A slo-pitch team from Fort Smith hosted a tournament over the weekend.
That would not be unusual except for the location – Hay River.
The first-ever Ann’s Angels Annual Grand Slam Ball Tournament was held in Hay River after the team could not reach an arrangement with the Town of Fort Smith on changing an existing field and replacing another field that had been removed years ago.
Fort Smith’s Bea Bourke, the organizer of the tournament, said, as far as she knows, it’s the first time a Fort Smith ball team has held a tournament in Hay River.
The main thing the team had requested from the Town of Fort Smith was the rebuilding of the riverside field. It was removed in 2003 partly to make room for a performance by the RCMP’s Musical Ride.
“They took the ball diamond down from the riverside and they never put it back up. We wanted that put back up,” said Bourke, noting the team had volunteers for that work and changes to another field, but the town said no.
That left Hay River to benefit from a seven-team ball tournament.
The mixed tournament, which had a first-place prize of $5,000, used the Pine Point and Don Wright fields.
“It’s excellent for the town,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy, who said the tournament was the first to be held on the newly-twinned Pine Point field.
“I think it just shows that not every community of our size and Fort Smith’s size can have all the amenities,” he said. “So it’s great that we’re able to look to each other and use each other’s facilities as we need to.”
Cassidy has never before heard of a Fort Smith team hosting a ball tournament in Hay River.
“I think it’s probably kind of unique,” he said, although he noted it makes sense if Hay River has got the facility and Fort Smith doesn’t.
“Why wouldn’t we open up our field?” he said. “And why wouldn’t the tournament organizers try to take advantage of that? So it’s unusual, but I think it’s going to work out very well for the tournament, the organizers and certainly for our community, as well.”
Bourke said the decision to hold the tournament in Hay River was made after the recent Coors tournament in the community.
However, the organizer was not happy to have to move the tournament from Fort Smith.
“It really bothered me that we had to do this,” she said, noting that all the financial benefits would not be going to Fort Smith.
The requests from Ann’s Angels were discussed at a Fort Smith town council meeting in June.
Councillors and town administration agreed changes could not be made at the request of one group, no matter how well-intentioned, and funding for such work was not in the town’s budget.
Coun. Chris Westwell said the town could not just “snap up” a field because someone was demanding it for a tournament.
The town administration said that, even if there was money in the budget, ballparks have to be developed based on the recreational needs of a community.
The site suggested for the replacement field is also now being considered as a festival site in Fort Smith.
Bourke said she is very grateful to Hay River for providing the fields to host the tournament.
However, she noted, “Next year, we hope to be in Fort Smith.”