On July 12, the annual Dustball tournament kicks off in Whitehorse, and executive director George Arcand will once again be on hand to organize and help make sure things go smoothly. For decades, Arcand has been an institution for softball in the territory, getting his start as a volunteer in the mid-1970s. His efforts have helped build the Pepsi Softball Centre in Takhini, create Softball Yukon Radio-TV Bingo, bring national and world championships to the territory and win silver at a national fastpitch championship for the Yukon.
Arcand has a wealth of knowledge and history about the sport in the territory and has been involved organizing every Dustball tournament since its inception in 1984. In fact, he helped with the competition that predates the tournament everyone now knows as Dustball.
“‘Dustball’ started out when the Kelly Douglas slow-pitch team invited a bunch of teams from Juneau,” Arcand said. “It was likely in ’82 or ’83, and they played on ‘Takhini 3’. Dustball morphed out of that.
“As more people wanted to get involved, Dustball was born.”
While Arcand has been around for all these developments, he’s quick to point out that the success of the sport in the Yukon is because of the efforts of many people. In fact, the majority of their facilities were built by volunteers and leagues.
“The Whitehorse Men’s League built the Takhini fields,” said Arcand. “Robert Service was built by the Mixed Media Slo-Pitch league, which was made up of media people from around Whitehorse.”
The crown jewel of softball in the territory is the Pepsi Softball Centre, located across from the Takhini fields on Range Road. It was a project that happened because of the determination of those involved, according to Arcand.
“I took over the Yukon Amateur Softball Association, which was around before Softball Yukon,” Arcand said. “I took over from Al Adams.
“At the same time, we were talking about, and designing, the Takhini complex [Pepsi Softball Centre]. Every time someone went away, they’d come back with pictures for ideas. It got started building in 1978 and opened with its first tournament in 1983, the Western Canadian Men’s ‘B’ Fastpitch.”
The concession was built later by the Kiwanis Club, according to Arcand. Originally, the club ran the concession as a way to recoup their building-material costs. But the work itself was done by volunteers and Arcand recalls carpenters, plumbers and handymen coming in after work hours and on weekends to build it.
That facility is kept running with funds supplied by the radio-TV bingos that occur on Friday nights throughout the winter. The bingos started via a casual conversation when softball needed to raise funds.
“I was talking one day to Glen Darling at CKRW and he suggested, ‘What about radio bingo?’,” Arcand explained. “We only did one a month to start.
“It was an interesting learning experience. It allowed us to be autonomous and we based our projects on what we raised. The Pepsi Centre and all we’ve built is paid for out of proceeds.”
Those facilities have provided the opportunities to host major competitions that Softball Yukon has attracted over the past few years. It started with a niche opportunity in 2008 to host the International Fastpitch Junior Men’s World Championship.
“In 2008, we cherry-picked an event,” said Arcand. “They didn’t have any place for it, so we talked to Softball Canada and they said we could host.”
The organizers managed to use some of the Yukon College housing for athletes that was built for the 2007 Canada Winter Games to host teams and the systems that were in place. The success of the event and the response from Yukoners showed that the Yukon could host.
“We got a taste and bid on others,” said Arcand. “The 2011, 2014 and 2017 [events] were bids, but we had a good reputation.”
There had been skepticism on the Yukon’s capacity to host these tournaments due to the size of the community, the lack of some key infrastructure (notably, lights for evening games, which in practice isn’t an issue with the long days) and remoteness, but representatives from Softball Canada and the international federation were wowed by the facilities and support in the community.
“One of the vice presidents of the International Softball Federation said our grass was as good as Yankee Stadium, and he’d stood on both,” Arcand said proudly.
Arcand wasn’t always on the good side of Softball Canada, however. As the executive director, he attended meetings and actually sat on the board as a director before the rules were changed to make staff ineligible. During that time, though, Arcand put together a Yukon team that won silver at the Canadian Men’s Fastpitch Championships, but not without some controversy and opposition from Softball Canada.
“I brought in a bunch of Ontario players at the Canadian championships and we won silver,” explained Arcand. “The rulebook said okay, but we had to take Softball Canada to court.”
Arcand had just been a Softball Canada representative with Canada at the Pan Am Games when they won gold. He had recruited some of the players off that team to play for the Yukon on the men’s fastpitch team at the national championships.
“Because of that, I wasn’t the favourite son for obvious reasons,” Arcand said with a laugh. “It took about ten years before they’d talk to me again.”
Those facilities, teams and tournaments are all part of Arcand’s legacy, along with all the others who he credits for having helped along the way. So this Dustball, on July 12–15, while you’re sitting on the grandstand, enjoying a game over a beer and hotdog, take a moment to appreciate all the hard work and stories behind that moment. The thriving Yukon softball community has many trailblazers who have created the opportunities Yukoners enjoy today, foremost among them George Arcand.
For more information on Dustball or Softball Yukon, visit their website, http://softballyukon.com/.