Sports preview: what’s to come in 2019
- NC Raine | January 30, 2019
The year looks bright for Indigenous athletes and youth in Saskatchewan.
Many of the province’s top athletes and coaches will spend the year focusing on training for the upcoming North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), taking place in Halifax in 2020. Saskatchewan has a storied history with NAIG, finishing as overall champions in six of the ten editions of the games, and claiming the most overall medals, with almost 1900 total.
“We are pushing to be overall champions again,” said Mike Tanton, Chef de Mission of NAIG Team Saskatchewan. “We’ve been overall champions multiple times in the past, and second in the last couple games.”
“So, this year, we have a head start. We’re giving our coaches and coordinators a bit more time to select their teams to give them more practice time, which hopefully translates into us winning gold,” said Tanton.
That push to gold is well underway, with coordinators already selected for all sixteen sports. The steering committee is now in the process of selecting coaches, and hopes to have all teams assembled and training camps under way by this fall.
Once athletes are selected, Team Saskatchewan will partner with the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) to provide athletes with elite training.
“We’ll be providing hands on training for our athletes, working with the university coaches to do on field or on court training in order to give them a bit of an inside edge. They’ll also be working with (U of S) Huskies teams, functioning as role models. A combination of coaching and mentoring them to push them a bit,” said Tanton.
In order to ensure the attending the games comes at little cost to the 500 athletes, coaches, and managers attending the games, Team Saskatchewan has a $1.7 million fundraising goal. But the goals, said Tanton, go beyond just sport.
“The biggest goal is to see a number of the athletes that participate in the games go on to university as student-athletes. That’s the gold medal right there. More athletes getting into the educational system, that’s an overall win for our communities,” said Tanton.
At the community level, young people are also finding increased opportunities to participate in sports. File Hills Qu’Appelle (FHQ) Tribal Council is launching this fall the first high school youth basketball league in the Prairie Valley School District.
“A lot of students in this area don’t get a lot of games or tournaments – maybe one a week. So, we came up with the idea of going off the (Blue Jays) Rookie League format to encourage more community involvement,” said Tara Griffith, Sports and Recreation Coordinator for FHQ, who said the eight-team league will begin in February.
FHQ will also be participating this April for the second year of the Blue Jays Care Foundation Rookie League – a baseball league designed to provide underserved communities with the chance to learn skills, plays sports, and engage with role models.
“It’s exciting, because we’re looking to make it bigger and better this year, with a longer season and more people involved,” said Griffith. “A lot of kids who weren’t in the rookie league last year heard about it and now want to play, so we’ll probably have 100 more kids this year.”
“Seeing the impact it had on them (last year) was amazing. For some, they were really brought out of their shell. For others, it was really special to be able to play in front of their families,” said Griffith.
Griffith also plans to create a winter ski and snowboard program for youth, many whom do not have the opportunity to experience these types of activities. But Griffith says these sports programs aren’t about competition, it’s about enriching the lives of young people.
“It covers the whole medicine wheel – the physical, the emotion, and the spiritual,” said Griffith. “The connection to mother earth and helping these kids understand where they come from. In the long run it’s creating confidence in them that they might not have had before.”
Tanton and Team Saskatchewan also echo this approach to nourishing potential of sports. He said they are trying to use NAIG 2020 as a platform to build capacity to help teach and develop young minds, as well as repair the past.
“It speaks to the health of the community when you can see young people engaged in sport and in school,” said Tanton. “The more opportunities for our young people, the sooner we’ll get around to breaking the cycle of what happened in residential schools and the sixties scoop. We have to find ways to break those cycles and lift young people up to these positive environments.”