Six North Island soccer stars brought back gold medals from the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto.
Seth Hanuse, Devin White, Tony Zapp, and William Johnson won gold for Team BC in U16 soccer and Trey Morash won gold in U19 soccer.
“It felt pretty good knowing you’re the best when the whistle blew,” said 16-year-old Devin White.
The 2017 NAIG hosted over 5,000 athletes and coaches from all over North America. Team B.C. had 28 teams competing in 13 different sports, which included 419 athletes and 105 coaching staff.
Their journey to gold actually started last March, when the U16 boys went to Prince George to compete in the NAIG try-outs. “We represented the Island in Prince George and our team won so we got to go to Toronto,” said White, adding they knew they would make it because “we kind of dominated the tournament – our games were like nine nothing or ten nothing.”
15-year old Seth Hanuse agreed, adding they scored “64 goals overall in that tournament.”
The boys’ winning streak followed them to Toronto where they won their first game 11-0 against Northwest Territories.
For 19-year old Trey Morash, the process was a little different. His team didn’t actually qualify during try outs in Prince George.
“Whoever got an all star in the tournament, the winning team was allowed to bring to Toronto,” explained Morash, who did in-fact get an all-star in the tournament. “I was very excited because I had no idea that I was going to get to go.”
Before heading to Toronto, the U16 boys trained on their own and competed in men’s tournaments in Victoria, Campbell River, and Duncan.
“We were all 14 to 16-year-olds playing against men so we had very little success,” said White, adding he doesn’t think this experience played into their success in Toronto, but their coaches disagree.
The biggest competitor for both Team BC’s U16 and U19 teams was Saskatchewan, which both teams faced off against in their final match of the tournament.
“There was a pretty big rivalry,” said White. “Finals was a dirty game.”
Although two red cards were given out, both teams played hard. “It was a 1-0 game and we scored from a free kick, so it was a really close game,” Hanuse said, adding the boys “went wild” when the whistle blew and they realized they’d won gold.
“I was pretty stoked,” said 16-year-old Tony Zapp.
Morash’s U19 team also faced off against Saskatchewan. “We ended up going into extra time and scoring in the last minute of the first half of extra time,” explained Morash, continuing “we parked the bus and played defense the whole second half, but Saskatchewan was really putting on the pressure so when that final whistle went it felt really good.”
Both the U19 and U16 boys teams finished the tournament without ever letting a single ball in their net. “Knowing after 11 months of looking forward to something, and you get the best success that you could, it feels pretty good,” said White.
One of the goals of the 2017 NAIG was to promote the unity of Indigenous Peoples across North America and cultivate opportunities for physical, cultural and social development.
“It was pretty cool seeing other provinces’ cultures, it gives you an idea what their music is like and what the people are like – it’s all different from what it’s like down here,” explained White.
Zapp noted he liked “all the singing after the final game – it was pretty cool.”
The boys also received a lot of support from their communities at home. “It feels good to have a lot of support, it doesn’t get much better,” said Morash.
White agreed. “Everyone has been watching us play here for our whole lives so it feels good knowing they are still here after so long.”
White, Hanuse, and Morash attended a special dinner in their honour at Quatsino Hall, along with a few other exceptional Quatsino athletes who excelled in sports this summer.
British Columbia came away from the 2017 NAIG with 67 gold medals, the most out of all participating provinces and states, and won overall medal count with 179 medals.
The Mi’kmaq First Nation in Nova Scotia is currently bidding on hosting the next NAIG games in 2020.