White Rock-South Surrey Thunder '03 show their support for Ecuador.

Thunder players aim to help Ecuador team

White Rock-South Surrey softball squad fundraising to help Ecuador national team get to Women's World Championships this summer.

Members of the local softball community are banding together to support Ecuador’s national softball team as it aims to raise enough money to attend this summer’s world championships in South Surrey, after the South American team had its financial support pulled following an earthquake earlier this month.

The White Rock-South Surrey Thunder ’03 – led by coaches Tracey Cardinal-Mitchell and Dwayne Mitchell – are taking a lead role in the fundraising effort. The team has a personal connection to the Ecuadorian squad, having travelled to the country for a softball tour in in early 2015, and the Mitchells are planning to serve as co-coaches with the club at this summer’s world championships, which are set for July 15-24.

Ecuador is not a traditional softball-playing country, but the government had originally committed to paying for nine plane tickets for the team, with team members fundraising to raise the rest.

However, on April 16, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the northwest region of the country, and funds originally earmarked for softball were diverted to disaster relief.

“Which is as it should be – and the girls wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Cardinal-Mitchell. “Now, it just means we’re doing double-time here trying to help.”

Much fundraising has already been done – “We’re partway there,” Cardinal-Mitchell said – but about $8,600 is still needed to ensure the team, plus it’s one volunteer coach, can make it to the tournament. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help, and members of the Thunder ’03 will also be on-site during a senior-division softball tournament at Sunnyside Park this weekend, raising money through raffle draws, 50/50s, silent auctions and more.

While none of the Ecuador national team members were hurt in the devastating quake – which killed more than 650 and injured more than 16,000 – many have a connection to the Portoviejo area, which was one of the hardest-hit areas, Cardinal-Mitchell said.

In addition to training for world championships, the team has also pitched in to help rebuild their home country, she added.

“There are girls who are from there. They’re families are safe, but their homes are destroyed. They’re doing relief work during the day-time – packing trucks, sorting food and clothing – and then using donated diamond space at night so they can train,” Cardinal-Mitchell explained.

“Softball does become secondary, obviously. But it’s about more than softball – it’s about working hard for something, having that common goal. They’ve all been working so hard and now they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them because of something nobody can control.

“It’s just about trying to help me. For a lot of them, this team is all they have – it’s their family, their friends.”

Cardinal-Mitchell said the news of the earthquake – and the plight of the country’s national softball team  – has also hit home with her Thunder ’03 players, considering they, too, have a connection to the area after last year’s trip.

“We’ve played on those ball diamonds, we’ve stayed in building that no longer exist. It’s tough for the girls on my team, but now they’re just focused on helping them,” she said.

“I know how hard they’ve worked to get to this point, and to help build the youth programs in Ecuador. They’re going to come – we’ll make it happen. It would break my heart to leave them behind.”

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