In 2015, several Treaty 3 Chiefs joined forces with KCA to develop a mental health strategy that would support the most marginalized and hard-to-reach children and youth in their communities.
A key element was bringing people together through baseball, which led to the creation of the KCA Family Rookie League, in partnership with the Jays Care Foundation and Right to Play.
The goals were to engage a large number of community members of all ages in weekly sport and play, and by reviving a love of baseball, to reduce the number of mental health concerns reported by children and youth.
By May 2017, eight First Nations were participating with players as young as four and as old as 100, with remarkable results (see box). The rules of play were adjusted so that community involvement – coming to practices and games, providing meals, and cheering on every player regardless of talent – earned as many points as actually winning a game.
Chiefs and Elders were invited to lead opening ceremonies before each game and a drumming group led the Opening Ceremonies at the Beyond the Ballpark end-of-season tournament.
Reactions from real participants in the program:
“This was an opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself, part of a team, to endure things together.”
“It has given me lots of courage and energy, something to look forward to.”
“It brings the best out of us. It brings me joy and happiness.”
“It gives me the freedom I need. I don’t have any insecurities, I just feel free. That helps me heal.”
Rookie League Stats:
- 200 ACTIVE CHILDREN AND YOUTH attended Rookie League programming each week.
- 20 COMMUNITY AND FRONT-LINE STAFF participated in intensive training facilitated by Jays Care, Right to Play and baseball clinicians.
- 500 SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY MEMBERS participated in events held by communities during season.
- 14 BASEBALL GAMES PLAYED PER COMMUNITY during season.