Thompson is the same as many other towns and cities in Manitoba — hockey in the winter, baseball in the summer. Unfortunately, after the age of 14, there was no organized league for kids who wanted to keep playing baseball.
“We decided that we want to do more for the youth in town to keep them busy,” says baseball mom Carlee Monias. “Thompson has high crime rates and other things that kids are getting into, so to help combat that we started a baseball league for kids over 14 and under 18 to help keep them busy and active.”
Thompson was finding interest among kids aging out of the other leagues, but the kids were a bit too young to join an adult league.
The age gap from 14 to 18 is a crucial time in athletic development, and they found that by the time the kids were old enough for the adult league they had lost interest or were involved in other things.
“I know there is actually lots of money out there for kids but it takes effort to keep pursuing it,” she says. “I find that you just have to keep digging.”
Carlee applied for and received Sport Manitoba’s Community Sport Development Grant to start a U18 baseball league. They used the grant to help cover the cost of much-needed equipment like a new pitching mound and bats. They soon recruited 30 kids to the league and ended up taking 15 of them to compete at Provincials.
“The kids were all super excited about the league,” she says. “It was funny because they started calling after hours asking if they could practice that night. They really wanted to do it more outside of the regular scheduled time when the coaches always wanted to practice. They’re already asking me if we could start doing stuff in the gym now to get ready. And next year they want to start earlier so they can have some dryland done before we start. So it just brought a new flavour, and we have some kids that are really excited about baseball now.”
The community convenors have been so encouraged by the success of the baseball league that they’ve started to look at adding other sports like volleyball and basketball for this age group.
The grant has also helped them gain some traction with local businesses. Largely due to the harsh financial outcomes of the pandemic, the league was having a hard time getting sponsors.
Once they started playing, Carlee says the businesses started approaching them to sponsor a sign at the ball diamond, which has been a great ripple effect.
“When we took our team down south for provincials, it was nice for our kids to see where the competitive level is for baseball and what it looks like. We were maybe not as advanced as the other teams, but our kids didn’t do that bad because they had that drive and excitement. They got to see their hard work from practice pay off, and it was exciting to see that they knew their stuff. They had to put their efforts forward and now they know next year what they need to do to get to the next level.”
Another benefit of this brand-new baseball league is that the athletes have a new outlook on their futures. Carlee says many of the kids don’t know what they want to do after high school, but by getting involved in sport, they’re now talking about things like physiotherapy, sports psychology, or sports medicine. They understand not everyone can be an athlete, but these conversations open up ideas about other options outside of the playing field that still relate to sport.
“There’s also the spirit of sport throughout your lifetime,” she says. “We were talking to each of the kids about giving back to youth. All these parents and all these people volunteer for them and we explain that they’re the next generation of volunteers. So if you start giving back now and start investing time and energy into the kids, the kids are going to be that much more grateful to be that much more developed. And so some of them have started helping out the younger kids and that’s nice to see that they’re already giving back.”