Saturday, January 9, 2021

Saskatoon Short Mat Club joins the Family

Indoor lawn bowling type sport newest addition to Complex

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A Saskatoon Short Mat Club member releases a shot.
It didn’t take long for the Saskatoon Short Mat Club to get a liking for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

After years of conducting games in the basements of Saskatoon area churches, the Saskatoon Short Mat Club made a debut at an open house at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex on November 1, 2020. The organization was able to conduct games in the pitching lanes of the Indoor Training Centre until pandemic related Provincial Health Orders put a pause on those activities.

Still, Robert Hackett, who is the president of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club, said the organizations members were blown away with the good first impressions of their new surroundings.

“Everybody that I have talked to they love it,” said Hackett. “There is plenty of parking, which is something that at the church was something that we hardly ever had.

“You never have to worry about the parking, and it is close at hand. We have a storage unit there that everybody knows. It is locked up, and it is secured.

“All our equipment is there.”

Hackett noted another perk was fact the members of his club were allowed to roll up the mats they play their games on and leave them off to the side of the pitching tunnels, as the rolled up mats didn’t interfere with any other activities.

At church facilities, they often had to clear everything out of the areas their competitions were held in to allow for church functions to happen.

The debut of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club brought a sport of precision and skill to the Complex. When short mat games are taking place, it is easy for those passing by to get caught watching the shot making that was going on.

The short mat game itself comes from the sport of lawn bowling. Lawn bowling itself can be traced back to the 13th century. Of course in countries that have winter climates for an extended time, the time you can take part in lawn bowling is limited.

The short mat game requires precision and skill.
Short mat brings the game of lawn bowling inside. In Saskatchewan, Bowls Saskatchewan governs both the outdoor lawn bowling and the indoor short mat games for the province.

“The mechanics and everything are pretty well the same,” said Hackett. “They are little bit different.

“The difference is on short mat the mats are six-feet wide and 45-feet long. When you are lawn bowling, your rinks are eight-feet wide and they are 120-feet long. There is a difference between lawn bowling on grass as to be short mat on carpet.

“When you lawn bowl, the rink can change on you just by the bowls going down there and kind of making little grooves in the grass. It is not really all that different. It is a matter of the weight, really.”

Hackett said the local club has an easy way to explain their game to newcomers.

“Whenever we get new lawn bowlers out, one of the questions that we ask is have you curled before,” said Hackett. “If they have, then we say ‘OK then.’

“This is no different than curling only instead of ice you have grass. You have interns and outturns in curling, and we call it forehand and backhand. It really makes no difference.”

The scoring in the short mat game is like curling in that the team that has their balls closest to the jack scores points at the end of each end. Unlike curling there the button can’t move, the jack in lawn bowling and short mat games can be used.

The jacks used in short mat games are a little heavier than those used in lawn bowling due to the fact the rinks in short mat games are smaller than those in lawn bowling games. A board obstacle is also placed in the middle of the rink in short mat games to add an extra challenge.

Team sizes in short mat games can be singles, double, triples or foursomes. Games usually last 14 ends, but they can be 10 or 12 ends in length.

Strategy is discussed before a shot is made in a short mat game.
Janelle Phillips, who is the treasurer of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club, said that release point and the weight of your throw are key to both lawn bowling and short mat, but those skills have to be adjusted for each discipline.

“It just takes a lot of getting used to is the little bit of weight you need to release it,” said Phillips, who has completed in the short mat game for 15 years. “That is why a lot of people in doing short mat don’t take a step.

“When you are bowling outside, you usually take a step forward when you are releasing the ball just to get more of your body into it. With short mat, most people just keep their legs static and just release it with just using their hand, because it takes so much less pressure. I think that is the biggest difference is just getting used to the correct weight that you need to deliver it.”

Phillips said the line of your throw is important in each game and avoiding the board obstacle in the short mat game is a special challenge.

“The board in the middle is always a bit of a challenge to people too, who aren’t used to that,” said Phillips. “There is not really a lot of distance between the edge of the board and the edge of the mat.

“There is only probably three-feet there and not even, that you have to get your bowl around. You have to be pretty accurate with your line.”

Phillips said there has been a national governing body for the short mat game for about the last five years in the Canadian Short Mat Bowls Association, which has allowed for national championships to be played. She believes the Saskatoon club itself has been around for about 20 years.

Competitors can even take part international competitions as well. About five years ago, Hackett and his wife, Carolyn Jones, accepted an invitation through the Canadian Short Mat Bowls Association to a world championship even in Manchester, England.

Hackett said the experience of that trip was an enjoyable one, and it was eye opening to see how well the short mat game was played elsewhere in the world.

A short mat rink set up in a pitching tunnel.
“We actually won one game over there,” said Hackett, who has taken part in short mat games for about 10 years. “The amazing part for us was that the quality of Short Mat bowlers.

“We thought we were good. Think again when you are going into a world championship.”

Overall, Phillips said the local club has enjoyed finding a new home at the Complex, and they can’t wait for the provincial government to allow competitions to resume.

“I think everyone has been pretty happy with it,” said Phillips. “We were pleased to find a space that we could spread out in.

“It was working out quite well. People were pleased with it.”

Going Yard enjoys new era

Baseball training centre grows at Gordie Howe Sports Complex

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A player works on fielding during a Going Yard training session.
The Going Yard Training Centre has come a long way from a simple origin.

In the early 2010s, Saskatoon resident Dan Demchenko agreed to send one of his sons to a baseball academy in Alberta. After spending a sizable amount of money in that endeavour, he wondered why Saskatchewan didn’t have a similar sort of training facility.

Demchenko proceeded to establish the Going Yard Training Centre in 2013. He then hired Jordan Draeger, Matt Kosteniuk and Brody Boyenko as instructors, who all have experience with high-end baseball.

Going Yard opened its first facility with a training warehouse located on Alberta Avenue. Demchenko would turn over Going Yard venture to his young instructors.

On March 1, 2019, Going Yard was brought on to the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

“I find baseball in Saskatchewan and Saskatoon specifically has gotten a lot better, because of our programs,” said Draeger. “I think kids are taking the sport more seriously now that we have opportunity to train properly.

“When people recognize the opportunities that come with playing baseball competitively as opposed to contact sports and things like that, it is such a good alternative. Our skill level is getting much, much better.”

At Going Yard, the instructors work with players aged eight to 18 with the main emphasis being on players aged eight to 15.

A catcher gets off a throw on a bunt defence drill.
The instructors work with players to improve skills related to batting, pitching, catching, infielding and outfielding.

Players are put through a combination of basic and creative drills designed to improve skills. For catchers, instructors will teach skills like how to block the plate on wild pitches that might hit the dirt or the mechanics to get off a throw to second base to try and prevent a steal attempt.

For infield and outfield work, there are machines at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex which can fire off line drives through the infield or fly balls to the outfield to work on skills in those areas.

For pitching, players might do drills with a weighted ball to improve strength.

In the past during winter months, Draeger said the Going Yard staff wasn’t able to do any work with regards to fielding due to the limitations of their old indoor location. They also couldn’t do drills related base running, because there was not enough room.

The Indoor Training Centre at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex has changed that aspect.

“It (the training warehouse) was only large enough to pitch and hit, because it had such a low ceiling,” said Draeger. “For the last five years, we’ve gotten a lot better at hitting and pitching.

“Now, we are about to see our guys get a lot better at fielding too, because they love this. Being able to field the ball on a full-sized field is cool for them.”

Draeger said the fact local players can work on fielding year round will create more opportunities to continue the sport at the post-secondary level.

A second baseman gets a throw off to first base.
“We’ve had lots of pitchers get college scholarships, but we don’t send very many fielders on a college scholarship,” said Draeger. “I think we are going to see that change now that we’ve moved in here.

“Now not only can we develop hitting and pitching, we can do infielding, outfielding and skills on a larger level.”

On top of the skill development, Going Yard has developed what it calls its “Goats Programs.” Players who are part of Going Yard can be part of the “Goats Program,” where players are dived on to age specific teams.

At the moment, there are teams for players aged 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 years of age. Those teams travel, practice and play games against teams from other training facilities. Often, the Going Yard teams will play teams from the RBI Regina Baseball and Softball Indoor Training Centre.

When the teams play indoors, they take part in modified games. When the weather is nice outside, the teams can play in a full game setting at Cairns Field, Leakos Field or one of the three diamonds at the Geoff Hughes Baseball Park.

All of those diamonds are on the Gordie Howe Sports Complex grounds.

“As soon as the weather turns and we can go outside, we can go outside,” said Draeger. “There is nowhere else that can really do that.

“We are pretty lucky to be in here and have that opportunity.”

Draeger said the Going Yard staff has enjoyed being on the grounds of the Gordie Howe Sports Complex for just over 21 months, and they look forward to what the future could hold.

A pitcher sets to deliver a throw at a Going Yard training session.
“Going Yard is happy to call the Gordie Howe Sports Complex their new home,” said Draeger. “We’re excited to be a part of the team, and we are looking forward to developing baseball in Saskatoon and raising excitement.

“Eventually, we’d like to see our Goats programs reach even more ages. We just want to see the competitive level of baseball just increase at all age levels old and young.”

If you want more information on the Going Yard Training Centre, the staff can be contacted by phone (306) 954-1544 or email at goingyardbaseball1@gmail.com.