All-indigenous boys’ fastpitch team establishes core values
If you build it he will come is a famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams. In it, an Iowan farmer, played by Kevin Costner, plows a cornfield, builds a baseball diamond and hopes that someone shows up.
And because it’s the movies, someone does.
In a case of life imitating art, residents living on the Cross Lake Indian Reserve in north-central Manitoba have gone one better. Uh, make that five or six better. They’ve built, “five or six,” baseball diamonds on their reserve.
And like in the baseball movie classic, despite the fact that it isn’t reel life, but real life, they too have come. To be exact, about 30% of the reserve’s 8,000 residents play softball.
“We are probably the softball capital of Manitoba,” said David Muswaggon, in Duncan this weekend, to coach his team, the Pimicikamak Thunder, who are playing in the Western Canadian fastpitch softball championships. “Everyone congregates on the diamonds on the weekends. Sometimes we play until 2 or 3 a.m.”
His community, he said, in Pimicikamak traditional territory, has as many softball teams as the city of Winnipeg. Locals are just mad for baseball.
His team, playing in the youth 16 division this weekend, has played more than 40 games since June 27.
Team members are so good that 10 of 18 were chosen to play on Team Manitoba’s 14-member team in the North American Indigenous Games, held earlier this summer in Regina.
“We lost the gold medal game to Saskatchewan,” Muswaggon said.
The team has been playing together since they were nine — they’re now 15 and 16. When asked why they’ve played together for so long, the coach replied, “It’s the love of the game.”
Sports has played a major role in the life of his people for decades, he said. In winter, it’s hockey, and, in summer, canoeing and softball.
Getting his people interested in sports is part of the band’s strategy to optimize the group’s health. By keeping kids and youth busy, providing them with tools they can use on and off the field, they’re keeping them away from drugs and alcohol and modelling a healthy lifestyle.
Muswaggon said he began coaching for the same reason many parents do, because his son Megwan’s team needed a coach. Megwan is a pitcher for the Thunder.
Calling himself and his assistant coaches “very strict,” he added, “we emphasize what goes on the field and off.”
On the field, Muswaggon said their goals include helping with players’ self-esteem, making lots of friends — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal both — and ultimately, being acknowledged internationally as the best team in their league. Lessons on how to dress, budgeting on trips, and the importance of education are all part of the ballplayers’ curriculum. Learning how to bunt and run bases are just a start.
The above aspirations led to the creation of the Pimicikamak Elite Sports Program, which has more applicants than spaces. To be part of this elite program, kids have to go back to school, attend 85% of the time and have the same passing grade.
“We’re trying to get them to be Aboriginal role models for all communities, not just ours.”
The Western Canadian Championships for both boys’ and girls’ U16 fastpitch softball are being held today and through the weekend at the Cowichan Sportsplex. The finals are on Sunday at 1 p.m.