ST. PAUL - A baseball and softball camp drew young athletes from across the Lakeland to St. Paul for a weekend of fun and physical activity, focusing on building the core skills needed to play the sport.
Nine groups of nine youth meant the camp was filled to capacity, as per guidelines in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The camp was a rare offering in a year that has seen most events scaled back or outright cancelled. But, as the provincial government moves ahead with its reopening, getting youth active is a top priority for many.
Hi-Tek Sports Group, along with Young Baseball Development and St. Paul Minor Ball, joined forces to put on the three-day camp, starting on March 19, and wrapping up on March 21. The CAP Arena and St. Paul Curling Rink were used to host the indoor camp.
According to Chris Leroux, one of the owners with Hi-Tek, the organization has been part of other baseball camps in the community, hosting a handful of camps annually for about three years. The groups is also a familiar face in St. Paul putting on hockey camps in the fall.
Although Hi-Tek didn't put on a hockey camp in the community in 2020, Leroux says he was happy to be able to get back to his hometown for this past weekend's baseball camp. Most of the young ball players involved missed out on the 2020 season due to the pandemic, so getting back to the fundamentals of the sport was important.
Leroux says there was a focus on the softball side, bringing in elite-level coaches who could teach pitching, and other specific skill sets.
He noted there was a good response to the camp from throughout the area, with youth from Saddle Lake, Bonnyville, Two Hills, and other areas coming into town to join the St. Paul athletes.
When speaking about the partnerships that made the weekend possible, Leroux says he believes it's important that communities use the knowledge and expertise that exists in their own backyards, so teaming up with Joe Young of Young Baseball Development was a good fit.
"Joe's a wealth of knowledge in baseball," said Leroux. "It's been a good partnership."
Coaches who travelled from outside the area to take part in the camp included Nick Ankermann and Cal Tecklenburg from Lethbridge; along with Blaire Taylor and Bailee Scoggins, who came in from Edmonton.
While the precautions in place due to the pandemic were obvious at the camp, with signs directing players where to go, hand sanitizer, masks and other pieces in place to keep players and coaches safe - the philosophy behind the camp remained the same. It's all about the athletes and developing their skills.
The other partnership that made the weekend possible was the eagerness of the St. Paul Minor Ball board. Leroux said volunteers were helpful in cleaning and doing what they had to do to support the camp ahead of the weekend, and throughout the camp.
Leroux also acknowledged the Town of St. Paul for allowing use of its facilities.
Everyone's efforts paid off, and Leroux - who is a teacher himself - said he was impressed by how engaged the young athletes were. They listened well, and they followed instructions.
"We want to get these players moving again . . . It's been a roller coaster ride for these kids," he said.
Looking ahead, Leroux is hopeful to return to St. Paul again soon, possibly for some outdoor ball training that could see local coaches involved in the learning too.
Looking out at the ball diamonds from inside the CAP Arena, Leroux recalled being a young athlete himself in St. Paul, and recognized how it is thanks to the hard work of many key people that the facilities exist in St. Paul - and opportunities to keep youth active in athletics are available.
He believes the people involved in athletics in St. Paul don't just help with improving and keeping the facilities operational, but they are key to bettering the community as a whole.