As the softball season winds down in Whitehorse, George Arcand is as busy as ever.
“We’ve just replaced the outer fences; we’re replacing the sundeck, repainting all the bleachers and dugouts, and making sure the lawns are healthy,” said Arcand on Wednesday, as he ordered his crew to various tasks around the sprawling Pepsi Softball Centre in Takhini.
The final tournament of the year is scheduled for this weekend, but Arcand, the executive director of Softball Yukon, has his mind focused on next season.
In June 2008, Whitehorse will play host to the World Junior Men’s Fastpitch Championships.
More than 300 players from a dozen countries will descend on the city for the nine-day tournament, and getting the ballparks in top form to host the event is Arcand’s concern.
“This is the biggest event, by far, that we’ve ever hosted,” he said. “And it’s not going to be held North of 60 very often, if ever again.”
With Arcand at the helm, softball has come a long way in the Yukon. So far, in fact, that Arcand will enter the Softball Canada Hall of Fame, when the organization hosts its AGM here in November.
He’s humbled by the honour: “I’m pleased and flattered, and happy. But you kind of wonder ‘What did I do to deserve it? … it wasn’t done by me alone. It’s hard to blow your own horn.”
The honour is as much an acknowledgement of Softball Yukon and all its volunteers, as a personal thing, he added.
“It always starts with volunteers … maybe I was leading, being the aggressive, rah-rah guy — but if you have a good idea, a good project, then people will be there.”
When he arrived in the late ‘60s, Arcand recalls playing in a fastpitch league at FH Collins, and after that, several other temporary locations — his knowledge of Yukon ballparks predates his own time here, though, as he talked about the old US Army diamonds of the ‘40s downtown.
By the late ‘70s, a core group of softballers, including Arcand, were envisioning a permanent home for their growing sport.
“What we wanted was to create a complex that would be self-contained — washrooms, concessions, a beer garden.”
By 1983, the Takhini park was in place and hosted its first tournament, albeit in a much different form than it is today.
“The Kiwanis Club built the old concession stand, and ran it until they made their money back,” he said. “Over time we added the bleachers, the new concession stand and sundeck, batting cages, and so on.”
The new facility came along as the sport continued to grow in popularity, and big annual events, like Dustball, became summertime mainstays in the territory.
Arcand became the first full-time paid employee of Softball Yukon in 1984 — and since then has worked to put Yukon on the national, and now international, softball map.
As a delegate representing the territory, he gained experience working with Softball Canada, and even served on the board of directors.
He worked as a liaison between Softball Canada and the national team, travelling to the Pan-Am games in 1987, where his team took the gold, and the 1988 World Championships, taking bronze.
“That was my little bit of national experience,” he said. The biggest things he took from that experience, after learning how the system works, were a huge network of contacts and a change in thinking about what could be done in Whitehorse.
“You think that it can happen, instead of that it can’t happen.”
Since then, Whitehorse has hosted more than 30 national championship softball events, including the Western Canadian Masters Fastball Championships last summer.
“For me, the longer I do it, the easier it gets,” said Arcand. “You learn as you go.”
Softball remains the most popular organized recreational sport for adults, with over 1,000 players registered this season.
“The park is really the foundation of all these events, and this growth. It really is a case of ‘If you build it, they will come,’” he said.