Hitting Home Runs in Irma Irma, Alberta

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My name is Mike Soucy. I am the president of the Irma Minor Ball Association. I have been in everything fastball, here in Irma.

I started as a player back in the early 80s, when my dad was playing with the Tigers. I was fortunate enough to get in a few games when on nights when they were short. And as an organizer in the mid 1980s, when my parents were heavily involved in the organization of the old Irma Days Fastball Tournament. We formed the current Irma Minor Ball Association mid to late 90s, and we’re still going strong. Fastball has been the staple of most summer sport here in Irma since 1952. Both at the men’s and ladies’ and girls’ and boys’ levels. Lately in the last couple of years, baseball is starting to emerge here in the younger groups.

The pitching is overhand. The pitching distance – the base path distance – is a little bit longer.

With fastpitch softball the pitcher throws the ball windmill, with a larger ball. But pitching distances are shorter. Base paths are shorter. It’s a nice compact game. The games are shorter. There are only seven innings. But it’s a great, and it’s a real fast game.

The biggest championship we’ve hosted would be our U21 National Championship here in 2014. We’ve hosted a few Western Canadian championships. Every year we try to host at least one Provincial championship, whether it be minor or senior. And we’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of international teams come through town and participate in tournaments or a doubleheader or an exhibition game. We’ve had a team from New Zealand come through, as well as Argentina, Venezuela, and the Czech Republic.

The complex as it sits today was constructed in about 1984 when the curling rink moved from downtown Irma to this location. A lot of volunteer work has gone into this facility over the past 35 years. I know my dad and a lot of the local farmers and local businessmen have been a huge help on the diamond layout itself and what goes on here.

I can remember growing up that my dad and a lot of his friends spending countless hours over here creating what we have right now. We’ve kind of taken over over the past few years and done some major renovations, probably three or four different times. The last major reno here would have been prior to the 2014 National Championship.

So 2013 renovation prior to the National Championship, our rec board and a lot of local business took a lot of pride in our fastballs. I can’t say enough, how much involvement that the community has. They’ve spent so much time and money to make it what it is – Hundreds of volunteer hours, and businesses helping with product and labor. It’s just unbelievable. To look at this facility and what we have right now and realize that most of this was done voluntarily or in-kind donations, it’s really something.

Like I mentioned before, we’ve had our men’s program going since 1952 continuously. As far as me as an organizer, and I think a lot of the people who have been involved, we’re almost at third generation of young athletes coming through now. We take pride in it. We’ve won some national championships, and that sparks interest in a sport in town. Interest with both girls and boys is really strong right now. We traditionally have over 100 participants in our minor ball program.

In the male category, we’ve won two national championships, four Western Canadian championships, as well as numerous Provincial championships at the boys’ and girls’ level. It’s a lot of fun. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel basically all around Canada. And we’ve had eight of our young men here participated and have been members of Team Canada and have participated at world championships too.

One of my personal highlights was winning the National Championship in our hometown, in front of just about 2000 people at this ballpark. Another highlight is entertaining – like I said before, hosting a couple of the international teams is always fun. We traditionally get 400 or 500 people out to watch those games. So, I’ve got lots of memories here of not just winning, but being involved. We hosted a girls’ tournament last year. We had 48 teams in town. So, that’s a huge event. Just realizing what it takes to run a tournament like that, it’s gratifying.

What can you expect in Irma during one of these tournaments? Well, you can expect lots of good fastball. Lots of great volunteers. Lots of good food out of the concession. You can expect a campsite that’s located on site to be full. Lots of people come up for the weekend and then camp and enjoy the facilities that we do have here. Lots of friendly people. We have other things to do, obviously, in town. But tournament wise, it’s all about the game.

But fastball is not the only thing to do in Irma, obviously. Some other things to do include going on in town on weekends. We do have a great little nine-hole golf course. We have a nice little campsite located here, right at the park that’s well used. Just lots of things to do. We’re not far from a couple of little lakes around the area. But on fastball weekends, it’s mostly focused on that.

We also have a great minor hockey system. I’d have to say hockey is probably the most popular sport in town. Our arena’s located across the parking lot. We still run a senior men’s hockey program and we were a part of Alberta’s 100 year celebration here seven or eight years ago.

We’re very proud of our hockey association right now. We currently have one of our guys in the NHL. We have a guy playing pro hockey in Europe. We have a couple of guys playing college hockey in the U.S., and a couple of up-and-comers hoping to play in the CHL in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. So, we run a great hockey program, and the future is bright for that as well.

The sense of community. Being an organizer and to accomplish what we have in town is very special. For me, to know my neighbors, to have my kids grow up in a small town, and go to a great school; And now my grandkids have a brand new school to go to. It’s just a great place to live

Mike Soucy

It’s very vibrant. There’s always lots of things going on in town, here at the park, at the arena, at the curling rink. We have a great fair – it’s called Irma Days – and during that we have a summer bonspiel, slow-pitch tournaments, ranchers’ rodeo, parades and a fair, all part of that weekend. It really is something for a village of 500 people. So, I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

My favourite local shop would have to be the Irma Co-op. They’re kind of a one-stop shop there for groceries and hardware and pharmacy, and just about everything else you need. It’s a great little place. We’re very fortunate to have it.

For other places to visit, my son is living down at Clear Lake, so I’ve visited there the most lately. But we have a couple other lakes at Hardisty, and at Camp Lake, north of Kinsella. So all of them are great little spots to cool off.

When in Irma, coming to a fastball tournament is obviously what I think should be your number one thing to do. And then check out our arena. We also have a great campsite located here at the ballpark.

For other things to do, we have a real nice little nine-hole golf course just on the outside of town. It has been very, very busy this year. We’re fortunate with all the rain and moisture we’ve had, it’s in great condition right now. It’s a must see, and we are getting lots of people out that we don’t normally see.

The trestle at Fabyan is one of the largest trestles in all of Canada, and is just a 10 minute drive out of town. The whole Battle River Valley is really something to see. There’s a couple of real great spots to get a good bird’s eye view of it. And the countryside is beautiful around here, if you’re looking just for a drive.

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In Irma we do have a few real good places to eat. We have a great little sandwich and soup spot downtown on Main Street, and lots of different things. The Rural Lounge and the Irma Hotel are both places that I like to go or to order out. They both have great food and great refreshments and a great place to go sit and visit with friends.