INNISFAIL – The town’s main sports fields were absolutely and positively packed.
The boys and girls of summer were back in a humongous way last weekend. They hosted the first big ball tournaments since 2019, before COVID arrived to steal their summer joy.
A total of 42 teams took to the ball diamonds at local sports fields by the arena and aquatic centre. When you add family members, friends and supporters, the Innisfail Minor Ball Association (IMBA) was looking at more than 400 out-of-town visitors to town last weekend for the three-day tournament that began Friday, July 16 and ended Sunday, July 18.
“We made it through,” said Murray Reay, the president of the IMBA. “Yes, it is big for sure. Hotels were full and campgrounds were full.”
With only a few weeks to organize since the provincial announcement late last month to ease pandemic restrictions, Reay’s association was tasked to put together the girls Innisfail Minor Softball Tournament, which is normally held in June, that would feature 34 teams from all age levels – U10, U12, U14, U16 and U19 – from across Alberta. As well, the association had to organize a separate boys’ Baseball Alberta League Play that had eight teams playing at the U13 and U18 AA levels. Out of the 42 total teams, about 30 came from out of town, said Reay.
“Of course, with COVID we didn’t even know we would be able to do it. The committee did a great job putting it together,” said Reay. “Jay Steeves looked after organizing our softball tournament and with his group he did an excellent job. Everybody that helped him did an awesome job of running that tournament and it was a huge success.
“Everybody got to their games in on time. It ran very smoothly. We had a great turnout with the 34 teams,” he said. “I think everybody was just so glad to be back doing something. It felt like it’s normal again to be honest. It was a good feeling to see everybody out and the diamonds being used.”
And to top it off, added Reay, there were Innisfail softball teams that won medals. The U12 Innisfail Hawks team won bronze. The local U16 softball team claimed silver and the U19 squad won gold.
The only down moment was Sunday afternoon when the troublesome wildfire smoke that hung over town began to worry event organizers. While all softball games were ultimately played, organizers opted to cancel two late baseball games, including the one featuring the U18 AA Sylvan Lake Mariners and Innisfail Hawks, the latter team which Reay coaches.
“The Sylvan Lake team cancelled coming because of the air quality, so we had to cancel the last two games even though the quality did change but once you cancel games and tell everybody we are not going and then an hour later it’s pretty hard to tell them we are going,” said Reay.
As for what is next for local ball players, Reay said some softball teams will be going to provincials in the next couple of weeks while Innisfail baseball teams will have two weekends of league play in August, with provincials scheduled following at the end of the month.