CALLING LAKE – Following four days of hard-fought competition, Calling Lake’s first youth soccer team to enter the Alberta Indigenous Games (AIG) brought home a bronze medal to the delight of players and coaches.
The Calling Lake Junior Tomahawks placed third out of 14 teams participating in the 10-12 year age category during the 2023 AIG held in Edmonton Aug. 9-19. Coach Griffin Young said in an Aug. 14 interview despite entering the tournament unsure of their skills, the athletes bounced back with vigour when game time arrived.
After losing three exhibition games to Wabasca before the tournament, Young said the players “were a little concerned about how they were going to perform” but posted a 17-0 victory in their first game. The win boosted their confidence, and they were “very enthusiastic about the rest of the games.”
The 11-player team played five games during the week, winning four, and earned the top spot in their pool. They faced off against Woodlands Cree, another Nation representing Treaty 8 territory, during the first semifinal match Aug. 13, and secured a spot in the bronze-medal game which they won 5-0 over the ‘AIG Dream Team’ an amalgamation of kids who signed up as individuals to play.
Kakwa Lightning, 9, the team’s youngest player, said he enjoyed his first experience playing in the AIG despite being new to the sport. “I just really wanted a medal and to play with my friends,” said Lightning, whose favourite part of the games was receiving his medal during the evening ceremony Aug. 13.
When it comes to participating in the Games again, Lightning said “I think I’ll play soccer and try track and field.”
The Edmonton Eagles took home the gold, and Woodlands Cree Nation claimed silver. Young, originally from Wabasca, said he’s happy to see medals coming back to the region.
“Regardless of which reserve nearby that I’m helping, I like to say that I am from Treaty 8, and I like to say that Treaty 8 came back with a medal and points for the Games. Whether it’s sports, whether it’s programs for youth or anything regarding (these lands) where I’m from, it’s always an honour to say I had the opportunity to help in some way,” said Young.
Young said although he didn’t participate in the Games as an athlete, coaching the club through the tournament was equally as fulfilling.
“I’m just happy that while I’m coaching, I was able to create a connection with some of the kids and see them do good at the same time,” he said. “It’s more than just playing sports, it’s in a way lessons in life. Sometimes you win, (sometimes) you lose, nobody’s perfect, and that’s more the narrative I like to push.”