Though she played softball at the elite level for more than a decade, won two national softball championships and wore Canada’s colours at the Olympics, it’s easy for catcher Juanita Clayton to pick out a special memory.
“I played ball with my older brothers from the time I could walk, that’s what really got me started and gave me such a deep love of the game,” said Clayton, 39, who had gone on to play with Smitty’s - the most prolific women’s softball organization in Manitoba, where she backstopped the senior women’s team to five national medals. “Some of the real highlights for me were winning the first national championship with Smitty’s in1995, and representing Canada in the Olympics.”
Clayton began playing organized softball at age eight in her home town of Kaleida (a hamlet south of Manitou) and completed her career behind home plate as the catcher for Canada’s first Olympic softball team in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia.
At age 12, Clayton caught for the Darlingford Demons women’s softball team and went on to play for the Morden Fighting Saints and Sanford Classics. She first played for Smitty’s as a pick-up player for nationals in 1987 and spent every summer after that with the team for the next nine years. She played four years at the university level with Utah State Aggies (1987-1991), where she earned her degree in social work and is fourth in walks on the Aggies’ all-time list.
Clayton caught for Smitty’s where she was a member of two of the three-straight gold medallist squads at the Canadian Senior A Women’s Fastpitch Championship in 1995 and 1996, and also won two national bronze medals (1991 and 1993) and a silver (1994). Her career culminated with her selection to Canada’s Olympic women’s softball team which represented Canada at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, which she said was the single greatest experience of her sports career.
“Playing in the Olympics and being part of the opening ceremonies was just an incredible rush,” Clayton said. “Playing in our game against Chinese Taipei was pretty exciting. There was a big throw to the plate in the 10th inning and she was a pretty big girl coming in, but I hung on to the ball (and got the out)! That was kind of a highlight too!” Solid people often come from a solid environment, and so it was for Clayton while growing up, the youngest of five children, as she only had to look around her kitchen for a role model.
“My oldest brother Wilf, he was a catcher, he wore No. 13, he was at home longer than the other two brothers, and he did tons with me. He was my hero, my idol. He’s almost 14 years older than me but I wanted to do everything that he did. I wore No. 13, I became a catcher.”
Clayton has two other careers, one in the field of social work and the other in the area of music. She is an accomplished musician, vocalist and yodeling artist who has made four CDs. She and her 79-year-old father, “Yodelin’ Stew from Manitou”, are a well-known yodeling duo in Manitoba, who performed most recently at the Calgary Stampede in the summer of 2007.