Métis athletes from northern Alberta win back-to-back matches at province's Indigenous Games

métis athletes from northern alberta win back-to-back matches at province's indigenous games

Basketball and volleyball athletes from the Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement say they’re excited to learn new sports and represent their rural community at the Alberta Indigenous Games.

A Métis team based near High Level, Alta., won back-to-back volleyball matches at the Alberta Indigenous Games on Wednesday, after going through remote training with the help of 40 student volunteers from the University of Alberta.

“This is basically everyone on our team’s first time playing volleyball or being on an actual sports team,” said Jay Laboucane, the team captain of Paddle Prairie Métis Settlement.

Professor Tracy Whatmore and her students earned enough grant money to support and train 54 Indigenous athletes, through the iHub Initiative by Cooperative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada.

With just over $24,000 from the grants, 40 student volunteers from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation organized all the accommodations for two Métis teams to spend a week competing in Edmonton.

Before this, athletes from Paddle Prairie and Gift Lake Métis Settlements never had a chance to go to the Alberta Indigenous Games.

In Paddle Prairie, 15-year-old Jace doesn’t get to practice volleyball on an indoor court, even though he’s been playing for almost four years now.

At the Games though, he’s been able to access many of Edmonton’s indoor facilities for the first time in his career as a multi-sport athlete.

With these new resources and extra training support from university volunteers, Jace and his team went undefeated in every game they played before noon on Wednesday.

“I was kind of expecting to lose all our games, but we won all of them and I’m hoping it’s like that for time to come,” Jace said.

Most of Jace’s teammates never got the chance to play sports at home. He explained that training for the Alberta Indigenous Games opened up new opportunities for making friends and staying active this summer.

Jace’s mom Kayla Laboucane helps coach the team of 11 young athletes.

“When we first came, they were so nervous,” she said.

“Their confidence just went up because they started playing as a team, cheering each other on and they became really, really good.”

Kayla added that many of the young players haven’t left Paddle Prairie in the past two or three years.

Being able to travel all the way to Edmonton, about an eight-hour drive, is a very eye-opening experience that can expose these highschoolers to college and university recruiters, according to Kayla.

“They’re already making plans for when we come next year and how that’s going to look,” she said.

“It’s OK if we lose. We’re here to have fun. We’re here to play. It’s just for the experience and the opportunity.”

For 14-year-old athlete Deacon Clarke, competing at the Alberta Indigenous Games meant having to learn volleyball from scratch.

“It was a little bit tricky, but I got used to it pretty fast,” Clarke said about the training experience.

Since he’s known many of his teammates from Paddle Prairie for nearly a decade, he said taking on the challenge of learning a brand new sport was thrilling.

“It gets pretty hype at the end of the game, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

The Alberta Indigenous Games will wrap up with a closing ceremony at 6 p.m. on Friday in Rundle Park.

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