The Northwest Territories certainly sent a winning team to the North American Indigenous Games last week, including more than 20 athletes from Hay River.
The team finished in fifth place out of 20 overall with a total of 46 medals – seven of them gold. Hay River athletes contributed with wins in athletics and riflery, and were integral parts of winning teams.
But even for those who didn’t take home a medal the week in Regina – competing against aboriginal athletes from all over the continent – was a success.
“It was really good,” said Jaden Smith, who played on the U16 softball team. “Everyone was really enthusiastic.”
Smith said the opening ceremonies were one of the highlights of the games for him and he was impressed by the team spirit exhibited by all participants throughout the week.
“We went to watch a volleyball game against New Brunswick,” he said. “And the crowd was really half-and-half, and everyone was cheering for their team and it was really cool to be a part of that.”
The softball team did not win any of their three official games, but coach Floyd Roland said they had gained a lot of mileage both as players and a unit, and as of late last week, added a few exhibition games against other Canadian teams to their games lineup.
“For a lot of them, this was the first time they played ball in a competition,” he said, explaining the first game – in which they lost 12-3 to New Brunswick – was all about getting over their nerves. “It was their first game together ever and they were on TV and they were all a bit nervous, but it prepared them for the next games.”
The team then lost 9-5 to Ontario, and then 16-7 to Saskatchewan. Roland said the last game was an early morning event and he suspects his players were half-asleep in the first inning.
“If they could have played like they did in the last inning through the whole thing, it would have been a different story,” he said.
The exhibition games, one against the U19 from Yukon, were meant to give the players more time on the field against teams from other places, said Roland.
“We’ve got to try to give them as much experience as we can, as much help as we can,” said Roland.
For many of the athletes from Hay River, last week was the first time they got to be a part of team NWT, representing their home territory at an international event. But for some at least, the experience has lit the fire in their bellies to push for more opportunities.
“I think I’m going to go out for more things now, like the Arctic Winter Games, Canada Summer Games and the Western Canada Games,” said Smith. “It’s all been pretty great.”
— Sarah Ladik