Taking their passion to Port Hardy

Fastpitch players visit Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw reserve through 140 Sports

A near two month stretch of championship fastpitch that didn’t wrap up until the end of August.  So what did some members of the 2001 Delta Heat do with their final week of summer vacation?

How about spending three days with a group of First Nations kids in Port Hardy to share their love of the game and establish friendships.

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 These girls are far more than just very talented players that happened to win a U16 Canadian title a year ago and finish third at this year’s U19 nationals.

“They had Canada Cup, provincials and nationals, then this idiot comes up with one week left in their holidays and asks them to jump in a bus for seven hours then sleep in a basement of a church for a few days,” laughed Fred Wells. “All I got  was‘when do we leave?’

Wells heads the 140 Sports Association where he is joined by Doug Harris and Dave Rally.

All three are longtime coaches in the community that saw a need to establish this not-for-profit organization that has evolved from the original YES (Youth Empowerment Skills) program they ran. Members of the 2001 Heat attended those clinics about a decade ago and now have become mentors for 140 — currently running sessions this month out of the South Delta Recreation Centre.

Younger players have come onboard too as 140 continues to establish momentum and get its message out.

The name derives from one of Yogi Berra’s famous quotes ‘Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.’ The association has partnered up with Anxiety Canada and Alongside of You — a family counselling service in Ladner.

“Both my daughters suffered from depression and anxiety,” said Wells. “Both played high level sports. They played on teams where the girls were popular; they were good looking; they were talented. They had a perfect world.

But then you find out as years go by that more than half of each of them have had to deal with mental health. Sports is a tool we use to teach kids about life so why not combine clinics with teaching kids mental health skills.”

The Port Hardy trip was planned after an initial 140 project donated equipment and old uniforms. Wells then learned of two recent teen suicides in the area and reached out to the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw band manager.

“It’s one thing to donate equipment. It’s another to show you really care by visiting,” said Wells. “The girls were willing to pay their own way there but we got some local sponsorship.”

When the contingent of players and adults arrived at the reserve they discovered an entirely different world with no cell phone reception.

“When you drive to the park here you see stores and all the stuff we have here. There, we saw broken down homes and kids just playing on the street. It was difficult to see and felt so good to help,” said 2001 Heat member Jessie Westrate.

The girls quickly discovered there was no organized teams. Ball season consisted of kids and parents coming together for a slo-pitch game.

The first session didn’t happen until several hours later after enough participants were rounded up. There were a wide range of ages and ability — girls and boys.

“It’s too bad they have no other options to play certain levels but it was interesting too,” said Olivia Malesku, another 2001 Heat player. “For us, we take it so serious where it’s almost like a job. For them, it’s someone knocking on the door asking if they want to play. It definitely makes it fun.”

The trip brought 140’s mentors closer together too, including the youngest member 11-year-old Katie Barczi who had “big sisters” to look up to for the first time in her life.

“We definitely were going into something we didn’t expect,” said Haley Reid, a member of the 2003 Delta Heat. “We also knew we had each other and could count on each other. It was cool especially with Katie and the age difference.”

The band showed their appreciation by holding a potlatch for their visitors — consisting of plenty of food and dancing.

“They really welcomed us and really wanted to show what they were passionate about and that’s singing and dancing,” said Westrate. “It was interesting to see everything we have and everything they don’t but at that potlatch everyone was the same.”

As Westrate begins her Grade 12 year with her Heat teammates, she wishes more Metro Vancouver teens could experience such a trip.

“Everyone needs to try and do something like that.

“My mind was so opened up. It definitely was a learning experience that we don’t know enough about. We are living on their land. I had no idea about their reserve until they told us about it.”

Another potential 140 trip could see them heading to the Merritt area sometime next year. To learn more about them visit www.140sports.ca.

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