Special Olympics Airdrie's softball players have been hard at work since early May, developing their skills at weekly practices held at the baseball diamond outside Meadowbrook School.
Last week, the group had the opportunity to finally put those skills to the test, taking on a team of employees from Airdrie's London Drugs franchise in a spirited game on June 29.
The friendly exhibition game was organized thanks to Special Olympics Airdrie coach Kyle Fillatre, who also works at London Drugs and reached out to his manager to see if it would be possible to arrange.
“We were looking for a fun game to bring everyone together,” said Fillatre, who has been involved in coaching Special Olympics Airdrie teams for the last six years.
“I’m expecting Special Olympics to have a great time and they’ll be able to show off all their new skills,” he added, a few minutes before the game got underway. “Last week, we were working on pitching, so I’m excited to see everyone pitching and batting. It’s going to be great.”
According to Fillatre and Special Olympics Airdrie softball coach Owen Eikenberry, the opportunity to play against another team was a huge motivator for the association's 22 softball players. That enthusiasm led to a healthy turnout at the June 29 game.
“We’ve seen a couple of faces who haven’t showed up to a lot of the practices, so I think that shows their excitement – they wanted to come out and play a real game,” Eikenberry said.
Eikenberry added the athletes were well prepared, having practiced together weekly since May 4. He added the group will continue to practice until the end of July.
“Obviously due to COVID, tournaments have been delayed or not really booked,” he said. “Typically in a year, we’ll do three to four tournaments and try to travel – Lethbridge usually hosts [a softball tournament]. We haven’t had that opportunity this year, so hopefully next year, we’ll have a bigger turnout and we’ll have more opportunities for games.”
Regardless of the lack of tournaments this season, Fillatre said the opportunity to bring Special Olympics Airdrie athletes together again for the first time since the onset of COVID-19 has been fantastic. He noted how the June 29 game was the softball group's first official game in more than two years.
“Seeing everyone connect again is amazing,” he said. “Everyone right away started chatting. Most of them hadn’t seen each other at all through COVID.”