Dio Gama on the field at Lionel Courchene Park in Surrey on Wednesday morning (Aug. 15). (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Ottawa intervenes to get B.C. ball player, 13, to Little League World Series

Before immigration issue was resolved, Dio Gama was out practicing the game he loves Wednesday

Thirteen-year-old Dio Gama will get to play baseball in the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania after all.

Gama’s team, the Whalley Major Allstars from Surrey, B.C., had thought they would be without the young outfielder after a federal judge ordered a review of the family’s immigration case last month.

There were fears Gama would be blocked from re-entering Canada if he travelled to the U.S. for the tournament without status in Canada.

But the federal Immigration Department will issue Gama a temporary resident permit in order to allow him to accompany his team to the Little League World Series, The Canadian Press has learned.

The temporary permit is the result of an intervention by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. A senior Immigration official says the $200 application fee for the permit will also be waived.

Whalley Little League president Gavin Burke said Wednesday night that when he told Dio’s father, Noe, the news on the phone he said his son was “over the moon.”

“His dad described that he was in the background when we told him, and he was just screaming with joy,” said Burke.

Burke said he and his wife are going to take a red-eye flight to Toronto on Thursday night and then will drive down to Williamsport, Penn. He said they should be there by midday Friday, in time for the Canadian team’s first game against Panama at 6 p.m.

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On Wednesday morning, Gama was out playing baseball — just not in the place he most wants to be right now.

Dressed in full baseball gear, including a shirt proclaiming Whalley’s recent Canadian Little League Championship, he caught fly balls hit by his father, Noe, and crushed pitches thrown by one of his younger brothers at Lionel Courchene Park, near the Gama family’s home, in the Johnston Heights area of Surrey.

No question, Dio would rather be in Williamsport enjoying the Little League World Series experience with his 12 teammates.

At the moment, however, he’s the unlucky 13th player on the roster of young Surrey-area athletes, because on Sunday Dio wasn’t able to make the eight-hour bus trip to Pennsylvania from Mirabel, Quebec, where the Whalley squad went undefeated in eight games to win the national title Saturday.

Instead, he and his father flew home after celebrating the victory.

• READ MORE: Down a man, Whalley wants to win in Williamsport.

Dio, whose full name is Dioscoro, is prevented from going to the Little League World Series because of immigration issues that involve his father’s troubled past, although Noe doesn’t want to talk publicly about that in detail.

“I made a mistake when I was young, and I take the responsibility,” said Noe, originally from Mexico.

A lawyer has told the family that if Dio crossed the border into the U.S., he may not be allowed back into Canada.

Dio was born 13 years ago in Las Vegas, and is an American citizen, his father said.

The family came to Canada a decade ago as refugees seeking citizenship, he said.

“We’ve been waiting for that for 10 years,” Noe said Wednesday.

“We are hoping he can still go (to Williamsport), and we talked to the MP here and they say they’re willing to help us, to try to get a permit for Dio to play his favourite sport, to finish the World Series and come back,” he added. “We have been trying very hard for that, and I hope they see it. It’s only for the kid, only for the boy.”

Dio said winning the national championship in Quebec was “a good feeling, probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

“It’s pretty awesome winning the championship and going to the World Series, which is what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go…” he added, his voice trailing off.

Dio has been playing baseball for three years, and practices the game with his father and brothers every chance he gets. Not surprisingly, he wants to play pro one day, after attending university.

“Every day we’re out here, and they want to be at the park,” Noe said of his three eldest sons. “The kids are here and they practice, that’s what we do. You can see it, the passion. I have to keep them on fire.”

Early this year, Dio told his father he wanted to for play for Whalley this spring, for a chance to go the Little League World Series.

“He decided that, to switch (from a Surrey Canadians team), and we talked to Whalley and, after the tryouts, they accepted him,” Noe explained.

Playing as Team Canada now, Whalley’s first game in Williamsport is Friday (Aug. 17) starting at 3 p.m. PDT against Latin America, represented by a squad from Arraijan, Panama.

As of Wednesday, the Gama family, Whalley league officials and supporters were hopeful Dio could still join the team at the big event, even as the clock ticked toward their opening game at the tournament.

“We are saying, just let him play,” Mark Deshane, a vice-president of Whalley Little League, told the Now-Leader. “The kid is qualified and certified under Little League for his play — he’s been here more than two years, so he gets to play, but if it wasn’t for this strange catch in our immigration situation, he would be at the World Series.

“So we’re just saying let the boy play, put everything else aside. Whatever happens with his immigration, maybe eventually he’s going to have to go back to the United States and his family will have to go back to Mexico, who knows. But if they decide to split the family up, that would be horrible, obviously, but that may be where they’re going. But in the meantime, he’s got a dream and we want to help him play, so we’re putting out that message.”

Noe said the family hopes everything will soon be resolved, and that Dio is “ready to go.

“It’s a dream for each boy, you know what I mean? We can send him even with the president of Whalley. I talked to him and he says if he’s going, he’s gonna take Dio with him.

“Whatever I did in the past is different, and now it’s about the kids. That’s the way I see it,” he added. “I hope it gets solved in a good way, otherwise my son, he says it. It’s going to hurt, hurt a lot, and one day, I don’t know if he’s going to go. You can see, he wants to cry. He’s so sad.

“Yesterday, after I told him I’m sorry, because I know it’s my fault, he looked at me and said, ‘Dad, you told me, and you told me the truth about what could happen, and just to let you know, I’m proud that you’re my dad.’ When he told me that, I feel good, you know, because I never lied to him about this.”

With files from The Canadian Press.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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Dio Gama (right) with his father, Noe, at Lionel Courchene Park in Surrey on Wednesday morning (Aug. 15). (Photo: Tom Zillich)

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