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William McDonald School wins 2023 Traditional Games Championships

A new venue and a return to in-person competition. That’s a recipe of success for the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT and its Traditional Games Championships.
William McDonald School’s Ben Mager, right, does his best to keep his grip in the stick pull competition during the Traditional Games Championships at Sir John Franklin Gymnasium on Feb. 10. James McCarthy/NNSL photo

A new venue and a return to in-person competition. That’s a recipe of success for the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the NWT and its Traditional Games Championships.

The 2023 edition was held at Sir John Franklin gymnasium from Feb. 10 to 12 with a total of 20 teams doing battle in a mix of Dene games and Arctic sports to win the overall title. In the end, it was William McDonald School which took home the big banner with a total of 33 points scored from all of their events. Mangilaluk School of Tuktoyaktuk finished in second while St. Joe’s School was third.

Katey Davis, one of William McDonald School’s coaches, said it was an excited bunch once the final results were revealed.

“The kids were all sitting on the floor with their fingers crossed,” she said. “When it was announced, they all jumped up and shouted. I was telling them that it didn’t matter because they were having fun and learning, but they have that competitive spirit.”

Each of the 20 teams had a roster of four boys and four girls all between the ages of 10 and 12. The teams competed in such events as hand games, pole push, stick pull and the one-foot and two-foot high kicks over the weekend.

Points were given out based on the final results in each event and the team that garnered the most points was declared the winner.

Davis said she felt her students fared best in the kicking events.

“I know a lot of our boys were in the top-10 or top-12 and we did really good in the stick pull as well,” she said. “We weren’t a tall team, so some of the strength events were tougher, but we certainly did well in the other ones.”

Davis added that Darren Wicks, the school’s phys-ed teacher, played a big part in why the team did so well as he incorporated traditional games into his curriculum.

Carson Roche, the events manager for the Aboriginal Sports Circle, said everything went as well as it could have.

“We were coming off of a two-year absence of the in-person competition because of Covid, so I was a bit nervous how it would all work out,” he said. “We had four or five teams signed up with about a week to go, but then 10 teams got in on one day. We knew we’d be in good shape.”

When action began, Roche said it was obvious who had been working on technique.

“You could tell which teams had been practising because they had the form down,” he said. “Some teams were there for the experience, but you have those teams which take this seriously.”

Just to make sure everyone knew what they were doing, some of the officials demonstrated exactly how to do each event before the competition began, he added.

As mentioned, Sir John Franklin was the new venue this year; William McDonald gymnasium had been the venue since the inception.

Roche said making the move meant more room and a better atmosphere.

“We had the bleachers out and they were full all weekend,” he said. “We were able to have more kickstands out; we fed everyone in one venue. The weather was perfect for the outdoor events (snowsnake and pole push).”

William McDonald’s victory came with quite the bonus prize as they will now be heading to Juneau, Alaska, to compete in the Traditional Games Alaska event in early April. They’ll be flying into Juneau from Seattle after getting permission from the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board to do so.

Davis said the team is practising for that event with some extra attention being given to some disciplines that are new to them.

“They play some games over there that we don’t,” she said. “The scissor broad jump is one and the seal hop is another. The seal hop looks a bit like the knuckle hop. It’s a different area of the North there and what’s traditional there may not be traditional here.”

About the Author: James McCarthy

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