Our hardy early pioneer families were always extremely busy in a day-to-day effort to establish their new homes, farms and businesses, while seeking a new livelihood and a bright future on the wild expanse of the lush and promising Alberta prairies. But then again, they would always find some precious time to gather together, to count their blessings and to share their successes and hardships within a friendly atmosphere of socializing, good food and fun activities and sports.
Whether it be picnics, dances, concerts, a special event in town or a harvest party, these folks also quickly fell in love with keen team seasonal sports such as hockey, soccer, rodeo, races, softball, and of course, the age old game of baseball. Our Ponoka Panorama History book tells us that Ponoka’s first official baseball team was formed in 1910, but as popularity and fan support quickly grew, they were joined by such local squads as ‘The Fats’ (whose total player weight was 2900 pounds), ‘The Leans’ (who were the skinny guys), and countless others. Not to be outdone, the rapidly expanding districts out in the rural areas such as Morningside, Calumet, Crestomere, Half Way Grove, Park Springs, Mecca Glen, Hobbema, Meniak, Manfred, Schultz, Asker, Eastside and many others would, over the years, field top-notch baseball, fastball, and softball teams for men, women, and children. They loved to play on dusty ball diamonds next to the community hall and school, or make the long trek by horse, wagon, and later car or truck into Ponoka, where there was a big diamond with bleachers located where the old town hall now stands, with many other fine playing fields later being added to accommodate all the teams, who were always followed by a host of avid fans of all ages.
As this great game grew by leaps and bounds and foul balls and lots of home runs Ponoka and district teams were invited to join leagues and tournaments throughout Central Alberta and beyond, and a very strong minor baseball/fastball/ and softball program for all age groups of boys and girls was formed in the community. From 1910 and up to the present day, these programs and leagues have thrived thanks to the enthusiasm of thousands of participants, volunteer coaches and officials, sponsors, and off course great throngs of dedicated fans and parents.
Over the years, these full rosters of keen spirited ball players and community supporters have been packed with a long list of great teams, a few super-stars, and quite a few unforgettable characters such as Charlie Lewis, Dewey Woods, Dave Morgan, Marcus Crandall, the Headley boys, Harry Dittberner, Jimmy Rattlesnake, Sylvester (Syl) Krevenchuk, and so many others who came from all walks of life and occupations from farmers to pastors to auctioneers and even to the town cop, the bouncer, and all the rest.
Remembering the Lacombe Tournament
Many of us sports fanatics who hung around Ponoka and loved to play ball in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and beyond will never forget the classic Lacombe Lions Club Baseball Tournament, which ran the last week in June from 1950 to 1988 and annually drew thousands of Central Alberta fans to the original and new Lion’s Park. All-star teams came from Western Canada and the United States to compete, and also attracted many Major League scouts to the action.
On the program of the 1959 Lacombe Tournament, I noticed that included in the line-up of the Central Alberta Allstars were former Ponoka Recreation Director John Zahara, Alberta Intermediate A hockey stars Bill Hunter, Guy Menage, Al Passutto and Ralph Vold, the young Ponoka district businessman and athlete who had pitched in the Brooklyn Dodger Major League organization.
Over the years, many of our Ponoka and district baseball players got the great opportunity to play or officiate in this first class tournament, which also featured such high class baseball clubs as the California Mohawks, the Amber Valley Colored Giants, the Florida Cuban Allstars, the Calgary Dodgers, the Lethbridge White Sox among many others. Thanks to all of them, along the way, the grand tradition of baseball continues, and we can still head to the local ball park to enjoy and cheer on a great game, featuring our up and coming young stars or those wily old pros who were popping leather and swinging a bat way back when the hotdogs were only two bits.