Building healthy youth through sport
Aboriginal Team Ontario begin the march to the opening ceremony parade through Cowichan Territory at the North American Indeginous Games on Aug. 8, 2008.
As Team Ontario gears up for the 2013 National Aboriginal Hockey Championships and the 2014 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), the founder and chair of the organization behind the teams continues to promote the benefits of healthy living through sport.
Marc Laliberte, chair of the Aboriginal Sports and Wellness Council of Ontario (ASWCO), is a busy man these days. The selection process for the boys and girls hockey teams that will head to Kahnawake Mohawk Territory on April 28 is underway, with tryout camps being held all across the province. Planning for next year’s massive NAIG in Regina is also ongoing, not only to identify the hundreds of athletes that will represent Ontario but also to find coaches, chaperones and fundraisers.
Yet Laliberte is not focused on his busy schedule, but the excitement that comes with sending youth to life changing national sporting events.
“These events change lives,” Laliberte says. “The kids come back with their eyes open to the huge array and diversity of the First Nations and Aboriginal community that exists on Turtle Island.”
Laliberte vividly remembers the opening ceremony of the 2008 NAIG in Cowichan, British Columbia. That was ASWCO’s first crack at running Team Ontario, and seeing all the athletes from all the different nations was not only inspiring, but also vindicating for the hard work the organization had put into getting the athletes to BC.
Laliberte, who runs ASWCO as a volunteer on top of his full-time job as a firefighter in Thunder Bay, says all the time he and other volunteers put into the organization is justified by the positive effects of sports on youth.
“I have a passion for Aboriginal sport, that’s why I’m involved,” Laliberte says. “I want to see our youth given these opportunities to run and jump and play, and use sport as a tool in their lives to further success.”
He knows from his own experiences the power of sport. He says he never would have finished high school if not for basketball and football. He also knows that his academic studies were crucial in opening doors to his own future, regardless of sport.
“We stress the link between sport and education,” Laliberte says, noting that all players involved in the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships or NAIG have to be attending school.
And while former NAIG participants from Ontario have gone on to distinguished sport careers, such as Mary Shelly in the Olympics and a number of athletes in the National Lacrosse League, Laliberte notes with equal pride the large number of former NAIG athletes who have made their high school, college or university sport teams while getting an education.
“Sport is strong medicine,” Laliberte says. “It gives you coping skills that you can use in other areas of your life.”
Boys and girls hockey teams are being selected now to compete in Kahnawake from April 28-May 3. Selection camps are ongoing across Ontario. The girls team is looking to better the bronze medal they won last year in Saskatoon, while the boys are looking to get back on the podium.
As for the Regina NAIG upcoming in 2014, Laliberte says that tryouts will begin soon for the 15 sports in the games. ASWCO is also looking for volunteers and donations to help bring the athletes to Regina. Contact information can be found at www.aswco.ca.
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