The biggest slo-pitch season Hay River has seen in years wrapped up last week, with the Brewzers taking top place over the Super A Ice Breakers and Carter Crushers in a series of games on Aug. 23.
“I think the season went awesome,” said league president Rachel Daigneault-Durocher during the game between the Crushers and Brewzers for third place. “We’ve had nothing but compliments, and I couldn’t have asked for a better (executive) team.”
Daigneault-Durocher’s own team, the Concept Bandits, were the league’s regular-season champions, but lost two games in the finals and were knocked out.
She said playing and organizing tournaments over the summer was challenging, but worth the effort.
“You can’t do nothing in this town without volunteers,” she said. “The businesses and the community have really come out in support of us and we’re really grateful.”
She also said the players, and especially the executive, have supportive families that allow them to spend a lot of time at the ball diamond in the summer, adding she hasn’t heard too many complaints.
“You see people out here with their families all the time,” she said. “It’s a game that’s really for everyone.”
Glenn Smith, a player with Carter Crushers, agrees. He said slo-pitch games provide a valuable setting for social interaction and also have an active component.
“There are probably about 200 people involved through the summer,” he said. “There aren’t always a lot of opportunities in Hay River to get together on a big scale like this and this is a great place to do it.”
Smith said the long daylight hours are also good for catching up with people who he maybe doesn’t get to see much of in the winter, in addition to getting outside and enjoying the short season.
“That’s not even talking about what it brings to the town from outside,” he said. “There are a few tournaments in the year and they bring in people from all over the Northwest Territories and elsewhere, and they get to see Hay River is an attractive place.”
According to Smith, slo-pitch has such a broad base of support – and is indeed experiencing a resurgence in popularity – because of its accessibility.
“It’s not an intimidating sport,” he said. “It gives a chance for people to be active without necessarily knowing lots about it or being in the best shape. You can’t say the same for hockey, or golf, or most other sports here.”
Despite the extra organizing work it would entail, Daigneault-Durocher said she wants to see the league grow even bigger next year. She is keeping a running list of improvements she and the executive want to make, one of which would see the season extended perhaps into September.
“We’ve always ended when school began because people get busy in the evenings,” she said. “But a few teams have come forward wanting to extend the season a few weeks, and even though the finals will be over, we’re still going to keep playing for fun this year.”
A small but significant change to the program this year was the addition of voting for most valuable players as well as sportsmanship honourees, and a league barbecue to celebrate the end of the season as a league.
MVPs were Rodney Beck and Shawna Coleman, while Daigneault-Durocher herself tied with Judy Steele for most sportsmanlike female and Mason Hachey took the honour for the men. The Concept Bandits won for most sportsmanlike team.
Overall, about 75 people turned up for the barbecue on Aug. 23. Daigneault-Durocher said she was pleased with the turnout and hopes to build on it next year.
“Individual teams normally have their own parties, and they still will, but we just wanted to put on something that would help bring us together as a league and not just on a team basis.”
— Sarah Ladik