New Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea chats with a young Westman Youth Football League player during Thursday night’s practice at the Crocus Plains high school field. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
The spring minor sport seasons get underway next week and all of the big local organizations are excited.
None, however, are likely happier than Jamie Freiheit, the president of the Westman Youth Football Association. Registration numbers for football skyrocketed this season from around 280 to an expected 330, with a pair of Dauphin teams set to join the association.
The biggest jump came in the terminator level for seven and eight-year-olds, which increased 200 per cent from last season.
Freiheit feels that is due to football’s increasing popularity and Westman Youth Football’s focus on trying to make the sport as safe as possible for the kids.
"I think the people are starting to see the benefits for something a little different with football and what it brings," he said. "I did a safe tackle clinic for all the head coaches of the league, so we’re the only organization outside of Ontario that is safe-tackle certified. It’s a national project by Football Canada and I was fortunate enough to get some training done in Saskatoon with (former CFL coach) Paul LaPolice.
"… We spared no cost in equipment we bought this year. We bought 30 brand-new helmets. We have a real commitment to safety and ensuring our athletes are safe."
League play gets underway on Saturday at Crocus Plains. The Manitoba Fearless and Regina Riot of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League will also be there for a scrimmage that starts at noon.
Registration numbers are also up for Brandon Minor Baseball. Each age group, with the exception of the midget division, has at least one more team this season, while the rookie division is up to 12 teams, an increase of two from last year and four from 2012.
President Faron Asham is happy to see the numbers grow after staying steady the previous few years, and he feels people are starting to warm up to baseball again.
"There’s a new energy," he said. "I can feel it in some of the camps that I’ve been running with Triple Crown. The camps are full. I think it’s just a renewed interest and it just might be the population.
"It just might be that turn when there’s more kids than previous trends. We’re happy with that and hopefully we can retain them and continue to build the foundation."
The minor ball season is slated to begin on Monday.
Once again, Brandon Minor Baseball will host its Canada Day Classic at Simplot Millenium Park. It is also putting on the Bantam AAA and Peewee AAA provincial championships from Aug. 1-3.
Softball is just as popular as it was last season in Brandon, with registration numbers holding steady with 325 kids playing in the Westman Softball Association leagues. However, it looks like the leagues will grow with more rural teams joining the circuit.
Gladstone and Portage la Prairie are coming in this season, while Strathclair will field an under-10 team and Glenboro is looking at joining the league as well. Those new communities will mean more travelling, but president Kevin McLennan thinks players will be fine with it.
"We’re happy with the numbers and we want more kids to play, so we’ll travel a little more if we have to to make sure everyone has somewhere to play," he said. "I know it’s a little more travel, but we’re used to it with hockey and they travel more with that and this isn’t any different."
League play starts Monday.
The Brandon Youth Soccer Association is the only one of the four groups in Brandon that had its registration numbers dip this season. Gerry Rocan, the director of youth soccer, said numbers are down about 100 kids to 1,100 this season.
Rocan believes the drop is due to efforts by other organizations, like churches and small towns, to start under-four and five-year-old programs, so he’s not overly concerned. Instead, his focus is on Optimist Park.
The Assiniboine River is expected to crest two feet higher than the highest point of the dike that protects the soccer park — which was 80 per cent recovered from the damage suffered from the 2011 flood — and the soccer association has been told to stay away from it. That means games will be played at various schools around the city, with the five-and-under divisions starting Monday and the other age groups starting on May 12. Playing on school fields has caused the organization to stretch its resources again.
"It’s twice as much work because we have to take all our equipment outside the park and spread it throughout the city," Rocan said. "To set up nets and line fields, instead of lining it all in the park where you have all your equipment, we have to go to all corners of the city. Resource and manpower-wise, it makes it twice as hard."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 2, 2014