Batter up! Churchill Softball Academy helping students meet goals on the diamond and in the classroom
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Moving to Winnipeg meant more than a fresh start for Sally Leask. It was the next chapter in her love affair with softball.
Leask, 15, packed her belongings in Brandon with her sights set on Manitoba’s capital in August, just in time for the new school year. Like any teenager changing cities, she was eager to make friends and find her identity.
The Wheat City product found it quicker than she might’ve expected through the Churchill Softball Academy.
The academy, in its first year of operation, is an alternative option for students who attend Churchill High School to obtain their physical-education credit while furthering their development in softball. Leask claims it was the reason she moved to Winnipeg.
“I was really excited because I always wanted to do more with softball and I really wanted to practice more and improve and this is exactly what I wished for, so it’s really great that I get to do softball every day,” said Leask, who has played since she was nine.
“I really enjoy that there’s a variety of softball skills that we’re learning. Every day is different.”
Indeed, this year’s 23 athletes train for an hour before school at downtown’s Sport For Life Centre, honing their skills on the diamond and improving their strength and conditioning while taking in some valuable lessons in the classroom, such as nutrition, injury prevention and sports psychology.
Leask, whose father played softball at the national level and is credited as the person to push the teenager to chase her dream, is a pitcher with aspirations of earning a softball scholarship and eventually playing on the Canadian national team.
She said from the first day of the academy, she found her new friend group to be “basically the whole softball academy.”
“I’ve really liked this because, over the span of just two months, I’ve really seen improvement,” Leask said. “I feel stronger, I feel better at hitting, I feel just better in general for softball.”
“I think we’re all working together to motivate each other and everyone’s friends at this academy. So we’re just bringing each other up and I think we all have the same goal, we’re working together to achieve our dreams.”
“I think we’re all working together to motivate each other and everyone’s friends at this academy. So we’re just bringing each other up and I think we all have the same goal, we’re working together to achieve our dreams.”–Sally Leask
The academy, spearheaded by Churchill High School’s principal, Ryan Hughes, has four instructors, including Hailey Unger, who also played a major role in creating the program.
Unger, a former junior national softball catcher, said introducing this kind of program has been a personal goal since she graduated with her education degree.
“The idea behind this academy was we were trying to provide opportunities for our softball athletes in our province,” Unger explained. “We are very much a growing sport and we kind of felt the best way to do that was to link their passion for softball with education. The kids are gearing their academic goals in a more specific way.”
“You just see the school engagement increase and it fosters this enthusiasm for all their goals on and off the field.”
The academy, although inclusive to all genders, is predominantly female and currently offered to students in Grades 9 and 10. While Churchill doesn’t field a team in the Manitoba High School Athletic Association, Unger sees that as a benefit for those involved in the Academy at this point in their careers.
“This doesn’t take away from the student-athletes being involved with their other travel ball teams,” she said. “We are a small community, so we want to make sure that those athletes are still out in their leagues and still competing because it just makes our entire province better.
“The main goal here is just helping kids meet their goals, whether that might be linking that passion to school or whether it may be increasing their softball skills. It’s so much more than just softball, it’s creating relationships within our community, within our school.
The academy begins each September and continues throughout the school year.
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.