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Exciting year for Rankin ball

League still basking in Rankin Inlet Freaks becoming first squad in Nunavut to win a national title in a team sport
The 2023 National Level E Co-ed Slo-Pitch champion Freaks squad are, back row, from left, Seamas Ayaruak, Norman Okalik, Chad Graham, Carlo Hamilton, James Merritt, Nigel Nakoolak and Chad Taipana. Front row, from left, Olivia Tagalik, Tracy Roach, Kandace Graham, Catherine Ayaruak, Loren Kaludjak and Edna Hamilton.

Kandace Graham has been involved with the summer Rankin Inlet Slo-Pitch Softball League for the past 14 years or so.

Graham is currently league president and, she said with a laugh, pretty much everything else. And, she rarely misses a game being played in the league.

There were six teams in the 2023 edition of the league, with the team Bad Attitudes claiming the league title by defeating the Bungbung Ballerzz three games to one in the championship series.

Graham said the league has tried to include more youth within its ranks in the past couple of years.

She said since its inception, the league has always been for players 16 years of age and older, which went by current age, not birth year.

So this past couple of years we have changed the rules to go by birth year, so that it's now really a Grade10-and-up program,” said Graham.

Young players are now eligible if they're turning 15 in the current year. So, if a player is 14, but is turning 15 later in the same year, he or she is eligible to join our program.

Using the old system, you had some players having to wait a whole extra year to play with their friends. Some would be able to play and some wouldn't, so we just felt it was time to change our program and be able to help with that.

Some players would have to wait another year and some wouldn't and we just thought that really wasn't fair, so we changed the rule to, at least, help the ones who had their birthday before Dec. 31 of that year.

Graham said players in the league experienced that themselves when they were juniors and tried to join the league.

She said some players would be able to participate, while some wouldn't, even though they were on the same junior team because of the month their birthday landed in.

So, we felt instead of having it by age, we'd change it to birth year. And, by doing that, we've really helped the younger players participate more. Including the youth and having the youth involvement is something that we've really tried to set as one of our priority goals.

Last year we saw some upsets. We saw teams that had great records and were upset in the semifinals, so we saw some very good ball being played.

With this being a mining community again, there are a lot of players now who fly in and fly out of work, so they play in the league but might end up playing only half the season."

Sometimes teams end up playing short, so we try to encourage them to make sure they have enough players on their roster and to account for not having an extra person during the summer.”

Graham said the league is working on a big project right now in partnership with the hamlet, putting the league on a very tight budget so that it can put funds towards an expansion project.

She said that's in the plans, but a public announcement isn't ready yet.

We usually donate the league registration fees back to the youth program. So, when all teams register, the $500 registration fees go back to the 18-and-under tournament.

Our baseball program includes the Calm Air Cup being a Level E tournament. We had a team from Rankin Inlet represent the territory because the Calm Air Cup is an annual tournament that is really our territorial. It's a registered tournament with Slo-Pitch Nationals and the top two teams in the tournament are then birthed to the nationals of the following year.

So the tournament that was played in 2023, the top two teams qualify to go to the 2024 National tournament in August. The Freaks won the 2022 Calm Air Cup and they represented Nunavut at the 2023 Nationals Signature Series in Level E. It was the biggest showing ever. They made it all the way to the finals in a double elimination bracket and only lost one game in the semis.

It was the most epic environment ever. The Freaks won the first ever national team gold in the history of Nunavut when they won the coed Slo-Pitch Nationals in Winnipeg in 2023. So by winning in 2023, the freaks are automatically birthed into the 2024 Nationals at Level D. So it's going to be an exciting year at every level this year.”

About the Author: Darrell Greer, Local Journalism Initiative

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