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Is youth baseball in rural Alberta getting shortchanged?

Posted on May 9, 2024 by admin

By Cal Braid
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Young baseball players in rural Alberta are being relegated to the bullpen, warming up for a game they’ll never play in. Some high school athletes are missing an opportunity to compete on the provincial and national stage due to regional favouritism, according to a Taber man who has a long history in the sport. 

Dale Tilleman, a former ball player and high performance coordinator with the Alberta Amateur Baseball Council (AABC), has made petitions and pitches to local MLAs and Alberta’s Minister of Tourism and Sport, hoping to draw attention to the inequality that exists in a sport that has gained regional traction and attention over the last 25 years. So far to no avail.

The problem, as he sees it, is in the uneven distribution of money and opportunity. He claims the AABC has shown a disregard for the present provincial sport guidelines and he has documented how the current governance of the AABC leaves rural and smaller baseball programs stuck on the bench and in the dugout, so to speak. He argues that the playing field is not level and rather than being provincial in scope, it is regional, and more specifically, urban.

“If they’re putting on the Alberta uniform, it should be based on merit, not affiliation and geography,” he said, noting that at last year’s Canada Cup, 60 per cent of the Alberta players came from the Edmonton area and three came from prominent Baseball Alberta programs and bypassing the final training camp. “I see kids not being treated fairly and not getting the same opportunity to put on an Alberta uniform. In my work being the high performance coordinator for the AABC prior to 2023, I know what it means to pick up the phone and say ‘Kid, you’ve got a chance to try out for team Alberta.’ And it’s even more so when you say, ‘You’ve made the team.’”

“I believe the most effective pathway forward is to dissolve AABC and start with a new provincial organization governing Alberta youth baseball,” Tilleman wrote to Sport Minister Joseph Schow. “The present AABC board has come up short regarding fairness to players and coaches, accountability in respect to results at national tournaments, and disregard for the present provincial sport organization guidelines. As well, the motivation of some present members, especially Baseball Alberta and Little League Alberta reps, is to protect their turf as opposed to what is best for Alberta youth baseball.”

The four associations operating youth baseball in the province are Baseball Alberta, Little League Alberta, the American Legion League, Babe Ruth League and Collegiate Baseball. The board of the AABC consists of nine members. Six of those are from Baseball Alberta and Little League Alberta. Though the AABC has jurisdiction over the Canada Summer Games, Tilleman said that Baseball Alberta exerts undue influence over player selection for Team Alberta, the provincial squad that competes in the Canada Cup. The Canada Cup is managed by Baseball Canada, an entity that is funded by federal tax dollars, and Tilleman said that the last time he checked, the AABC was funded by the province to the tune of about $230,000 per year. “You want to make sure it’s fair for all kids, because it’s provincial tax dollars going to it,” he said, insisting that the minister’s office has known about this for years, but has looked for excuses not to step in (note: Schow himself was appointed as minister in 2023). “They’ve said that this is a baseball issue. It needs to be dealt with among the baseball people. The problem with that is there’s no accountability for Baseball Alberta. They’re good with the way things are. The minister needs to step in.”

He said that besides some Edmonton-area Baseball Alberta executives, the only ones happy with the current setup are the other nine provinces, whose teams benefit in the win-loss column by playing against sub-par Alberta teams assembled by Baseball Alberta. He compiled stats and graphs that show Baseball Alberta’s dismal record in Canada Cup events compared to AABC Summer Games events, in which teams had greater success. By his count, 47 per cent of all Alberta’s youth baseball players are not part of Baseball Alberta.

The AABC has been in a “governance deficit regarding transparency, democratic principles, and economic integrity,” Tilleman wrote to Schow, and he has made local MLAs Grant Hunter and Nathan Neudorf aware of the discrepancies. The premier’s own Brooks-Medicine Hat riding office has also received letters from frustrated parents.

Tilleman outlined a very detailed ‘best course of action’ that Minister Schow could use if his office decided to investigate and act upon the matter and it included specific actionable steps and the rationale behind them.

As part of the dismantling of the AABC and assembling a new governing body, he suggests a board seat could be added for the following groups: high school baseball, the collective academy, girls baseball and First Nations baseball. Each would receive 10 per cent of the annual provincial funding. In his plan, two of the body’s four seats should come from urban areas and two seats would come from rural areas.

He believes the new organization, if assembled, should devise a democratic method of selecting board members, and offered several good ideas for maintaining a board that represents the greater good. As a result, all national and regional events would be placed under the jurisdiction of the new provincial baseball organization. “After the dust settles, the new president will need to write a letter to the president of Baseball Canada, asking they recognize the Alberta provincial sport authority, regarding youth baseball, as their Alberta contact. In the past, Baseball Canada bypassed the AABC and contacted Baseball Alberta,” he said. In his restructuring plan, none of the present AABC board members would be eligible for a seat on the new organization’s board for five years to create a truly fresh start. He believes the governance model should be reviewed by the minister’s office and stakeholders every 10 years

About the minister and his office, Tilleman said, “He needs to be called to task. People like that and the people that work in his office –they’re public trust– and they need to be held accountable for doing a better job for all kids. In this case, he’s turned his back significantly on southern Alberta baseball.”

Tilleman said the goal is not to achieve a perfect system, but to make it significantly better, allowing for fluidity and future alterations. He strongly encouraged every family involved in youth baseball to contact their MLAs, MPs, and the youth sport ministry, demanding that Baseball Canada recognize the provincial youth baseball authority. The first step is restructuring, and it can’t happen soon enough. “The minister and his office need to show leadership and not hide behind an agreement that was made 26 years ago,” he concluded. “The goal of developing a new provincial organization is to reflect the present youth baseball landscape and not forget rural Alberta’s players and programs.”

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