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Agassiz athletes help Team BC capture gold medals

In Toronto for 2017 North American Indigenous Games
Local athletes and coaches were involved with three of the gold medal-winning soccer teams at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games.

By Barry Stewart, Agassiz-Harrison Observer

Team BC captured four gold medals in soccer at Toronto’s 2017 North American Indigenous Games, July 16 to 23 – and local athletes and coaches were involved with three of the teams.

The U-19 boys team included Mackenzie Peters, Dredan Naistus and Thomas Andrew – all of Seabird Island First Nation – and Keigan Charlie of Sts’ailes First Nation. The squad was co-coached by Kelsey Charlie Junior and Senior of Sts’ailes.

Chelsea Charlie and Cheryl Charlie (both from Sts’ailes) coached and managed the U-19 girls to gold, with Seabird’s Amber Charlie being their only locally based player.

Seabird’s Rachael Charlie, Eva Solomon of Sts’ailes and Diamond Gutierrez of Chawathil First Nation were on the U-16 girls team.

“These girls were on the Fraser team in the provincial tournament in Prince George last year,” said U-16 girls manager Sally Hope, of Seabird. “They have had to attend practices held in the Lower Mainland since then and they participated in team fundraisers, also held in the Lower Mainland. They truly are role models and have made their families so proud.

“All four teams fully supported each other. They attended each others’ games and cheered each other on. It was an amazing experience and the fact that B.C. dominated soccer was so exciting.”

Interviewed last Friday, Rachael said there were seven teams in her event: B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New York and Eastern Door (Quebec).

“We won all five of our games,” said Rachael, who played left defence. “Probably Manitoba was the toughest, in the semifinals. In the first half, they were winning 1-0 but in the second half we won it 3-1.”

Mackenzie Peters said the U-19 boys team was mainly drawn from the Fraser Valley, with three players coming from Vancouver Island. They had six teams in their division.

“We won all four of our games,” he said. B.C. was unbeatable in soccer at the NAIG – and Team BC brought home the overall win, with 67 golds and 179 total medals.

“We played all of our games in Hamilton,” said Peters, who played left wing. “The semis were pretty close, against Manitoba, then the finals against Saskatchewan went to overtime. I had two chances in that game, before overtime – one miss and one that was saved.”

Thomas Andrew, going into Grade 12 at AESS this fall, played as striker on the team.

“I had one assist, against the Yukon,” he recalled. “I didn’t really get to shoot against Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as their defences were pretty good.

“The weather was very hot and humid, I thought,” Andrew added. “It felt like I could just walk outside and I’d start sweating. It rained twice but not when we were playing.”

A number of the locals had never been past Alberta, so this was a bit of a cultural experience as well.

“Some of us went to a mall in Toronto,” Andrew said. “We used Uber and had to take two vehicles, because of the number of people. Altogether, it cost us $30 a person and it was about an hour each way. It was a lot less than a taxi would be.”

The NAIG had their first gathering in Edmonton in 1990 and the next games will be in 2020, though the site is not yet known. Normally, those who have passed the U-19 age category would be out of contention – but that’s about to change.

“They’re coming back with games for older athletes as well,” Peters said.