More than just fastball

GLEN DAWKINS

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

For Manitoba's Aboriginal, Metis and First Nations communities, the sport of fastpitch softball has always been very popular. Next summer, their teams will find out how they stand against the best of the rest of Canada in their own backyard.

Earlier this week, it was announced that Winnipeg will play host to the 2007 Canadian Native National Fastball Championships, to be held Aug. 3-6. The Manitoba Metis Federation and the Southeast Resource Development Council have established a joint host committee to organize the event.

"We want to promote the game right here in our province and there's no better way to promote the game than to have role models come out here and to showcase the talent that we have in Manitoba and across Canada," said host committee co-chair Ron Chartrand of the Manitoba Metis Federation.

"This is an opportunity for (Manitoba Aboriginal players) to compete in a very competitive tournament and I'm looking forward to that," added co-chair Joe Malcolm, the Executive Director of the Southeast Resource Development Council which includes nine First Nations in eastern Manitoba.

Early Christmas

This year's Canadian championships attracted 62 teams and 3,000 visitors to Prince Albert in August. The Winnipeg host committee is hoping for 80 to 100 teams from B.C. to Nova Scotia in two men's divisions and one women's division and 7,500-10,000 visitors. Manitoba last played host in 1997 in Brandon.

Preliminary budget for the championship is $140,000 with $50,000 in prize money, awards and trophies up for grabs.

"I think it's going to be a (tremendous championship)," said Chartrand, who coached the Winnipeg Northern Lights women's team to top spot in the Women's Division in Prince Albert and to gold at the 2002 North American Indigenous Games in Winnipeg. "Once our bid was successful, it was like an early Christmas present for me because softball has always been my passion, right from an early age. It means a lot to this community."

During Tuesday's official announcement, Prince Albert host committee co-ordinator and Canadian Native Fastball Association board member J.J. Johnston passed a ceremonial bat to Chartrand and Malcolm.

"We're going to work to make sure that we're going to have a successful event so that maybe three or four years from now we will get it again," said Malcolm.

'One great party'

The venues haven't been finalized but it is expected that the games will be played at John Blumberg Softball Complex and Little Mountain Sportsplex.

"As far as Softball Manitoba is concerned, we'll help them in any way we can," said Softball Manitoba executive director Don Klym.

There will also be a cultural component to the championships although the details are still being worked out. Chartrand said they are looking at showcasing aboriginal culture during the opening and closing ceremonies with such activities as First Nations powwows and Metis jigging and square dancing.

"We're going to combine all that into one great party," said Chartrand.


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