Blue Jays Care Foundation awards Assiginack a ‘Field of Dreams’ grant for Manitowaning ballpark

Assiginack region softball teams are joined by local community members explode into joy as they react to the news they had been awarded a Blue Jays Foundation ‘Field of Dreams’ rejuvenation of their ball diamond field. photo by Deb MacDonald

MANITOWANING—It was the cheer heard ‘cross the nation on Sunday as people gathered with the local youth softball teams at Rainbow Ridge Golf Course in Manitowaning to excitedly tune into Blue Jays Central on Sportsnet, where the township learned that it was among the 15 communities across Canada that would be receiving Field Of Dreams grants through the Jays Care Foundation.

“You could see the spirit in the video (of the announcement) that is very transparent in our community. I have no doubt that the field will be used more, and it’s a huge asset to all the residents and the visitors that come. We’re just excited to be a part of it,” said Jackie White, events co-ordinator at the Township of Assiginack.

Ms. White took the lead on applying to the program run by the Jays Care Foundation, the charitable branch of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. She received support from the township’s softball coaches Larry Harasym and Ryan Stewart, Assiginack Public School, Wiikwemkoong and Greg Lockeyer who provided advice throughout the process.

The Southeast Manitoulin Lions Club also contributed $3,000 toward the application fee. Club president Lisa Hallaert said this was a worthwhile cause for all concerned.

“With better facilities, we’ll be able to have more tournaments as far as the Lions Club is concerned. I think it’s going to be beneficial for youth, too, and get them more involved,” she said.

The upgrades to the ball diamond include a rehabilitation of the infield and outfield, including drainage and replacement of the playing surfaces. The field will be receiving dugouts, a new backstop and upgrades to its perimeter fence in the sections that need replacement. A total of $1.3 million will be distributed among the winning communities across Canada.

All the work is expected to take about three months, but Ms. White said this year’s schedule, including three youth programs and the annual Lions Summerfest tournament, would not be impacted by the reconstruction. 

“The process is not going to start until after the season to allow for programming to run this year. That way, nothing gets interrupted and the kids don’t miss out,” she said.

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes was quick to join in the congratulations on Facebook after the township shared the video of the community’s cheers.

“Assiginack is a very forward-thinking community. I congratulate them on applying for the grant; I think it’s just amazing they were selected out of a whole pile of other ones,” said Ms. Hughes. “I wish I could have been there with them. It’s always good when you can rejuvenate your infrastructure.”

This is the second year that Assiginack has applied for the funding. There is a general first round that Jays Care Foundation uses to create a shortlist of possible recipients. This year, Assiginack was invited to the next round where they were asked to submit a more intensive application. After much community support, they were ultimately chosen as part of the 15 communities receiving funding.

“Chief Peltier (of Wiikwemkoong) gave a letter of support on behalf of his community and we do look forward to many ball games with our neighbours,” Ms. White told The Expositor.

Jays Care Foundation has been distributing annual Field Of Dreams grants across Canada for several years. The organization’s overall mission is to help provide sporting and recreation opportunities for underserved groups, including youth below the poverty line, youth with disabilities, girls and Indigenous youth. The impacts of participating in sports as a youth can have long-lasting impacts throughout one’s life.

“Used intentionally, baseball has the power to create lasting social change for children and youth. That is why we help kids get involved in the game, build safe spaces in which they can play, and work with like-minded organizations to design and lead comprehensive programs that address the needs of marginalized children and youth across Canada,” stated a press release about the funding from Jays Care Foundation.

In more than a decade since the Field Of Dreams initiative first began, Jays Care Foundation has invested more than $12 million in 111 projects across Canada.

“With recipients spanning the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific to Baffin Bay in the Arctic Circle, these investments move us one step closer to our goal of a level playing field for all Canadian children and youth,” said Jays Care Foundation executive director Robert Witchel.

Two years ago, the Central Manitoulin ballfield in Mindemoya also qualified for Jays Care Foundation funding, leading to upgrades similar to the ones planned for the Manitowaning facility.