Rode

RODE: St. Joe’s Ball Academy continues to grow

The St. Joseph’s Baseball and Softball Academy is playing a significant role as the two sports continue to grow in the province.

All you have to do is take a look at the number of kids who have graduated from the program and signed with post-secondary institutions in the United States and Canada.

The Academy held a college information night prior to the Christmas break and the majority of the 24 kids — 20 boys and four girls — who are attending colleges and universities were on hand to talk with current members of the Academy and their parents.

“It was a chance for them to ask the former students about the process and how it’s going for them,” said the Academy’s head coach Jason Chatwood.

So far this year there have been two boys and four girls who have committed for next season, plus Nathan Flewelling, who is in Grade 11 and can’t sign until next season.

The two boys are Isaiah Schulte-Bates, who will attend Fisher College in Massachusetts, and Jordan Bauer, who will attend Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

The four girls are Kiye Anderson (Bismark State College), Jenna Funk and Brooke Zinken (Colby College in Kansas) and Sarah Wilkins (Southern Maine Community College).

“There will be several others, who haven’t committed yet,” said Chatwood. “They haven’t made up their mind or waiting to see what their options will be before committing.”

The number of kids moving on from the St. Joe’s Academy has grown significantly over the years as has the number of kids committed to the program.

There are close to 50 boys and 36 girls involved this year plus close to 80 boys and girls in the junior (grades 6 to 9) high program.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago when we had one or two kids moving on,” added Chatwood. “It’s really exciting to see the number of kids at the next level.”

The coaching the players receive over the winter months plays a significant role in their development.

“The time we get to work with the kids is a huge thing and the number of reps they get, the strength training and coaching is significant,” Jason said.

Chatwood, who also is the head coach of the Sylvan Lake Gulls of the Western Major Baseball League, feels the Academy is just part of significant growth by baseball and softball in Alberta.

“It’s just not the Academy, but the number of kids in Alberta is growing and there are so many more opportunities for them to go on and play and for scholarships. There are a lot of good athletes and it’s an exciting time for both baseball and softball.”

Chatwood feels the Academy helps the growth of the players in that they’re not just on the field, all the time.

“We don’t take away from what they can do outside as they’re able to play hockey or ringette or other school sports such as volleyball, basketball, badminton or track and field, which helps them grow as individuals and make close friends.”

The Academy not only helps develop the players so they can move on but is a huge benefit to the Red Deer Minor Baseball and Softball Associations as well as other Central Alberta associations.

“At one time it seemed kids thought they had to move on to play at a high calibre in the summer but the kids are staying at home and we feel we’re helping develop players so they can play for their associations, whether it’s in Red Deer, Innisfail, Lacombe, Sylvan Lake or wherever, and help those programs develop.

“The triple A programs in Red Deer certainly benefit and it’s a goal for the kids to play for them during the summer.”

The same with the girls.

“We have a lot of girls with us who want to play at a high level during the summer and there are more and more opportunities for them whether it’s the Red Deer Rage or other Central Alberta programs.”

The girls program at the Academy has a solid coaching staff with Chatwood, program director Scott Murray, Kelsey Lalor, Terry Hunter and Amanda Howard.

Lalor is one of the premier women’s baseball players in the world, having been named an all-star at the World Championship and was recently selected to the Canadian women’s softball team.

“Kelsey is a special athlete and she trains with us when she’s home and also helps coach,” said Chatwood. “It’s exciting for the girls to see how far a Central Alberta athlete can go and to learn from her.”

The fact players at the college ranks could play with the Gulls or even the Senior AAA Riggers, is a benefit as well.

“Even looking at the Okotoks program is gives younger kids an opportunity to see where they could play and to watch kids with the Gulls who play at the college ranks in the States and across Canada,” said Chatwood,

“During the break, a lot of college kids came back and we opened the facility so they could train and they were excited to be home. Overall it’s pretty cool to see how things have come full circle.”

Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at danrode@shaw.ca

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