More girls stepping up to bat as youth baseball surges in Alberta
Organizations across province are doing more to get girls playing
Baseball is booming in Alberta. In neighbourhoods across the province, more parents are signing up their kids to play ball this summer.
Several factors are believed to have contributed to the boost in numbers, and one of them is a surge in girls stepping up to the plate.
"I think the landscape is changing," said Aaron Lavorato, south regional manager for Baseball Alberta. "We have a more inclusive environment for girls to showcase their talents. The talent has always been there, but now the opportunity is there and the community is more open."
Baseball Alberta is one of many organizations that make up the province's competitive youth baseball landscape. Others include Little League Alberta, American Legion League and the Babe Ruth League.
Representatives from various levels of Baseball Alberta and Little League Alberta told CBC News that registrations for both boys and girls have increased in the last few years.
For instance, Baseball Alberta saw registrations across the province rise to 16,273 last year, up nearly a third from 12,389 players in 2021. The number of players entering at the grassroots level also grew by about 32 per cent.
According to Lavorato, demand is likely higher this year, although numbers aren't yet finalized.
More girls in the game
Steve Hicks, the president of Foothills Little League in Calgary, said sign-ups have increased each year since the pandemic's outbreak.
"We were even over pre-pandemic levels last year," he said. "This year we're up another 10 per cent probably."
For Hicks, part of that increase was driven by a push to get more girls on the diamonds.
Foothills is one of four Little League associations in Calgary that field all-girl teams in their younger divisions.
"Our numbers of female players are going up significantly in the last couple of years," Hicks said. "We're probably up 50 per cent just on female players. That's something we're really promoting."
He said that when girls play on an all-girls team, they often make friends, which not only makes it more fun for them but gives the girls a reason to stay in the sport.
Barbara Northcott, the head of girls/women for Baseball Alberta, wants to create more spaces where girls feel comfortable and accepted while playing baseball.
Her daughter, Heidi Northcott, pitched for the Canadian women's national team.
As a teenager, Heidi played regular seasons competing with boys, but she always looked forward to trying out for the provincial girls team. That was when she could finally play with girls who had an affection for baseball that matched hers. Her mother is working to recreate that feeling for girl across Alberta.
"That is what drives me," Barbara Northcott said. "To make a place where girls can play."
This year, Baseball Alberta is hosting its first Girls Baseball League. All-girl teams from Edson, Rocky Mountain House and Beaumont are set to play one-day mini-tournaments over three weekends this summer.
If all goes well, Baseball Alberta is hoping to expand the league across the province next year, with more all-girl teams playing each other more often.
Competing with the boys
Not all girls want to play on all-girls teams.
Todd Stewart, of Calgary, has had his two daughters play in the city's West Little League, and he said both enjoyed playing with and against boys.
"They like to be playing with the boys," he said. "They like that they can compete with the boys."
His youngest daughter, 11-year-old Carter, played on co-ed teams the past two years, and each year there were two other girls on her team.
That wasn't the case a few years ago, Stewart said, when his twin sons started Little League.
"So what we've seen is, as the boys went through, there weren't many girls who were involved," he said. "But two years later, there were actually quite a few girls involved."
Carter is signed up to play another season of Little League this summer.
This is what drives me. To make a place where girls can play.- Barbara Northcott, Baseball Alberta
In northeast Calgary, Shawn Botterill, president of Centennial Little League, said his association focused considerable time and effort on getting more girls to sign up.
"We saw about a 75 per cent growth in girls playing baseball last year, which is huge," he said. "We're looking forward to having the same amount of girls, or even a little bit of growth with respect to that."
A second Girls with Game clinic is scheduled for this May. After that, a bigger event is in the works for Calgary this summer.
Little League Canada is planning to host its first Girls Baseball Jamboree for Western Canada. The weekend event is slated for June, and will be open to girls ages four to 16 from Alberta and nearby provinces.
"The landscape for girls in baseball needs a lot of concerted effort, and a lot of different organizations are putting in the time and effort to provide options," Botterill said.
The greater goal, he explained, is not only to get more girls playing baseball, but to keep them involved in sports, particularly as they enter their teenage years.