Team BC quickly earned the badge of “team to beat” at the 2014 North American Indigenous Games in Regina last week.
But they rarely were defeated, and have come home as champions of the games. In total, B.C.’s athletes won a total of 160 medals in 13 sports. In doing so, they made history as the first team to win both the Overall Team Title and the John Fletcher Spirit Award.
And some of those medals are now in the Agassiz area, where a number of athletes call home. Local competitors and coaches included Brylee James (soccer), Nashon Douglas (swimming), Devin Paul (canoe/kayak), Joyce Leppington (coach), Jake Firlotte (track), and countless others.
EJ Link is a former AESS Chieftain who wore the Team BC jersey last week, as part of the winningest team on the basketball court. The U19 Boys seemed unstoppable right from the start, with an 82-26 win over Florida.
Then came the 100-39 win over Nunavut. On paper, it sounds like a slaughter. But Link said it was just a fun game full of good sportsmanship.
“Nunavut was the most fun game we played,” Link said. “They were great sports, definitely. And they could work a lot harder and be a great team in the future.”
Next, they overtook New Brunswick with a score of 78-26, putting them into the semi-finals where they would face Alberta.
“I got nervous around Alberta,” Link said. “Alberta and Wisconson both had height.”
That was something that was lacking in their former competitors. Still, by then everyone was rooting for Team BC, and the University of Regina was filled to the rafters with hollering fans — and fans of the other teams.
“It was so energetic. Just that atmosphere, playing in a university-sized gym just packed with people,” Link said. There were cheering battles, and in the end, Team BC earned a 65-45 victory over Alberta.
The most nail biting game was the finals, against Wisconsin. But even then, they only one moment they were trailing a bit. When the final buzzer went off, the crowd erupted and rushed onto the court, helping the boys celebrate a 88-71 win — and a five game winning streak.
Among those fans was Link’s own father, who was able to travel to Regina to cheer his son on through every game. Knowing his dad was in the crowds kept Link calm and focused, he said. But there was support everywhere he turned.
“Everyone referred to us as leaders of the game,” Link said. He said the team hit it off immediately, in practices prior to leaving for Regina. Training included a lot of heavy cardio, and that paid off in dividends on the court as they leapt past opposing players.
Now that the games are over, Link is hoping to make a difference in the lives of other players by becoming a coach or manager. He’s proud to have been a part of an event that can help change attitudes far and wide.
“This helps break the stereotype of FIrst Nations across the continent,” he said.
And he has a message for young athletes:
“If you stick to what you believe you can practically do anything you want,” he said. “Our head organizer is going to the Pan American Games and the Olympics in 2016 in Rio.
I want to be in his shoes.”
As a second year student at UBC Okanagan (he’s just declared his major in microbiology) Link is considering a more serious return to the court. He’s looking forward to when some of his younger teammates arrive at UBC in the coming years.
“I’ll be seeing some of them again, I’m sure,” he said.