12/15/2016 5:38 PM
Today is Thursday, December 15, and once again it reminds us here at Spitz Stadium, Lloyd Nolan Yard, and Vauxhall High School plus many other homes and places where former players and family members now live and work of the terrible tragedy that occurred five years ago. It was horrible and unthinkable, tragic and impossible to comprehend. It devastated five families that fateful December night just outside Claresholm plus all of their respective relatives and friends and the baseball community from Lethbridge to Charlottetown and beyond.
All of the teammates on those respective Lethbridge Bulls, Prairie Baseball Academy, and Vauxhall Academy teams have moved onto starting careers, in some cases they are married and some have started families, and in all cases each has new adventurers to tell. What we want our message to be today is that the families and the programs also continue to move forward. We ask you not to misread that statement. Those that were close to Mitch, Tanner, Tabitha, Shayna, and Derek will never forget that day and the heartache it brought, but it does show us in five years that from tragedy comes education and hope for others.
Prairie Baseball Academy’s Head Coach Todd Hubka and Lethbridge Bulls President/CEO Kevin Kvame both say they are fortunate to have connected with the Macleans’, Craswells’, Stepples’, and Conways’ over the years.
“They are all great people,” Hubka commented, “They were able to deal with this over the years with a genuine concern for others and to create something positive from sheer horror.” Kvame went on to say, "One of the positives that can be looked at is the friendships and the common desire to have positive memories that resulted because we were thrust into and forced to share in such a sad event.”
Kvame went on to talk about Dianne MacLean. “She is an amazing lady,” was his summary of her. Recently, she was the guest speaker at the International Children's Memorial fundraiser in PEI. She told the story with the hope that others find comfort in her words and can have some sense of reconciliation with their own events. The tranquil and peaceful area where parents who lose children can pick a tree in their honor and then watch it grow for years is an inspired cause. The entrance sign is a perfect depiction of the loss felt. It features a family etched in a large rock, only one of the children is represented only by a carved out hole. Dianne has assisted this organization raise funds. We were told she also received a standing ovation when she spoke, which isn’t surprising!
When you talk to Diane and Irwin MacLean or to Keith and Cindy Craswell, it is like talking with friends or family you have known for years. To us, you feel connected. We want to hear about Jeter. No, not the greatest captain and shortstop in the history of baseball in many humble opinion, but the MacLean’s new pet dog who was named after Mitch’s favorite baseball player growing up. Irwin says Jeter has a 2 cent head yet the sticker price now of a good used car after a recent run in with a car and subsequent visit to the Vet’s clinic.
Keith Craswell has returned to baseball in Charlottetown and coaches the Senior team in town. They, like the Bulls, won their league championship in 2015. Morgan MacLean, Mitch’s brother, plays on the team. Keith, who continues to be supported by Cindy, shares Tanner’s dream with new baseball players on the Island and it is a role he has thrived in for years.
Also in Charlottetown, there are memorial scholarships and a memorial baseball tournament that celebrate the legacy of Mitch and Tanner. They also have memorial benches dedicated to the boys.
The Stepple family and Tabitha’s group of friends are also creating memories and legacies in her honor including a memorial scholarship at Lethbridge College. The Stepple family became honorary members of the PBA/Bulls/Vauxhall baseball families as they dealt with and continue to deal with life after that day. They also connected with the families in PEI.
The baseball community rallied around the tragedy and created the TCMM Memorial scholarship. This coming May marks the 6th annual event that awards financial assistance to deserving athletes to pursue their baseball dreams in Lethbridge and Vauxhall. “I think we have given about $20,000 in scholarships since it started,” Hubka proudly reports.
In 2016, a TCMM kids camp was added to the benefit game between the Jets and the Bulls. “We were sitting around one night and Les MacTavish came up with the idea,” commented Kvame, ‘and then the day came and we had to figure out how to deal with 150 kids! In 2017, the Benefit Game and Camp is scheduled for May 31 and I expect we will get to 300 for the camp!” The TCMM Memorial Fund benefits from the camp and the benefit game. Of course, nowadays, the players on the Jets and Bulls have little or no connection to the event five years ago, so it does allow each team to learn about the tragedy and also, just maybe, to be aware of the potential consequences of unhealthy relationships.
A separate Memorial Game continues to occur as well each year so that alumni and friends can get together and reminisce about the good times that connected everyone in the past. “It is a special day for me and probably everyone because we get to see former players and their families in a fun and casual environment that celebrates the friendships we shared then and the friendships that continue today,” Hubka said about the game. In 2017, the Memorial game will be held on July 15.
The programs continue to keep subtle reminders of the fallen players near to the facilities they honed their skills in. Lloyd Nolan Yard has a stone with plaques commemorating several players who were gone too early. Mitch and Tanner each have a plate. At Spitz Stadium, their numbers are retired on the center field fence and their images look down on each new group of Bulls players in the clubhouse.
So as you can see, the book on these young people who no longer are walking among us is not nearly finished. New chapters on positive messages and lasting tributes are still to be written. The impact they have on others is the ongoing legacy. And if anyone starts to fade into a depressed past, they only need to look at the brightest light from that day. Shayna Conway, the sole survivor serves as a beacon of triumph and willpower. As she moves forward into building new adventures and a new career for herself, she reminds us all that we must fight on.
The enduring message is simple, we do not want to ever relive that day five years ago but we will also never forget what happened by doing what we can to use it for good causes in the years to come. In that, the families, team-mates, fellow students, and friends know that they can hold their heads high and continue to move forward.
Prairie Baseball Academy & the Lethbridge Bulls