PFFNHS, Jays Care Foundation unveil new baseball field
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Pelican Falls First Nations High School (PFFNHS), joined by the Jays Care Foundation, unveiled their new baseball field by hosting a tournament on Oct. 1.
Two teams from PFFNHS and one team from Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay took to the field for the tournament.
The new field was a project three years in the making after PFFNHS received a grant of $150,000 from the Jays Care Foundation through their Field of Dreams program in 2016.
The field was completed last year but, due to unforeseen weather and flooding on the field, the school was unable to host a scheduled tournament to reveal the completed field.
During the unveiling, the Jays Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club, presented PFFNHS with a custom ‘Pelican Falls’ Toronto Blue Jays jersey and every student in attendance received a Toronto Blue Jays hat.
Everyone agreed that seeing the new field come to fruition was an exciting and unforgettable moment.
“This is the most exciting part of any project. The heavy lifting is done and it’s come from being a far-off dream to being a reality. This isn’t just any project, this is one of the first major projects I ever took on and it’s just incredible to see it come to fruition. We couldn’t have done it without all the help from Jays Care along the way… This is a top quality ball field. We have some high-class clay here, a great outfield, and it gives the kids a lot of hope when they come from a challenging environment sometimes. It gives them a lot of hope to see organizations like the Toronto Blue Jays step up and help us out with a program that really promotes a healthy, active lifestyle and positive choices,” said A.J. Haapa, Special Projects Coordinator with Northern Nishnawbe Education Council (NNEC) who wrote the original application to the Jays Care Foundation.
“For me, it’s awesome to see it finally happen. It’s been three or four years in the making, and it’s been amazing watching the Jays Care Foundation work with us and the professionalism of the organization… Part of the agreement was to have a tournament after it was done, and it’s been really tough trying to get a tournament in the making. I’m glad that the weather cooperated a bit. These students come here from the north, they live here for ten months, and they go home a couple of times a year… Having stuff on site for the kids to keep them busy and having organizations like the Jays Care Foundation showing the north, and showing our students, that they care enough to come out and make things possible for First Nations youth, I think it gives our youth hope and gives our youth that sense of pride that there are people that want to see them succeed. I’m happy with how everything has turned out,” said Norma Kejick, Executive Director at NNEC.
“It’s a thrill for me to see this. We visited a few years ago when we announced the project, and there was a ton of work done by the staff here, volunteers, and a lot of people contributed to the project and gave their time at no charge to help make this happen. To come here now and see three teams compete today on the field is exciting and I hope we get to come back and visit again,” said Robert Witchel, Executive Director of the Jays Care Foundation.
“This was a grant that the community applied through our Field of Dreams program. Every year we grant in-and-around 1.3 million dollars to projects across the country, and I think this was one of twelve that was approved a few years ago. We get dozens and dozens of applications, so they did a really good job to make this happen,” he said.
“One of the nicest things I’ve seen since we’ve had this field up and going is, on a nice and sunny day, we have so many classes out here playing, participating, laughing, and having fun. That’s what sport and baseball is supposed to do,” said Shawn Hordy, PFFNHS guidance counsellor.
PFFNHS’s connection with the Jays Care Foundation doesn’t end here. Witchel explained groups and schools are encouraged to keep in touch down the road and keep the Jays Care Foundation updated on any touch ups or repairs the field might need.
“We have a program for groups that have received grants through the Field of Dreams program. They can come back to us a few years later. If there are some touch ups that are needed we’ll grant up to 5000 dollars to do that. I was speaking with the principal here, and some other representatives, and told them, if they need anything else, stay in touch and let us know and we’ll be happy to help,” said Witchel.
“They were also talking about potentially getting some funding from the federal government to put up some lights. The season can be a little short in Canada. To be able to play under the lights is a lot of fun and extends the season, so hopefully they get some support from the federal government and maybe we can kick in as well,” he added.
Witchel said he’s excited that students from across the north will enjoy the field for years to come. He shared the field is part of ongoing efforts from the Toronto Blue Jays to recognize, honor, and celebrate First Nations across Canada.
“This high school is incredibly important. It services 24 First Nations in the region, so to have kids come together and have the opportunity to play and learn life skills that they can take in to other aspects of their lives is fantastic. Hopefully it grows the love of the sport and love of sport in general. At the Rogers Centre we’ve celebrated National Indigenous Peoples Day for a number of years now. We had a young woman sing the national anthem in Cree this year, so I think we’re trying to recognize the great cultures that exist and do our little part in trying to celebrate some great success stories in First Nations,” he said.