “I did not believe them at all. I’m not lying when I say that it feels like a privilege, and it almost feels weird to induct me for something that I love so much.”
McTavish has become widely known for starting the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in 2006, but he was also an original member of the Dawgs in 1995-1996.
He became the first PBA player to land a U.S. scholarship, and later returned to coach the program for a short time.
“For me, PBA was the beginning,” McTavish said. “It was the start of my career, it’s where I met my wife, it’s where my roots are now in Lethbridge – if it wasn’t for PBA, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
No question about it, that day, February 4, 2023, will be a day no one around the Prairie Baseball Academy will soon forget.