Playing softball, having fun, not dealing with blood-sucking insects.
These are among the reasons Wes Whitely of Fort St. James, 100 minutes west of Prince George, and his Cowboys and Indians teammates return to the 31st annual Funtastic Slo-Pitch Tournament and Music Festival in Vernon year after year.
The 2015 tournament, which begins today, will be Whitely’s 20th.
“We keep coming back to Funtastic to see old friends,” said Whitely, 53, a security/watchman for a Fort St. James mill.
Cowboys and Indians is made up of aboriginal and non-aboriginal players from the Fort, Prince George, Burns Lake, Vernon, Kamloops and even the Nisga’a village of Gingolx.
“We first came down to be part of the biggest slo-pitch tournament in B.C.,” said Whitely, who is joined on the squad by his wife, Anna.
“A few of our players had never ventured past Prince George before.”
At one point, Whitely’s team went through a Funtastic slump. Like not winning a game for about, oh, seven years straight.
Some of that was having the fun-loving squad playing against more competitive teams.
“We did have some lean years,” laughed Whitely. “But we come back to enjoy the weather, listen to the bands, have a few socials in the beer garden and not be bothered by mosquitoes.”
The weather, the bands and, of course, the softball will all be featured prominently this weekend.
Though the actual festival begins today, set-up at the Vernon Army Camp has been going on throughout the week.
“Things are going great,” said Funtastic executive director Wee Yee Wednesday morning. “The tents are up, the trailers are in place and we’re putting up the stage tomorrow.”
Team registrations in Vernon begin today at noon and the Okanagan Spring beverage gardens open at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the music festival, said Yee, have been brisk and steady. Taking the main stage at the army camp tonight are local bands The Goods (7 p.m.) and Hog Wild (8:45 p.m.), prior to the main act, Bif Naked, at 10:30 p.m.
Tribute bands hit the stage Saturday starting with Legzz (ZZ Top) at 7 p.m., Night Train (Guns and Roses) at 8:45 p.m. and BC/DC (AC/DC) at 10:30 p.m.
Wrapping up the music Sunday are local bands The Dirt (6:30 p.m.), Shawn Lightfoot Band (7:30 p.m.), The Young-Uns at 8:45 p.m. and Sunday’s main event, Moist, at 10:30 p.m.
The weather is scheduled to be in the mid-to-high 30s throughout the weekend, and Funtastic organizers are prepared.
“We have installed a misting station near the beverage gardens so people can be sprayed with water and stay cool, and sponsor Money Mart will be handing out ice cold bottles of water Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” said Yee. “The weather, of course, brings concerns about people getting heat stroke.”
Funtastic is also held in Armstrong and Enderby. Play in both communities, like Vernon, begins this evening and wraps up Monday.
Armstrong is celebrating its 26th year as part of Funtastic, and it’s the 17th year for Enderby’s involvement.
There are 32 teams competing in each city.
In each city, there will be an increased police presence to make sure everybody has a fun and safe weekend.
“We will have a team of officers assigned to Funtastic as this is an event where a great number of people come in,” said Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk.
“Our focus is on making sure everyone is safe and has a good time so we’ll have extra officers and auxiliary constables to help out.”