June 25th, 2024

New academy steps to the plate

By Dale Woodard on July 7, 2021.

A new high school baseball program will help local players swing for the fences with the starting of the Lethbridge High School Baseball Academy.

The new academy will start in the fall and initially be open for local players looking to take the next step in their baseball careers.

“We’ve been working on this for a while and batting it around,” said Kevin Kvame, President and CEO of Under The Lights Sports and Entertainment. “Coach Hubka (Todd Hubka of the Prairie Baseball Academy) has been a proponent of it for a quite a while. We decided to use our umbrella organization with Under The Lights along with the Prairie Baseball Academy and the Lethbridge Bulls to create the Lethbridge High School Baseball Academy.

“We see that we’re falling behind in other programs. Our bantam AAA team is very competitive and has a lot of talent on it, but they just haven’t had the same amount of time on the field or in training facilities as some of the other programs around the province.”

Kvame said the initial plan is to start the Lethbridge High School Baseball Academy as an after school program, but added there is interest in some academic institutions.

“And with our partnership with the PBA, the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College there are opportunities that we’re pursuing to even enhance the program further as time goes on and we get this off the ground,” he said. “We want to get it off the ground mainly locally initially this year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t take out-of-area players if they’re interested in coming to Lethbridge and obviously as the PBA is recruiting it may provide that opportunity.”

Lethbridge Bulls head coach Chance Wheatley — also a PBA alumnus — will take the head coaching reins for the Lethbridge High School Baseball Academy.

“We’ll have some grad assistants lined up to assist the team,” said Kvame, adding PBA pitching coach Rhett Feser will also be on board.

However, Kvame said the Lethbridge High School Baseball Academy won’t necessarily be a feeder system to the PBA, instead allowing the players to pursue all their options no matter where the location.

“Those players may have different avenues they want to pursue when they graduate from high school and we don’t want them to feel like they’re obligated to jump from Grade 12 high school to junior varsity PBA. If there’s an opportunity at a Division I school or some other institution in the States or even in Canada that fits their education and their athletic ability, then we want our head coach to pursue all avenues for those players.”

Wheatley was looking forward to assuming the head coach’s role in the new academy.

“It’s really exciting and I’m really glad to be heading this up, getting the first opportunity to be the head coach for this program and having grad assistants who will get the chance to get the start to their coaching careers,” he said. “To have this opportunity now for the kids to be able to stay in Lethbridge and develop as players is a great for them. I think we’ll see some great strides in the youth ranks.”

Hubka said it’s important to use the baseball resources in the city.

“The PBA has been around for 26 years and it helps that we have coaches who are over there who can assist when we need assistance and I think the more coaches you have around the better your program will be. We’re here to help Chance as much as we can and help develop this program to what we want it to become.”

Kvame said the current plan is to start with anywhere from 12 to 24 players.

“It’s going to be a recruitment type of program, so you do need an invite to come, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be reaching out to coach Wheatley if you’re interested in the program,” he added.

“(Wheatley) already has a list of prospects out there to start with. But if there is somebody who is out in rural Alberta that feels like they’re a good fit for this program, we’re encouraging them to reach out to coach Wheatley or have them come into an evaluation tryout. We’ll give them every opportunity to be a part of this.”

Kvame said the Lethbridge High School Baseball Academy isn’t looking to recruit around North America and beyond until its education pieces are in place, a process which will to take a few months to develop and compare options at the secondary high school level and at the post secondary level.

“There are opportunities for international students eventually that we’re definitely looking at and will enhance the program with, but we believe it will take time to put those pieces in place and to make sure we have everything organized for that eventuality,” he said.

“But it’s more important right now that we get this launched for local kids and look after them right out of the gate and get this moving.”

Kvame said the plan is to run the program parallel with the Vauxhall program, which runs until the end of May.

“But we’re also looking at trying to put a summer component together. We want them to go on to a summer experience away from their existing coaches or their head coach. So Chance runs the high school academy from September to May and jumps into the Bulls in the summer. He still can monitor his players in the high school academy, but it gives the players a break and also a different look from somebody else. But we would want to make sure the values and progression of the athlete continues throughout the summer.”

Wheatley said the plan is to have a college style schedule of six days a week with games on the weekend — against opponents to be determined — and practices during the week.

Kvame said both Spitz Stadium and Lloyd Nolan will be utilized.

“For training purposes in the fall, probably the majority of the activities will be at Spitz Stadium,” he said. “But when the other field is open and we have access to both facilities, the indoor (facility at Lloyd Nolan), and there will be other facilities we’re looking at, whether it’s a high school-related facility or other indoor training come November and December.”

Those interested in the program can call the Spitz Stadium office at (403) 320-2025.

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