When St. Joseph High School decided to run a baseball and softball academy they went about it the right way.
They hired Scott Murray as their director and then picked up Jason Chatwood as teacher-head coach. Both had vast knowldge of the sport as they graduated from the Red Deer Minor Baseball Association, played senior baseball with the Red Deer Riggers and college ball in the U.S.
They were both considered excellent teachers and coaches in both sports.
Murray played a key role in building the foundation of the program.
“The program started in the fall of 2018 and I was hired the previous February and began ordering equipment and meeting with the public,” explained Murray. “Jason was hired in April and we ran open houses and worked with the administration.”
Scott also spent a few days in Edmonton, shadowing the program at St. Francis Xavier High School, which had been running for 10 years.
“I saw how they ran their program and how it was embedded in their school and how it was associated with their middle school, which is similar to ours.
“Ours is a bit different but the structure is similar and that’s how we got started.”
There was interest in the program from the beginning. They had 14 enrolled in the baseball program and seven in softball. Today they have 39 and 17 respectively. Plus they have 65 kids in the feeder system with St. Thomas.
“Our middle school program has been very popular,” said Murray. “We run a program for both baseball and softball during the third block (first in the afternoon) for Grades 6 and 7 on Monday and Wednesday and Grades 8 and 9 on Tuesday and Thursday.”
The boys and girls involved in the high school academy have to be enrolled at St. Joe’s and receive credits.
“It’s embedded in our time table, which is different than other schools, it just wouldn’t work,” explained Murray. “It was a decision by the Catholic Division that they wanted it in our school.”
But that hasn’t stopped players from outside Red Deer from joining the program, in both baseball and softball.
“We have a number of kids from central Alberta who have transferred into the school. We have a boy from Calgary and one in from Grande Prairie,” said Murray. “It’s certainly a leap of faith for them, but it’s worked out well as a lot of the kids have friends who are already involved.”
The program has already benefited a number of players who have accepted scholarships to the States in both baseball and softball.
“This year we had three girls who have committed to the States. Hopefully other players see that and see the benefits of our program.”
One of the big selling points of the program is the field house where they have a drop down batting cage, plus this year an inflatable cage.
“It’s nice to have a second cage as we can have more hitting combined with fitness, defence and pitching,” said Murray.
It’s not all inside either. During the fall they play a number of games at Great Chief Park against other academies, or run practices or intrasquad games.
“This year because of the pandemic we didn’t play other academies but used all three fields at Great Chief as we have enough players for 4 baseball teams and close to two softball. We were short a bit for softball but used the Grade 9 girls so it went well,” added Murray.
The academy runs during the school year although they aren’t as busy in the spring when minor baseball begins.
“We don’t interfere with the local programs, but still run classes,” continued Murray.
Like everything else, Covid-19 has affected the program with the schools being shut down until at least Jan. 11.
“We use the time to hold 15-minute (virtual) one-on-ones,” said Murray. “It’s not the best but we can put together a plan for what they can work on and analysis their swing.”
The academy has a solid coaching staff anchored by Chatwood, Murray and Terry Hunter.
“We have a pitching coach (Taylor Burns) out of Edmonton this year, as well as Aqil Samuel (from the newly formed Sylvan Lake Gulls) and (long-time player-coach and RDMBA president) Dwayne Lalor.”
Heather Chatwood also helps with the Grade 6 and 7s.
The academy costs $3,000 for the high school students and $750 for those in middle school.
“The middle school cost covers classes twice a week for the entire year. It’s reasonable and it’s a nice way for the kids to get started and they may want to move on and join the high school program. It’s a good feeder system.
“As for the high school kids the cost covers coaching, apparel, training equipment, travel costs and game costs, so it’s reasonable as well.”
The academy also runs a showcase event each year where coaches from the U.S. colleges, and even the pros, are on hand to watch the kids work out.
“We’re hoping to run it again in May or June, if the borders are open,” said Murray. “It gives the coaches a chance to see and work with the kids and see how they fit into their programs.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org