North Okanagan athletes stoked for Games

North Okanagan athletes stoked for Games

Softball and soccer players in New Zealand for World Masters Games

Rich Haldane has a real live right arm that takes him to places all over the planet.

The fun-seeking Vernon sales rep is in Auckland, New Zealand this time as the starting pitcher for the Diamond Kings of Grimsby, Ont.

They begin 45+ fastball play Saturday in the Barfoot &Thompson World Masters Games, a 10-day festival featuring 28 sports and 48 venues in a gorgeous city anchored by hundreds of spectacular beaches and sparkling harbours.

Haldane was named MVP for leading the Kamloops Sandman Inn Blazers to the 2009 Western Canadian Masters Men’s Fastball Championship title, and has hurled for Great Britain at multiple world tournaments. He has been picked up by teams in New York and California for big money tournaments.

In New Zealand, he will be playing for pride and a chance at a medal in the eight-team division.

“We should be considered a top-four team; obviously the goal is to win,” said Haldane. “We have two of us from B.C., one from New Zealand, three from Australia, one from the U.S. and the rest from Ontario. PK Pride from New Zealand will be strong with a lot of ex-national team members. We are an all-round strong team with hitting and pitching but are in our off season, all of the New Zealand and Australia teams are in game shape and at the end of their regular season.”

Haldane and his wife, Deb, have already toured much of Auckland with Rich coming very close to tracking down the elusive Kiwi Bird.

He will face some good buddies and former teammates Sunday when the Diamond Kings battle Highroad Construction/Rossinis Canada. That entry includes Keith Green, Murray Caton, Jason Eckert (formerly of Armstrong, now living in East Vancouver), Darren Fidler and the “ageless wonder,” Dale Ortman, who is pitching great after taking of 15 plus years off.

Vernon’s Barry Lachuk is an assistant coach with Highroad, which will use Green at shortstop and catcher, Caton in the infield and Fidler and Eckert in the outfield. Scott Austin of Kamloops joins Ortman on the hill.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun playing against one of our best friends and ex-teammate Rich Haldane,” said Caton, employed by Tolko. “Ortman came out of retirement for this one. He was one of the best pitchers in Western Canada in his heyday with Alberta Brake and Clutch in senior A. Big thanks to our sponsor Bill Dewitt out of Vancouver.”

Caton, who backstopped the Vernon Lakers to back-to-back Centennial Cups in 1990-91, is enjoying the weather and general atmosphere.

“It’s warm fall time with temperatures in the 20s and humid,” he said. “The people here are great; very friendly to Canadians.”

Added the joking Haldane: “This is my first Masters Games experience and we have made it into a holiday. Jimmy Sparrow has played in the last 10 hasn’t he?”

This is actually Sparrow’s third World Masters, this time with the Okanagan Kickers in 50+ soccer. The ultra-talented midfielder helped Vernon bag bronze at the 2005 Games in Edmonton, their only loss a 6-1 setback to Ukraine. The longtime Vernon electrical contractor was with the Okanagan Ogopogos at the 2013 Games in Italy, where the Pogos lost to Vancouver in the bronze-medal match.

“I still enjoy the sport and I enjoy the travelling and meeting new people,” said Sparrow, who just turned 60. “We trained on our own and played on a Kelowna 45s team to prepare for New Zealand. We’ll be playing six games in eight days so we have 20 guys and we have no weak links. We have lots of depth. We’re a pretty good ball possession team. The games are on turf so the ball moves faster; if the ball gets by you, you can’t catch up to it.”

Ron Krause of Vernon, who works for Wayside Press, is using the Games for a couple of different reasons.

“I first heard about the World Masters in 2004 when a group of Vernon guys made plans to go to Edmonton,” said Krause, a longtime all-star Vernon Camels oldtimer central fullback. “I heard about their experience and every World Masters Games after that. I’m looking to have the same fun and competition from other athletes around the world as well as making friends worldwide. I’m especially looking forward to the opening ceremonies (Friday at Eden Park) as there are just under 26,000 athletes registered for this event. This makes it even bigger than the Olympics.

“Having it in New Zealand has the added bonus of being able to see my daughter Lindsey, who has been travelling all over Asia since June, 2014. She currently is working in New Zealand and will be with my wife, Laurie, and I for the whole competition.”

The Kickers go up against the Islanders of Canada in their Saturday opener and then tangle with Cosmos Wanganui of New Zealand on Sunday. Steve Coombs, Erv Schuur and Dave Hampton, all veterans of Vernon oldtimers soccer, are also on the Kicker roster. Kelowna players make up the bulk of the team. Hampton and Sparrow were teammates in Italy.

Kerry Zubot, who also played alongside Sparrow in Italy, is joined in Auckland by fellow Vernon 45+ players Parm Kler and Brad Conlin. Their roster is padded with several New Zealanders.

Andrea Zubot is playing for Calgary’s Canadian Ice.

Vernon Morning Star

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