From Friday, August 26 to Sunday, August 28th, JAYS CARE FOUNDATION, the charitable arm of the TORONTO BLUE JAYS, in partnership with RIGHT TO PLAY, THE ONTARIO MINISTRY OF CHILDREN & YOUTH SERVICES, and the KENORA CHIEFS ADVISORY, hosted the second annual ‘Beyond the Ballpark’ tournament for 15 participating First Nations from across Canada.
Over 100 youth participants from 15 First Nations congregated at Camp Manitou and the John Blumberg Sportsplex, outside of Winnipeg, MB, to participate in a two-day tournament that included baseball and a wealth of other physical and play-based activities.
Participating First Nations, partner communities of Right To Play’s Promoting Life-skills in Aboriginal Youth (PLAY) program and the Kenora Chiefs Advisory, successfully completed seven weeks of Rookie League programming, Jays Care’s signature baseball for development program. Complimented by Right To Play training and coaching sessions, Rookie League is delivered to PLAY partner communities across Canada.
Immediately preceding the tournament’s opening ceremonies, Jays Care Foundation announced a $150,000 Field of Dreams investment in Pelican Falls First Nations High School – part of the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council. Pelican Falls First Nations High School serves many of the First Nations participating in the tournament.
“In 2015, Jays Care Foundation was approached by the Kenora Chiefs Advisory (KCA) who were looking for regular physical activity programming as an element of their mental health strategy for youth,” said Robert Witchel, Executive Director, Jays Care Foundation. “We were excited to hear that the children and youth in KCA communities wanted to play baseball and were thrilled to contribute by providing training, equipment and financial support. The ‘Beyond Baseball’ tournament is a celebration of their commitment to the Rookie League program, which is run in partnership with Right To Play, the Kenora Chiefs Advisory and the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The Blue Jays are incredibly proud of the dedication, leadership and resiliency of all Rookie League participants and the communities that encourage and support them.”
“Beyond the Ballpark is such a wonderful opportunity not only for us to celebrate the dedication and achievements of youth and the communities who participated in Rookie League this summer and run year-round PLAY programming, it is also an opportunity to showcase the impact that organizational partnerships can achieve when focused on a common goal,” said Lori Smith, National Director of Right To Play Canada. “The PLAY program has provided a strong support system for successful programming for Indigenous youth across this country since 2010, but we could not do it without partners like Jays Care Foundation, Kenora Chiefs Advisory and the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which made Rookie League and this tremendous event possible.”
“It is my pleasure as the Minister of Children and Youth Services to congratulate Jays Care Foundation and Right To Play Canada on the important work they do to support Indigenous children and youth in Ontario,” said Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services. “The province is happy to support this work and in particular, this tournament, as it is in line with our Ministry’s goal of ensuring Indigenous children and youth have every opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential.”
Tournament participants were provided a nutritious, warm lunch and a healthy snack on both days courtesy of a generous donation from the Sprott Foundation. The Sprott Foundation has committed to investing $64,500 per year towards providing nutritional snacks and meals for up to 500 Rookie League participants across 20 First Nations. In April of 2016, Franklin Templeton Investments donated $15,000 to Jays Care, ensuring that three additional teams were able to attend the tournament.