The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) are less than a month away and players from Team Manitoba are doing what they can to make sure they’re ready.
“It means a lot to me to be a part of a thing like this big and to represent Manitoba in this way,” said Tyson Christensen, who plays for Manitoba’s U19 basketball team.
Athletes from 26 regions throughout North America are set to compete in 16 different sports in Halifax, Dartmouth, N.S., and Millbrook First Nation, July 15-23.
Christensen, who only started playing basketball a little over a year ago, said he moved to Winnipeg from St. Laurent, about 80 kilometres northwest of the city, to have more opportunities to play the sport.
“There wasn’t much for basketball out there, so I moved to Winnipeg,” said Christensen.
“That was pretty hard by myself; it was a weird transition.”
Now the Métis teen, standing six feet six inches tall, plays on two club teams, a high school team and the Manitoba NAIG team and trains at least every other day.
While he initially made the U19 NAIG team as an alternate, the moment a spot opened up he was determined to train as much as he could and use his height to his advantage.
“I was not as good as I am today,” said Christensen.
He said with a lot of other really tall guys, the team’s fast speed and their ability to handle the ball, he feels confident going to the games.
Shaye Kemball, head coach for the U16 female softball team, said taking part in a high-level tournament means a lot to her team, many of whom aspire to play softball in college.
“They’re all super excited to represent Manitoba and do their best that they can,” said Kemball.
“A lot of them haven’t had these chances and these opportunities and just be able to wear Manitoba across their chest.”
The softball team started gathering in January to practise and since then, Kemball said, they’ve started to take care of one another.
The team bonded through making ribbon skirts.
“Everyone has grown a crazy amount on the diamond and even off the diamond,” said Kemball.
Keith Mason, the U19 basketball team’s head coach, is feeling good about his 12 players heading into next month’s games.
“A lot of progress has been made in the last few months with player development, team development …. I’m confident in our chances of winning,” said Mason.
“They’ve all become friends off the court so it makes things on the court easier.”
Mason went to previous games as both an athlete and coach and said it was a good experience for him seeing other Indigenous athletes and different cultures.
“It will be a chance for them to experience what an international tournament is like,” said Mason.