Jean-Gilles Larocque knows the value of providing young people with opportunity and he's made that his mission in athletics since 2009.
Larocque is passionate about baseball. This passion has boiled over in the community and has swept up a lot of boys and girls into the sport.
The growing sport now has deep roots planted in the high school systems of Greater Sudbury and across Northern Ontario.
Larocque is the convenor for high school baseball and is one of the reasons behind the expansion of the sport at the secondary school level. It began in 2011 and has slowly, but surely gained traction. What started with a couple of teams has blossomed into six, double from last year.
But Larocque is modest and downplays his contribution, pointing to the kids picking up the game and running with it as the main reason for baseball's return to prominence locally.
“I had kids who never played the game before this year and when the season was done, they told me they wanted to play this summer in club ball, they wanted to keep playing the game,” Larocque said. “For me, this is the reason we are doing this — getting more kids to be passionate about baseball. More kids get turned onto the game, I’ve done my job.”
In 2013, the ball really got rolling with an introductory tournament between St. Charles, St. Benedict, Bishop Carter and a team from Elliot Lake. This year, Lockerby, Confederation and Macdonald Cartier joined the fold and competed. The sport also earned official status at the three high school levels and a representative (Bishop Carter for winning SDSSAA and NOSSA) went to the OFSAA championship.
“It means a lot to see the high school league grow,” Larocque said. “The teams were well-balanced and the feedback from other coaches and players was positive. This year, it was official. It felt good to see.”
Bishop Carter Grade 12 student and second baseman Jordan Connors never played baseball seriously prior to this spring. The sport left an undeniable impact on him.
At the OFSAA tournament, Connors was called upon to pitch during a game. He had only pitched against Lockerby in the SDSSAA/NOSSA championship. Against the best competition in the province, Connors struck a batter out. He came back to the bench and was jumping and fist-pumping, cheered on by his teammates. It is that kind of moment that sticks out.
“Going to OFSAA was an awesome experience,” Connors said. “I love this game. I play hockey and soccer, but the experience this year has opened my eyes to something new and different. I want to play more baseball now.”
Bishop Carter outfielder Stetson Troscinski, 18, has been playing ball since he was eight. He had never been to an OFSAA championship until this year. Troscinski, along with many other players, were grateful for the opportunity.
“Baseball keeps getting better and better in this city,” Troscinski said. “There are a lot of opportunities for athletes in this game. There are scholarships and more chances to play the game. I don’t think none of this would be happening without Jean-Gilles.”
Larocque knows he has to keep the game moving along at the high school level. He wants to see a league next year instead of a two-day tournament to settle who goes to OFSAA. He wants more pitching and skills clinics. He wants more baseball.
“In four years, we will see teams from Northern Ontario competing well at OFSAA,” Larocque said.