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Field of dreams: New ball diamond unveiled at northern Ontario Indigenous high school a ‘safe place’

Indigenous high school students attending a school near Sioux Lookout, Ont., have a brand new baseball field to play on thanks to a partnership with, and grant from, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Pelican Falls High School takes on Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School at Pelican Falls’s newly-refurbished baseball diamond. (Thomas Whately/submitted by Northern Nishnawbe Education Council)

Indigenous high school students attending a school near Sioux Lookout, Ont., have a brand new baseball field to play on thanks to a partnership with, and grant from, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Northern Nishnawbe Education Council held an official ribbon-cutting at the field at Pelican Falls First Nations High School on Tuesday. The event featured a mini baseball tournament, which also involved Pelican Falls’s sister school, Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay.

The $150,000 grant, spread over three years, paid for an overhaul of the existing field.  It included levelling the diamond, improving drainage and installing professional-grade turf and clay, said A.J. Haapa, the education council’s special projects manager,

The money came through the Jays Care Foundation’s Field of Dreams grant, Haapa said.

“The pun was definitely intended,” he said. “The kids live there [at the high school] nine months-a-year, so it was very important for us to make sure that we were able to provide them a safe place to … play ball.”

With students living in residences on-site during the school year and away from their home communities in Ontario’s far north, Haapa said providing them with after-hours school-hours recreation is important.

“We want to give the kids as much to do after hours as possible,” he said. “Just a safe place to meet new friends and learn new skills and … learn through sport.”

Students from 24 First Nations attend Pelican Falls, Haapa added.

The new baseball field at Pelican Falls First Nations High School in Sioux Lookout, Ont., was made possible by a grant from the Jays Care Foundation, the charity arm of the Toronto Blue Jays. (Northern Nishnawbe Education Council/submitted)

“It’s great to be able to offer something so high-quality to the kids,” he said. “They’re getting a ton of use out of it.”

While baseball isn’t as popular across the far north as sports such as hockey and broomball, Haapa said it is still very widely played — and the youth are getting good at the game.

“There’s tons of tournaments in a number of communities each year,” he said. “I thought I was pretty good at swinging a bat and, you know, doing some fielding but I was blown away by how great these kids are, even as young as Grade 9.”

The official opening of the new field at Pelican Falls First Nations High School. (Thomas Whately/submitted by Northern Nishnawbe Education Council)

Adding to the physical improvement of the school grounds, Haapa said, is the sense of “hope” that also accompanies a grant like this from an organization as well-known as the Jays.

“This is an organization based in Toronto … it’s a world away,” he said. “To see a massive Canadian organization like that step up and support the kids, it gives the kids a lot of hope.”

“It gives the communities a sense that, you know, there are people … great people out there who care about them and their well-being and their overall quality of life.”

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