First Hay River Memorial Slopitch Tournament held on long weekend

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A first-pitch ceremony took place to open the inaugural Hay River Memorial Slopitch Tournament on the Civic Day long weekend. The tournament honoured the memory of the late Gerald (Schmoo) Belanger. His best friend David (Gooch) Gauthier threw out the first pitch to Belanger’s sister Joanne Carter, who travelled to Hay River from Saskatchewan along with another sister Lisa Belanger.
Photo courtesy of Fred Planidin

A new mixed slopitch event replacing the Coors Mixed Slo-Pitch Tournament was held in Hay River on the Civic Day long weekend.

This year was the first-annual Hay River Memorial Slopitch Tournament.

“We’ve had a few longstanding fans and players that have passed on in the last few years,” said John Hill, one of the event’s organizers and co-vice-president of Hay River Mixed Slopitch.

“And this year we decided we should start recognizing them and honouring them. So, we chose that this year, as opposed to the Coors tournament, which we know is very popular, we wanted to just change it up a little bit and see how it went. So, we went with a tournament format that honours fans and players.”

The concept is that a different player or fan would be honoured each year.

This year, the late Gerald (Schmoo) Belanger was remembered and honoured.

Hill noted that Belanger was really involved in slopitch in the ’80s and ’90s and into the 2000s.

“We will continue to have the memorial tournament, but it will be in honour of whoever else is chosen at the time,” Hill explained.

The new tournament attracted eight teams.

Yellowknife claimed first place, a Fort Smith/Hay River team finished second and Fort Simpson was third.

The other five teams at the tournament were from Hay River.

The Hay River Memorial Slopitch Tournament also brought a new format to the community for the first time.

Hill explained it was a skins tournament, which is similar to a skins tournament in golf where a player gets a point for each hole won.

In slopitch, every inning in a seven-inning game is worth a point, he said. “So, as soon as you win four innings you win the game.”

However, that does not mean a game might end after just four innings.

“Every inning is worth money, even in the round robin the innings were worth $10,” said Hill. “As the weekend went on, the innings were worth more money. If you made it to the quarterfinals, they were worth $25. The semifinals were $75. And for the final game, each inning was worth $150.”

The first-place team won $1,480 under the skins format.

“Every team here won some money,” Hill noted.

Plus, he said the format made the tournament fun and competitive.

Each year, players from Hay River experience the skins format at a tournament in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“So we thought we’d bring it to Hay River,” said Hill. “And we had eight teams show up for our tournament this year and all eight teams were excited and happy to play it and enjoyed it, and they’re looking forward to next year. I think we can grow that tournament to 10, 12, 14 teams next year.”

Despite the success of the new tournament, Hill recognized there was some controversy about not holding the Coors Mixed Slo-Pitch Tournament, which was a qualifying event for national competition that would normally attract 12 to 15 teams.

“But over the past 20 years, we’ve probably only had three or four teams actually go and represent at the nationals,” he said. “So we felt that we wanted to try something different this year.”

The new Hay River Memorial Slopitch Tournament is not a qualifier for national play.

Hill noted that the Coors tournament was a lot of work for a small group of organizers and a very expensive event, pointing out the umpiring alone cost $2,500 to $3,500.

“There was definitely negative feedback and positive feedback with our decision,” he said of Hay River Mixed Slopitch changing tournaments. “But it’s one of those things you don’t know until you try. I think we still want to have Coors next year and figure out a weekend to have it.

I think we would still have it on a long weekend, but maybe we’ll combine and have two tournaments going or a separate weekend for a memorial tournament.”

This year, there is no qualifying tournament in the NWT for a mixed slopitch team to get to nationals.

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