November 25th, 2020

Hoping for a place to call home

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on October 24, 2020.

Medicine Hat Thunder U14 catcher Sydney Thompson drives a base hit through the infield during a game against the Medicine Hat Thunder's U16 squad on Thursday, Aug. 20 in Redcliff.--NEWS PHOTO RYAN MCCRACKEN

rmccracken@medicinehatnews.com@MHNMcCracken

Medicine Hat Minor Softball Association is hoping for a place to call their own.

The local softball organization has been a part of Medicine Hat since 1993, however president Michelle Campbell says they still don’t have an official home ball park. There are plans for a potential future home in the Brier Run area structure plan near the Family Leisure Centre, but Campbell says she was disappointed to see MHMSA go overlooked in the city’s newly proposed construction projects, which include a new pickleball facility and upgrades to Athletic Park.

“These girls need some place to play, and they’re important,” said Campbell. “It’s easier to grow when you have good facilities, premier facilities to grow into.”

Medicine Hat Parks and Recreation general manager James Will says the city is working with MHMSA to address the issue, however projects included in the recent infrastructure development proposal need to be completed by the end of 2021. This created a challenge in finding a home for MHMSA, while pickleball already had several viable locations under evaluation.

“I can understand their position, recognizing that they’ve identified they have a need,” said Will. “Part of the grant submission required us to be able to turn it around quickly, and when you don’t have available space that’s already set up for us to move forward with a plan for ball development, we can’t execute it within the timeframe that the province needs us to.”

The current area structure plan on the Brier Run development website lists the proposed new quad diamonds as a slopitch facility, but Will says it is being considered as a potential home for MHMSA. However, he understands the development is still a few years down the road and does not solve the immediate need of the growing, female-dominated sport.

“As we look at developing new fields, we know that within the Brier Run area structure plan we have a placeholder for potentially moving our quad diamond that’s out there right now. It’s not dedicated to (MHMSA) at this point, however we’ve considered looking at whether or not we could have a home field for them at that location,” said Will. “In talking to MHMSA we understand their membership is largely female, and younger females who are often under-represented in sports. So, we certainly agree that they need opportunities and they need fields that will work for their sport – which is a growing sport and it’s a unique sport.”

For the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix. MHMSA currently has access to roughly a dozen school-based diamonds in Medicine Hat, and while Campbell says updates have been provided in some areas – such as an outfield fence at Crestwood School – there are still challenges involved. Primarily, maintaining the diamonds can be difficult given they are often used during school days, and the fields themselves aren’t quite up to par for MHMSA’s more competitive teams.

“It makes it tricky when you’re going to run a U16 game on them after 6 p.m. and home plate’s gone missing, the pitching rubber’s been dug out and somebody’s used a shovel to dig in it like a sandbox,” said Campbell. “Back in the day I played in small-town Saskatchewan and we played on school grounds. We travelled around to other small towns and played at their community diamonds and that was totally OK. And it’s great for our tee-ball kids or our parent-pitch kids to play on these diamonds, but once you get to be U10, U12, U16 – our high school kids all play in Redcliff, it’s the only place I can even put them at this point in time. I don’t have enough diamonds within our city to even house our programs.”

Part of the reason for that is scarce booking availability resulting from a surplus of local baseball and softball organizations. Will says the best available interim solution is to work together to find a way to accommodate MHMSA’s needs using current facilities in the city. While there are a number of related challenges such as scheduling and potential field conversions, Will says the city is committed to finding an interim solution that works for all user groups and maximizes use at existing facilities.

“I think we have the same end goal in mind,” said Will. “I think if they’re ending up with challenges with scheduling … what I’ve committed to do is look at our utilization, look at who we’re serving with these groups and making sure we try to address the needs of every user group without one group having a monopoly.

“Some clubs may be willing to say, ‘Hey, we can flex our schedule a little bit or we can flex the days we practise.'”

As far as field conversions are concerned, it can be a lengthy and costly process – as was the case when MHMSA hosted provincials in 2019 at the Moose Ball Complex – but Will says the city is looking at ways to streamline, from new plate transition systems to removable pitching mounds.

“It’s about trying to optimize, first of all, what we currently have before we build new,” he said. “That being said, we know the area structure plan for Brier Run does look at considering moving the quad diamonds, which would allow us to kind of reconfigure everything. That’s a good opportunity for us and we do want to address this group as part of that.”

MHMSA is home to roughly 500 young athletes, mostly female, and Campbell says its numbers are expanding every year.

“We really are growing,” said Campbell. “It’s not like we’re just a house league – and not that there’s anything wrong with a house league, we love our house league program. It’s where fundamentals are built. All our competitive players play within our house league, it’s mandated, you have to do both because it’s such an important piece to the growth of our sport. But we are getting to the point where we’re graduating players who are going to be signing (NCAA) Div 1 scholarships. We are producing some absolutely amazing fastball players in our city.”

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