By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Last year was a busy year for Patrick Leask. He started Oji-Cree Softball and was quickly recognized for his contributions, receiving the 2021 National Indigenous Coaching Award presented by the Aboriginal Sport Circle.
The Motivation Behind Oji-Cree Softball
“I noticed in the last five years of my daughter playing AAA softball how few Indigenous players we see in AAA softball,” said Patrick.
He thought perhaps potential players need to be introduced to the game, or have the opportunity to expand on skills they might already have.
But in many cases, Patrick said there are obstacles and relatively few opportunities for young athletes in Indigenous communities.
“Anything that cost money or required transportation was always a barrier for me as a child, and I know continues to be a barrier for most athletes on reserve, even now,” said Patrick. “I wanted to eliminate those barriers by partnering with the communities and using grants to offer these clinics free to the participants.”
Starting a New Club Grant
Sport Manitoba offers a wide range of training and developmental grants that emphasize training and skill development to facilitate the growth of athletes, coaches, officials, and volunteers across the province.
Oji-Cree Softball is exactly the kind of program that the Starting a New Club grant looks to support.
“This grant really helped us with our initial clinics,” said Patrick. “The funding was used to purchase equipment to run our first clinics, and we still have all that equipment.”
The Oji-Cree Softball program is run strictly off of grants, donations, or sponsorships.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be able to run our program,” said Patrick.
The Goals of Oji-Cree Softball
“Our goal through our clinics is to not only introduce the game to Indigenous athletes that have never played before, or expand on skills some already have, but to encourage the female athletes to try out for AAA ball and give advice on what they need to get there,” said Patrick.
“We’d really like to see the numbers grow for Indigenous athletes registered for softball in Manitoba, and even better, making it on the higher caliber teams,” he added.
The clinics are also used to showcase the athletes’ skills on Instagram to spotlight their community.
They’ve also partnered with Softball Brandon (formerly Westman Softball) to get boys teams formed.
“Our goal with forming the boys teams is to make the sport as popular as it used to be and grow the numbers to match other provinces. My first year running the teams had me in complete shock at how quickly boys develop, and how much talent is already there. So, would like to see the boys who do register for softball make it to provincials and hopefully nationals,” said Patrick.
The clinics and camps had youth participate from around the province.
The boys program was run out of Brandon in the Westman Region, with players were from Brandon, Sioux Valley, Pine Creek, Dauphin, and Winnipeg. Some travelled down from Cross Lake to play, too.
They played against Waywayseecappo and Skownan, and during their year end tournament, faced Norway House and Cross Lake as well.
“The clinics last year were offered free to the athletes of Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Ishwaawinaaning (Skownan), Pinaymootang, Waywayseecappo, Ditibineya-ziibiing (Rolling River) and Sagkeeng, right in their communities.”
They also hosted some camps that were supported by Sport Manitoba, Softball Manitoba, and Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council (MASRC) in Brandon that were open to all youth.
A Strong Season and Future Ahead
Oji-Cree Softball continues to flourish and grow this season.
“This year has been very busy with the boys program, a lot of time used to coordinate their season since we are trying to prepare them for Provincials in Cross Lake, Nationals in Saskatoon, and Canadians in Prince George, BC,” said Patrick.
He hopes to return to some communities, as the interest continues where he hosted clinics last year.
The Impact On Youth
Patrick said hosting clinics right in the communities results in really high attendance.
Plus, with the athletes knowing they will be showcased on social media, it gives them an extra boost of motivation.
“Adding a youth division to our year end tournament has resulted in other tournament hosts doing the same. So now our minor teams have places to compete. Some regions have even formed their own teams and entered wherever they can to compete. I am just happy to see the game growing and the youth benefitting from it.”
The Value of Sport
Sport has incredible power to unite people and provide opportunities for participants to lead healthier lives.
“Softball isn’t only good for your physical well-being, but also good for your emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being, too,” said Patrick. “The bond you have with your teammates and the families will result in lifetime friendships. The hard work the players put in to compete is truly inspiring, and it’s not only me pushing players to be their best and make it far – but they might not realize they are pushing me to stay in shape to keep up and be a better coach.”
Grants Available Year-Round
Find more on this and all our grants, funding opportunities for sport, and coach and athlete scholarships, here: https://www.sportmanitoba.ca/resources/funding/.