NWT women’s ball team a hit at Slopitch nationals

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They may not have won a game, but Team NWT was the talk of the tournament at last week’s Canadian National Slopitch Championship in southern Ontario.

From local reporters covering the team’s pre-tournament practices to competitors taking them out on the town after the games, the ladies from Fort Smith and Hay River were treated like celebrities throughout the week.

Part of the appeal was the fact Team NWT came so far to play ball – three flights from the NWT to London, Ontario that took nearly 24 hours after a long delay in Calgary.

They were also the first team from the territory to ever attend the Canadian championship.

But what struck everyone at the event so strongly was the team’s unbounded optimism and commitment to having fun amid some pretty tough defeats.

“It’s excellent to have them,” said tournament organizer Sue Regan. “We really respect the time and effort it took to get here, and they’re representing well in the park – everyone is getting to know and like them.”

As for the ladies from the North, they took everything in stride, got better as the week went on and looked at the tournament – full of some incredible ball teams – as an unparalleled learning opportunity.

“It’s a lot more competitive, a higher calibre than we play up North,” said Delaney Poitras of Fort Smith. “But we’re having a lot of fun, trying our hardest and showing that the NWT doesn’t quit.”

Admittedly, Team NWT was in over its head. They won the territorial championships in Yellowknife to qualify, beating a handful of other Northern ladies’ teams. In contrast, the mid-sized Ontario city of London, near where the tournament was held, has two separate ladies-only leagues with more teams in each than the entire NWT.

Part of the difficulty for Northern ladies is that they spend all season playing mixed slopitch, where the men often take charge of the team and relegate women to positions of secondary importance.

As Meika McDonald of Fort Smith explained, very few ladies on mixed slopitch teams ever play shortstop or centerfield, two crucial positions that Team NWT had to fill with inexperienced players.

Besides, most of the teams at the tournament had played together for years – the Calgary Impact, for example, have attended the Nationals for nine years straight – while Team NWT played only one tournament, the territorial championship, as a team.

But McDonald and her teammates said they learned a lot from watching the other teams play, and showed it by improving as the seven-game round robin progressed.

They even gave a couple of the best teams from across the nation a scare by flirting with an upset.

In game four, Team NWT took a 1-0 lead into the third inning against tournament favourite Team Ontario. The crowd was hanging on every pitch, decidedly pro-NWT despite the local ladies across the diamond. Unfortunately, Team NWT could not hang on for the win, but the game had the feeling of a historic moment.

That Team Ontario ended up losing in the championship game to Team Ontario 2.

Despite finishing last, the team from the NWT remained on everyone’s lips as the tournament came to a close.

“Having them here really made the event bigger,” Regan said. “It means we have Canada represented in true fashion.”

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