CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – August 2022
“For me, I have come a long way, learned so much and remain grateful for the opportunities and support. Now, my goal is to help young people on the Reserve learn the sport – and grow with it like I did.”
By David Grossman
There came a time in his life when Al Staats chose to become a leader.
For him, as a youngster there had been periods of instability, boredom, and uncertainty. Growing up in the Brantford area, home for him was Ohsweken as a member of the Mohawk Nation of The Six Nations Territory of the Grand River.
It was in his teenage years that he found himself scoring better marks at the local billiards hall instead of focussing on his academic studies.
No matter how much effort he put in, mustering patience, and hearing his father plead to return to school, he packed in his academic studies, not finishing grade 10.
Maybe, somewhere, there was a lack of enthusiasm and guidance. The direction and advice could have been missing. Hanging out with the wrong crowd also didn’t help.
“I got fed up (with school) and went my own way,” he recalled. “I became one of the better pool players in the area and really enjoyed the game. Eventually, I realized that I needed to live and that required money and a job.”
Sweeping floors was followed by a factory job, then hanging chickens in a poultry store, working in cast iron and brass,” said Staats. “Wherever I could make some money, I did my best and it was a struggle at times.”
All along, and getting on in years, what Staats didn’t realize was that he had lots of potential. Ironically, he possessed a gift of encouraging others to do their best.
Staats enjoyed watching his father and brother play fastball at Lions Park in Brantford. He would stroll down to the field, curious and tempted by the game strategy and action. It wasn’t long before he got the urge to try out. Things went sour when Staats got cut from the squad in the Brantford Industrial League.
“I remember that well and knew I just had to improve, get in better physical shape, practise, spend hours learning and building confidence,” he said. “I started to love the game and went on to play on a men’s league team on the Six Nations Reserve.”
He played on teams from surrounding towns, but never entered any competitions at a Provincial or Canadian level. In his mid-20s, Staats moved to nearby Brantford and played in several men’s leagues.
It wasn’t until around his 25th birthday that Staats was able to compete in the Inter-City Senior Men’s Fastball League with the Mount Hope A’s. The competition got tougher playing against top ranked teams and players.
“Softball was big in the area back then and I was determined to become one of the best players,” he said. “It was also tougher trying to make the team because guys were older, and I was the kid. I realized that maybe youth and success would be good for me.”
Turned out, Staats was right. He went on to become a centrefielder and one of the better players on the Legionnaires team in Brantford. Focussed and building on prosperity, rewards would follow. Staats would not only be on a team that won a silver medal at the Ontario Amateur Softball Association competition, but his appreciation for the sport grew immensely.
“I not only got hooked on the sport, but my attitude improved, my performance was better, and I had a whole new view of the game and the person that I had become,” said Staats, who was picked up by Canadian teams for World tournaments.
Highlights included winning an Ontario A championship followed by a gold medal in 1989 at the Canadian Senior Men’s Nationals in Owen Sound. Staats played for Team Canada in Argentina at the Pan Am Qualifier and, maybe one of his biggest thrills, was defeating the United States in the gold medal game. Also big in his memory, the silver medal won at the 1991 International Softball Congress tournament in Sioux City, Iowa
“For a guy who had never travelled far from home, didn’t have a driver’s license or been on a plane, these accomplishments were very, very special to me,” he said.
Now riding the thrills of a rollercoaster, the inquisitiveness of Staats took over. At age 33, bold and anxious for growth, he wanted to try his influence at coaching. His sons were playing and, well, time to coach them. His dream was for them to experience the joy that he had been given.
“Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue at what I was doing at the time,” chuckled Staats, during our telephone conversation. “It was house league, but what I did realize was that it was time to learn how to be a better coach.”
Building on accreditation with the National Coaching Certification Program, he has taken courses in Cambridge, Hamilton, and Toronto. He’s hoping to have Level 3 done by later this summer.
Staats would later apply to the Coaches Association of Ontario for consideration in a special Aboriginal Apprenticeship Program – one that was sponsored by the Coaching Association of Canada.
Staats was on a roll and eventually formed an all-star team, consisting of Indigenous and non-Indigenous players, that competed in a variety of tournaments. He quickly realized that there was
an abundance of talent on the Six Nations Reserve, but what was lacking was sound coaching, knowledge, and an emphasis on encouraging young players to grow with the sport.
“There should be more Indigenous coaches in all sports,” he said. “The time is long overdue, there is an opportunity to work at getting young people active and others coaching. People shouldn’t expect things to be handed to them. Take it from me, I learned the hard way.”
Next up, Staats was chosen coach of Team Ontario’s under-22 squad that will compete this summer at the Canada Games in the Niagara area.
“Embrace the experience and I will tell the players that this may be the only time that they get a chance to be in something like this – and to go out and enjoy it,” he said. “For me, I have come a long way, learned so much and remain grateful for the opportunities and support. Now, my goal is to help young people on the Reserve learn the sport – and grow with it like I did.”
“Embrace the experience and I will tell the players that this may be the only time that they get a chance to be in something like this – and to go out and enjoy it.“
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
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