Janet and Ralph Van Nes sit in the the bleachers at Softball City

‘You feel like you watch people grow up’

Longtime South Surrey softball volunteers reflect back on nearly two decades on the diamond

Forty-six years ago, Ralph Van Nes gave his new wife, Janet, some advice: take an interest in sports or risk never seeing your new husband.

Up until that point, Janet had been an avid volunteer in their home town of Saskatoon – with both Cub Scouts and her church – but had no interest in sports.

Ralph, on the other hand, had been involved in baseball and softball his entire life.

“I said she had two choices – she could get involved or become a baseball widow,” Ralph laughed. “So she learned how to be a scorekeeper.”

Now, nearly a half century later, Janet has become one of the best, most-experienced volunteer scorekeepers in the country. After learning the basics, she’s kept up her scorekeeping skills by taking a few courses, and staying in practice – during the softball season, she volunteers at all manner of games at Softball City, from provincial and national tournaments, to charity events, and last year she was even invited to keep score at men’s world championships in Whitehorse. Next summer, she’ll head back there for the women’s world event.

“She’s world-class now, and all because she married a ball-player 46 years ago,” said Ralph.

Next month, both Ralph and Janet will be spending plenty of their free time at Softball City for the Scotiabank Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship – which runs July 9-17.  The couple has been volunteering there for 18 years, dating back to the early days when it was called the Canada Cup.

While Janet spends her time in the scorekeepers both tracking the game, Ralph – a self-admitted “ham” – admits he has a much easier gig as P.A. announcer.

“All I have to do is say, ‘Now, batting…’” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.

“I’ve been involved in softball and baseball for 59 years, as a player or a coach, or now as an PA announcer. I just love being around the ball park – this has really been my life.”

The announcing assignment also fulfills something of a dream for Van Nes, who said he once had an audition to be a sportscaster at a Saskatchewan radio station, but didn’t get the job. Instead, the station hired the late Don Whitman, who went on to become one of Canada’s legendary broadcasters.

The Van Nes’s are two of hundreds of volunteers lending a hand during the Canadian Open. Other jobs include everything from parking attendants, ticket-booth attendants to team “gophers.”

Suzanne Sigurdson, whose daughters Jessica and Auburn have both played in the Canada Cup – the latter with the Canadian national team – started out as a scorekeeper, and is now a committee member, in charge of nearly 80 scorekeeping, statisticians and announcing volunteers.

Like the Van Neses, she got involved in the first year of the tournament.

“I just thought scorekeeping was a good way to be able to watch all the games,” she said.

Though her daughters no longer play, Sigurdson said she has no plans to step away anytime soon.

“My husband has been trying to get me to get out of it for years, but I just can’t do it,” she said.

“My daughters might not being playing, but I’ve been here so long, now I know every other kid who plays – you end up knowing everyone – so you want to watch them.”

The same idea was echoed by both Ralph and Janet.

“It’s like a big family here – the same people keep coming back every year,” Janet said. “You feel like you watch people grow up – like (Team Canada pitcher) Danielle Lawrie… we’ve watched her for years, and now she’s a star.”

How to volunteer

To volunteer for next month’s Canadian Open Fastpitch championship, a volunteer application form is available on the tournament’s website, www.canadianopenfastpitch.com. Click on the ‘Volunteer’ link on the right-hand side of the homepage.

Deadline to volunteer is June 20.

 

 

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