Oji-Cree Softball aims to grow game

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Boys’ softball is coming back to Westman.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/03/2021 (525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Boys’ softball is coming back to Westman.

Patrick Leask is the man behind that plan. He started Oji-Cree Softball this year and has partnered with the Westman Softball Association to re-introduce boys to the game. The plan is to get boys into the existing Westman house leagues, or ‘A’ level ball — formerly ‘C’ — this season, and potentially start a boys’ league in 2022. The last time such a league existed in Westman was around 1997.

Leask’s vision, however, goes beyond Brandon ball diamonds.

Thomas Friesen/The Brandon Sun Patrick Leask started Oji-Cree Softball to bring the game to Indigenous communities in Manitoba, as well as bring boys' softball back to Westman.

Leask grew up on Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, located 87 kilometres northeast of Swan River, and said he was surrounded by addiction and had a lack of opportunity to develop skills in sports. He plans to hold clinics in First Nations and Metis communities all around Westman and further north when it’s safe to do so according to provincial health restrictions regarding COVID-19.

“Growing up with parents … with addiction, thankfully I could take it out with hockey. I learned a lot along the way and I would like to help teach to cope with struggles, find a healthy way to deal with what they might be going through,” Leask told the Sun, adding that fastball is popular but sometimes inaccessible within Indigenous communities.

“I think boys from U8 and up, when they start playing, it’s just men’s. There’s a gap there. They need a chance to gain their skills and develop not just once a year at provincials up north.”

Thomas Friesen/The Brandon Sun Brandonite Sally Leask pitches during a one-on-one softball training session with Oji-Cree Softball's Patrick Leask on March 4 in Boissevain.

Leask, who has lived in Brandon the last 14 years, said Oji-Cree has funding and is working with local businesses to help make clinics affordable, if not free, for athletes. They’ll be open to all children.

“I wish I had this growing up and unfortunately I didn’t so I missed out on a lot of opportunity to play on higher calibre teams,” Leask said. “… I notice a lot of kids still growing up the same way I did on a reserve. There’s still that addiction and kids grow up potentially not having a chance to see and gain skills.”

Leask said he’s had a lot of interest in the league. As of this week, registration is open to boys to compete in ‘A’ ball at westmansoftball.com.

Registration is also open for a U16 boys’ travel team, which would practise and play tournaments and exhibition games. Email ojicreesoftball@gmail.com for more information and to register.

The plan for the league is for all athletes to attend spring evaluations as usual so coaches can create equal teams. They’ll either spread boys out across various teams or form all-boys teams, depending on numbers and abilities. While WSA’s under-6 program is co-ed, it’s likely this will be the first taste of the game for many.

“Some of these kids have never thrown a ball, some of these kids have never swung a bat. I said ‘Perfect, that’s exactly what we want.’ We want to give a kid an opportunity to try out a new sport,” Leask said. “Being locked up in a house for a year, there’s kids that want to do this, they want to get out there and try something new.”

For reference, Softball Saskatchewan has full boys’ teams from U12 to U19, with U23 and senior men’s as well.

“Manitoba, in general, is missing men’s fastpitch … Typically the boys would go over and play in Brandon Minor Baseball at the U8 level. On the other side of it we have some girls that play fastball who have gone over to play baseball as well,” said Joel Whiteside, WSA board member in charge of communications.

“Ideally we would love to see this grow into a boys’ league or boys’ division so they can start and play all the way up. We’d love to see it grow.”

» tfriesen@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen

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