KENTVILLE, N.S. - Jenna Jackson’s bronze-medal win with Team Nova Scotia’s U-21 women’s team has been a long time coming.
Developing into a player capable of helping a provincial squad finish in the top three at nationals isn’t something that happened overnight. The local athlete’s success at the high-level competition hosted in Stonewall, Manitoba this summer has a lot to do with her roots here at home.
The 21-year-old catcher first began playing minor baseball at the age of five, starting out on the boys’ team.
At only 11 years old, she made the cut for the provincial girls’ 16 and under team but continued to also play on the boys’ team until she was about 15 and decided to fully commit to the girls’ team.
Jackson says she decided to continue playing on the boys’ team for so long because of how naturally accepted she felt as a member of the team.
“I never really experienced any sort of discrimination growing up through the Kentville program in baseball,” says Jackson.
“All of the boys and coaches were really welcoming, and I just really felt like I was allowed to be there, and I never wanted to quit. It was a lot of fun, so I stuck with it.”
Reflecting on her experience playing with, and against, boys and men in baseball, she said she feels there can be definite benefits for girls who get the opportunity to do the same.
“I think it’s great to compete with, and against, men and boys. I think being with the boys made me feel like I was able to fit in and play ball, and then when I got onto the girls’ team we competed in regular season against boys and men before we’d go to the national competition and I feel like competing against men who are typically stronger, physically, it did help us improve our game,” says Jackson.
“But I also believe that girls’ baseball is really growing within Nova Scotia and I think it’s great for girls to be able to experience what it’s like to play with girls, so my hope is that in the future… there’s not just one girl on boys’ teams, but that they’re kind of becoming mixed teams.”
A player and coach
In early July, 130 girls between the ages of four to 12 signed up to compete in the new all girls’ baseball league in Nova Scotia — Nova Scotia Girls League.
As an advocate for girls’ baseball, Jackson says she’s happy to hear that the sport is growing in popularity among young girls in the province. However, she feels that there can still be some positive impacts for those girls who still choose to play ball on the boys’ teams.
“We can see that girls really do want to try baseball and I think allowing them to realize that they have the skills to be able to compete with boys can also really boost their confidence in a way,” says Jackson.
When asked to compare her personal experience of playing on teams with girls and boys, Jackson says that while it’s hard to compare, she’s personally found the girls’ team to be more supportive.
“I think that where I stopped at such a young age playing with boys, it’s kind of hard to compare,” she says.
“But ever since playing with the girls’ team and being involved with that program I found that the mentality that the girls’ teams carry is a lot more supportive and uplifting than I’ve experienced playing on the boys’ teams.”
From a coaching perspective, Jackson says she’s found girls to be more coachable for her.
“I really think I like the heart and soul that girls put into the game, that’s probably the biggest thing, not that the boys didn’t have it, but it was just kind of a different atmosphere,” says Jackson.
This is Jackson’s third year involved with coaching minor baseball in Nova Scotia — the 14 and under girls’ program.
Jackson says that, now that she’s 21 and too old to continue with the 21 and under provincial team, getting to coach is “just a whole other bag, and it’s just a great experience.”
“I love seeing a girl being able to learn and to build their confidence, just little things especially where we’re working with a team that’s more developmental in nature, it’s really exciting to see these girls learn that they can do things,” says Jackson.
“Like, for example, one of the girls on our team, she found out that she was a lefty hitter instead of a righty hitter and just seeing her just get so much more excited when she goes up to the plate and is able to make better connection with her bat, it’s just very rewarding.”
Passion for the game
It’s an unwavering love of the game that’s kept Jackson with the sport for the last 16 years.
“I think I’m really passionate about baseball because I love being part of a team and I love seeing a group of girls come together and find success,” she says.
“Even if we don’t win a game, just seeing these little successes for our province, for women in sport, I’ve really enjoyed being able to witness the growth of the sport within the province and see girls being able to reach their potential.”
Jackson has competed in the U-21 Women’s National Championship since it was first started three years ago and says that, while she’s sad to be too old to continue, the experience has been exceptional.
“Being able to be a part of the teams that have won bronze at the national level has been probably my biggest accomplishment, but also a huge accomplishment for the province,” says Jackson.
“When I first started out with this program, Nova Scotia was kind of seen as not a competitor. We’d never placed, we’d never really dreamed of getting a medal, just getting a single win at nationals was a big deal, so being able to go to these competitions and beat huge provinces like Ontario and Quebec, and provinces that consistently medal every year, it’s pretty exciting.”
Jackson is in her fourth year studying business at Acadia University. While she is having less and less time for baseball, she says she’s grateful for having had the opportunity to take part in girls’ provincial baseball for a decade.
“I’ve been super lucky to have been involved in this program for the past 10 years and I’m so grateful for the group of girls that we had at nationals this year,” she says.
“It’s just great competition, and I’m sad it’s over.”