Step­ping up to the plate

Base­ball player with Kentville roots re­flects on na­tion­als, decade of pro­vin­cial play

Valley Journal Advertiser - - NEWS - BY CHRIS SAULNIER SPE­CIAL TO KINGSCOUNTYNEWS.CA

Jenna Jack­son’s bronze-medal win with Team Nova Sco­tia’s U-21 women’s team has been a long time com­ing.

De­vel­op­ing into a player ca­pa­ble of help­ing a pro­vin­cial squad fin­ish in the top three at na­tion­als isn’t some­thing that hap­pened overnight. The lo­cal ath­lete’s suc­cess at the high-level com­pe­ti­tion hosted in Stonewall, Man­i­toba this sum­mer has a lot to do with her roots here at home.

The 21-year-old catcher first be­gan play­ing mi­nor base­ball at the age of five, start­ing out on the boys’ team.

At only 11 years old, she made the cut for the pro­vin­cial girls’ 16 and un­der team but con­tin­ued to also play on the boys’ team un­til she was about 15 and de­cided to fully com­mit to the girls’ team.

Jack­son says she de­cided to con­tinue play­ing on the boys’ team for so long be­cause of how nat­u­rally ac­cepted she felt as a mem­ber of the team.

“I never really ex­pe­ri­enced any sort of dis­crim­i­na­tion grow­ing up through the Kentville pro­gram in base­ball,” says Jack­son.

“All of the boys and coaches were really wel­com­ing, and I just really felt like I was al­lowed to be there, and I never wanted to quit. It was a lot of fun, so I stuck with it.”

Re­flect­ing on her ex­pe­ri­ence play­ing with, and against, boys and men in base­ball, she said she feels there can be def­i­nite ben­e­fits for girls who get the op­por­tu­nity to do the same.

“I think it’s great to com­pete with, and against, men and boys. I think be­ing with the boys made me feel like I was able to fit in and play ball, and then when I got onto the girls’ team we com­peted in reg­u­lar sea­son against boys and men be­fore we’d go to the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion and I feel like com­pet­ing against men who are typ­i­cally stronger, phys­i­cally, it did help us im­prove our game,” says Jack­son.

“But I also be­lieve that girls’ base­ball is really grow­ing within Nova Sco­tia and I think it’s great for girls to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence what it’s like to play with girls, so my hope is that in the fu­ture… there’s not just one girl on boys’ teams, but that they’re kind of be­com­ing mixed teams.”

A player and coach

In early July, 130 girls be­tween the ages of four to 12 signed up to com­pete in the new all girls’ base­ball league in Nova Sco­tia — Nova Sco­tia Girls League.

As an ad­vo­cate for girls’ base­ball, Jack­son says she’s happy to hear that the sport is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity among young girls in the prov­ince. How­ever, she feels that there can still be some pos­i­tive im­pacts for those girls who still choose to play ball on the boys’ teams.

“We can see that girls really do want to try base­ball and I think al­low­ing them to re­al­ize that they have the skills to be able to com­pete with boys can also really boost their con­fi­dence in a way,” says Jack­son.

When asked to com­pare her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing on teams with girls and boys, Jack­son says that while it’s hard to com­pare, she’s per­son­ally found the girls’ team to be more sup­port­ive.

“I think that where I stopped at such a young age play­ing with boys, it’s kind of hard to com­pare,” she says.

“But ever since play­ing with the girls’ team and be­ing in­volved with that pro­gram I found that the men­tal­ity that the girls’ teams carry is a lot more sup­port­ive and up­lift­ing than I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced play­ing on the boys’ teams.”

From a coach­ing per­spec­tive, Jack­son says she’s found girls to be more coach­able for her.

“I really think I like the heart and soul that girls put into the game, that’s prob­a­bly the big­gest thing, not that the boys didn’t have it, but it was just kind of a dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere,” says Jack­son.

This is Jack­son’s third year in­volved with coach­ing mi­nor base­ball in Nova Sco­tia — the 14 and un­der girls’ pro­gram.

Jack­son says that, now that she’s 21 and too old to con­tinue with the 21 and un­der pro­vin­cial team, get­ting to coach is “just a whole other bag, and it’s just a great ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“I love see­ing a girl be­ing able to learn and to build their con­fi­dence, just lit­tle things espe­cially where we’re work­ing with a team that’s more de­vel­op­men­tal in na­ture, it’s really ex­cit­ing to see th­ese girls learn that they can do things,” says Jack­son.

“Like, for ex­am­ple, one of the girls on our team, she found out that she was a lefty hit­ter in­stead of a righty hit­ter and just see­ing her just get so much more ex­cited when she goes up to the plate and is able to make bet­ter con­nec­tion with her bat, it’s just very re­ward­ing.”

Pas­sion for the game

It’s an un­wa­ver­ing love of the game that’s kept Jack­son with the sport for the last 16 years.

“I think I’m really pas­sion­ate about base­ball be­cause I love be­ing part of a team and I love see­ing a group of girls come to­gether and find suc­cess,” she says.

“Even if we don’t win a game, just see­ing th­ese lit­tle suc­cesses for our prov­ince, for women in sport, I’ve really en­joyed be­ing able to wit­ness the growth of the sport within the prov­ince and see girls be­ing able to reach their po­ten­tial.”

Jack­son has com­peted in the U-21 Women’s Na­tional Championship since it was first started three years ago and says that, while she’s sad to be too old to con­tinue, the ex­pe­ri­ence has been ex­cep­tional.

“Be­ing able to be a part of the teams that have won bronze at the na­tional level has been prob­a­bly my big­gest ac­com­plish­ment, but also a huge ac­com­plish­ment for the prov­ince,” says Jack­son.

“When I first started out with this pro­gram, Nova Sco­tia was kind of seen as not a com­peti­tor. We’d never placed, we’d never really dreamed of get­ting a medal, just get­ting a sin­gle win at na­tion­als was a big deal, so be­ing able to go to th­ese com­pe­ti­tions and beat huge prov­inces like On­tario and Que­bec, and prov­inces that con­sis­tently medal ev­ery year, it’s pretty ex­cit­ing.”

Jack­son is in her fourth year study­ing busi­ness at Aca­dia Univer­sity. While she is hav­ing less and less time for base­ball, she says she’s grate­ful for hav­ing had the op­por­tu­nity to take part in girls’ pro­vin­cial base­ball for a decade.

“I’ve been su­per lucky to have been in­volved in this pro­gram for the past 10 years and I’m so grate­ful for the group of girls that we had at na­tion­als this year,” she says.

“It’s just great com­pe­ti­tion, and I’m sad it’s over.”

DARRYL GERSHMAN

Catcher Jenna Jack­son knows the game from the per­spec­tive of a player and a coach.

LES­LEY MACNEIL

Jenna Jack­son won a bronze medal com­pet­ing with Team Nova Sco­tia in a na­tional U-21 women’s championship in Man­i­toba this sum­mer.

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