By Sam Laskaris
ALEXIS NAKOTA SIOUX NATION, Alta.
Despite getting off to a late start, organizers of this year’s Canadian Native Fastball Championships believe they just might attract a record number of teams at the 2017 Alexis Nakota Sioux tournament.
Alberta’s Nation will be hosting this year’s nationals. The tournament, which runs Aug. 4 to Aug. 6, will be staged in Edmonton.
The host First Nation only has two ball diamonds of its own. That’s why it was forced to look outside of its own territory for a tournament location. It settled on Edmonton, located about 80 kilometres east.
The Alexis Nakota First Nation hosted the 2009 nationals. That event was staged in Whitecourt, about 100 kilometres northwest of the First Nation.
Elizabeth Letendre, one of the organizers for the nationals, said this year’s hosts would have preferred to return to Whitecourt.
“They have something else planned this year, which didn’t fit into our schedule,” said Letendre, who has been an Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation band councillor for the past four years.
Traditionally the host city for the nationals the following year is announced by the conclusion of the Canadian tournament. But no announcement was made at the 2016 tourney, which was held in Prince George, B.C.
It wasn’t until late October that officials from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation discovered their host bid application was successful.
Letendre said finding out a bit late it had indeed been awarded the 2017 tournament did pose one problem for organizers.
“It didn’t secure Whitecourt for us,” said Letendre, who had spent 25 years as the First Nation’s education director. “If we knew the day after the (2016) tournament was over we could have negotiated right away with Whitecourt.”
A total of 77 clubs participated at last year’s nationals. That number could significantly increase this year as organizers are keen to add a Junior Women’s category.
At least five divisions will be contested. The two most competitive groupings are the Senior Men’s and Senior Women’s categories.
There will also be both male and female Masters groupings, for those players ages 35 and up. And there will be a Junior Men’s division, featuring players 21 and under.
Letendre believes if a Junior Women’s category was included, there could be as many as 10 Alberta entrants that would be interested and possibly a half dozen from other provinces, resulting in a 16-squad division.
In order to add a Junior Women’s cateogory, organizers would need to get permission from the Canadian Native Fastball Association.
The chair of the association, Randy Potskin, will be travelling from his B.C. home in late March to Alberta to get an update about this year’s tournament.
“He ensures we have everything in place and we are ready,” Letendre said.
Organizers plan to inform Potskin during his visit of their desire to add another division.
The majority of tournament matches this year will be staged at Edmonton’s John Fry Park, which has five diamonds. Another venue will also have to be utilized. Organizers are in the process of finding an appropriate second facility.
“We have to go use one of their other venues in the city to support the Masters division and the Juniors,” Letendre said.
Organizers are also confident they will be able to recruit as many as 100 volunteers that will be required to help the event run smoothly.
Volunteers will be sub-divided into groups to handle 10 different areas. These tasks include scheduling, security, parking, maintenance and overseeing vendors.
“We need 8 to 10 people in each division,” Letendre said. “Within the community it’s not hard to fill. But you have to make sure everybody knows their role.”
No doubt one of the fan favourites at this year’s tournament will be the Red Nation Jets, the five-time defending champions in the Senior Women’s division.
The Jets are listed as being from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, but that’s only because the club is managed by Tony Alexis, the chief of the First Nation, and his wife Stephanie.
In recent years, however, the Jets’ roster has been comprised by many of the top female players in the country. Last year’s championship squad included players from Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Letendre believes many of the 2,000 members from her First Nation will be in Edmonton to cheer on the Jets.
“I know they’ll have a really strong fan base,” she said. “It takes money to get to these tournaments across Canada. But this year more people (from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation) will be able to go support them. The stands will probably be full.”