There's no place like home.

By Greg Price
Vauxhall AdvanceIt looks like for some attending the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in the fall, the Vauxhall area is a very close second. Kiel Armstrong, a catcher/first baseman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, attended the recent tryout camp the academy held in mid-May. An “AAA” midget player who also plays on the Manitoba provincial team, he came away impressed from the tryout that also included a tour of the facilities, school, town and a meeting with billets, along with a pancake breakfast.

“I was happy with what I saw. I was happy to see what felt like the whole town was there. It showed that the people there really cared,” said Armstrong. Armstrong received a call a few months ago from Les McTavish, the head coach of the inaugural team that will play in the fall, who recommended the academy.

He was already sold on the baseball side of the academy, with its highly-qualified staff and facilities that will eventually feature upgraded seating and a new concession stand. The lighted Jets Stadium reminded Armstrong a lot of facilities around his area that feature much higher population bases. It was the community and school side Armstrong needed to be sold on, and the tryout camp where Armstrong got to see the school first hand and the people he’ll be living with sealed the deal, as Armstrong committed the Sunday after the tryout camp.

“To be honest, I was a little leery. I haven’t been away from home before for any length of time and it was very far away. All I really wanted to know was who I’d be living with. It was a beautiful area and the people were all really nice. Everything checked out and it felt good,” said Armstrong.

“I’d like to recommend it to anyone who is moving away from home.” Armstrong’s words echo the sentiment felt by many of the 29 kids and their families that visited the area during the tryout camp process. Shane Mazutinec, a committee member for the Vauxhall Academy of baseball, noted the school received numerous thank-you cards and e-mails from out-of-towners that praised the academy and the community.

“It really confirmed for us what we’ve been telling people all along across Canada that this is an area that is a hidden jewel in southern Alberta. It’s a place filed with community-minded citizens where you can get a quality education along with playing some high calibre baseball,” said Mazutinec. Armstrong will be billeting with Peter and Connie Van Uden. The two are looking at perhaps billeting another student athlete as well, and just as the player’s families took the process seriously interviewing potential host families, so too did the Van Udens.They had a family meeting with their grown children on the ramifications of being a billet.

“Connie and I discussed it. It affects the whole family,” said Peter Van Uden. “We looked at it as an opportunity and as a new experience. We had hosted exchange students in the past for two or three months and it’s a life-long experience where you make new friendships.” Being empty nesters themselves, the Van Udens knew it would be a change of lifestyle that involved more responsibility. Seeing how much potential student athletes cared about where they lived and the community they lived in, confirmed to the Van Udens what they would want themselves if they had sent their kids off to far away places in the country to pursue sport and an education.

“If it was something where we were sending our sons or daughters to, the billet is a key factor and big step. It also shows to us that they are coming here for more than just the baseball. They want the education, they want the community, they want the whole experience,” said Van Uden. “We believe in the program being a positive for the community and all the people involved. I think these are kids that are going to give back to the community” Having already met the Armstrong family, the Van Udens are continuing to build relationships with e-mails back and forth. The Van Udens will bring Kiel Armstrong back to Vauxhall when they watch him play for Manitoba at the Canada Cup in Medicine Hat in mid-August.

The academy is still looking for a few more billets, according to committee member Scott Reiling, and would like to see billets confirmed by the end of June. Those interested in being a billet, or just looking for more information on the expectations of billets and the student athletes themselves, can call Reiling at Vauxhall high school at 654-2145.