By Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
Coach Vanessa Belcourt stands anxiously on the sidelines of the basketball court watching her team throwing the ball to each other in the warm-up to their second game at the 2017 Junior All Native Tournament and reflects back on their journey to get to Kelowna.
Last fall, the sound of basketballs bouncing off the wooden floor, the stopping and starting squeaking of shoes, and shouts of encouragement filled the air of the gymnasium at G_aaw. It is this young group of female basketball players who took on the task of forming a team for the north end of the Islands.
Looking out on the court, Belcourt signals for a play change. She points out that half of the team is new to the game. “This is their first year playing and their first tournament,” she says, with wide eyes and a grin, and is quick to acknowledge the Skidegate Saints Jr Girls team, who are in the stands cheering the team on.
The Skidegate Saints Jr Girls team helped shape the team, she said, with both teams scrimmaging throughout the winter. It is no wonder that the Most Sportsmanlike Team award went to the Under-17 Skidegate Saints Jr Girls team at the JANT a few nights later.
To get to the JANT in Kelowna, Haida Wilder did their own fundraising. They raised $10,000 from the community and with OMVC paying the team’s airfare, they made it.
“The Junior All Native was eye opening and inspiring. It made me decide to stay home on Haida Gwaii for another year to coach these girls,” said Belcourt. “They have so much potential that I want to stay on and work with them again next year.”
The team name comes from Belcourt who jokingly said, they should be ‘Haida Wilder’ because “they think they are wilder than us – the Haida Wild women’s team”. The name stuck and will carry the team forward in the coming years.
In Kelowna, Haida Wilder was knocked out of the tournament by Kispiox. Belcourt and assistant coach Chloe Good brought the girls through a tough last game as tears and frustration filled them with emotion. But, with each loss come the lessons of sportsmanship, pride and personal strength. Haida Wilder will regroup early this Fall and begin their push to JANT 2018, which is being held Vancouver.
The 2017 Haida Wilder team roster is: Gulkihlgad Yakgujanaas, Raquel Lavoie, Hailey Lavoie, Paige Setso, Sarah Edenshaw, Camryn Parnell, Taylor Lantin, Larissa Swanson, Mary-Jane Edgars, Sierra Brown-Wesley, Angel Brown, Marissa Abrahams, and Kailyn Swanson.