If you build it, they will come: Treaty 3 baseball league expanding after 1 season

After only one season, officials with an Indigenous, inter-community recreational baseball league in northwestern Ontario's Treaty 3 territory say they're already set to expand.

Off-season coaching, skills seminars scheduled for winter, 2nd division to be launched in 2018

Wabaseemoong takes on Grassy Narrows during play of the KCA Jays Care Kenora Rookie League, a recreational slow pitch softball league in Treaty 3 territory. (Submitted by Mike Luby)

After only one season, officials with an Indigenous, inter-community recreational baseball league in northwestern Ontario's Treaty 3 territory say they're already set to expand.

The KCA Jays Care Kenora Rookie League wrapped up its first season this year. The circuit, which is an effort of the Kenora Chiefs Advisory, has been funded by the Jays Care Foundation — the charity arm of the Toronto Blue Jays.

In its inaugural season, the slow-pitch softball league, which featured teams from eight Treaty 3 First Nation communities, consisted solely of recreational games with unique rules to accommodate players of all ages. That will continue, said coordinator Mike Luby, but next year will also add another division playing standard fastball games for athletes that want a bit more competition.

"Both teams would travel together ... and then the family division will probably play first and then the elite division would play after," Luby said of how games are likely to be scheduled next year. "Then we'd have a bigger, better day of baseball."

The league was founded as a way to bring communities together, promote healing and foster a love of sports among children and adults. Luby said that, despite the addition of more competitive ball, those goals are still at the heart of the effort and the slow-pitch family division will remain the centrepiece.

"Our main staple, our foundation, is always going to be the family league," Luby said. "Because that's the focus of what we're trying to achieve; the healing and the coming together."

The 2017 season wrapped up with a large tournament in September.

Adding that next level of competition, however, can provide opportunities for young athletes that may not exist otherwise, Luby said.

"There [are] so many athletic kids that never really got a chance," he said. "I remember a ton of athletes my age ... I believe if they would have been born in a city somewhere, they would have been college athletes, maybe even some pro athletes."

A number of special clinics for coaches and aspiring ballplayers will also be held this winter, Luby said.

"The Jays are sending down a couple people to do the coaches training," he said, adding that those classes will be designed for community leaders who already have some coaching background. "We're [also] hiring coaches to come down and run clinics with the kids."

Individual communities can also run less formal practices, he said.

"Some of the older kids, they wanted more competition," Luby said of the decision to add a more competitive element. "We're going to develop a special division for them." He added that it will be open to boys and girls, but age limits haven't yet been set.

One possibility coming out of the more competitive division, he added, is to select something of a Treaty 3 all-star team and compete in tournaments in the United States.