A young Port Alberni ball player will be headed to Africa at the end of the year for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Emma Gingras, 15, will set off for Uganda in December as part of a team of 24 softball athletes and coaches selected from across North America.
Emma learned about the opportunity and applied after attending a few camps with coach Joni Frei, the owner of Beyond the White Lines Softball Academy, which offers camps, clinics and collegiate experience to young female softball players.
Grow the Game Uganda is Frei’s initiative, bringing softball athletes and coaches from North America to Africa to deliver much-needed sports gear, school supplies, softball instruction and coaching materials, while gaining cultural awareness and global perspective.
Although Emma is familiar with her coaches, she has not met any of the other athletes, who will be coming together from locations all over North America. Emma will also be the youngest one on the team, as the other players are 16 and over.
“It’s a little nervewracking, but I’m excited,” she said.
Emma has been playing softball since she was five years old. She started out playing in her home town of Port Alberni, but currently plays on a team in Parksville.
“Emma has a goal of wanting to play college ball,” explained her mother, Tarryn Gingras.
Although Emma has travelled outside of Canada, this will be her first time leaving the continent. During the trip, she and her teammates will interact with Ugandan athletes of all ages and immerse in Ugandan culture. The North American athletes will also work with local club teams and play in an exhibition series with the Ugandan, Kenyan and Tanzanian national teams.
“Just exhibition games to give those teams some competition,” explained Tarryn. “It’ll be a cultural lesson for sure.”
“I’m very excited,” added Emma. “I can’t wait to teach kids how to play.”
But taking a group of softball players and coaches to Africa requires a significant financial investment. The primary source of revenue for Grow the Game comes from player fees, fundraisers and sponsorship. Emma and her mother have not been able to participate in many of the fundraisers on the mainland, due to the cost of travel, but are hoping to gain some sponsorship from local businesses. Tarryn has been handing out letters to Port Alberni business owners and will be making another round in the coming months.
If you are interested in supporting Emma and her trip, you can contact Tarryn at 250-730-1002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Tarryn, watching her youngest daughter travel across the world is a little daunting.
“She is the baby of the family,” Tarryn laughed. “But I have full trust in the people she’s going with. It’s nervewracking, but I’m so proud.”
In the meantime, Emma will be practicing throughout the fall and winter in order to stay in shape and prepare for her trip.
“I just want to be able to play my best and teach my best,” she said.