Meet the Eagles, Sheshatshiu’s premier basketball team
The boys are drenched in sweat as they run up and down the gym at Sheshatshiu Innu School on a cold February day during a basketball practice Thursday afternoon.
Pass, shoot, block: your shoes squeak when you run across the court, dribble the ball into the opposing net in fast drives.
It’s a week and a half until the Eagles’ first-ever tournament, which is being held in Churchill Falls. It’s also their first game ever against another team.
An exuberant Phoenix Benuen-Pokue, 14, is the youngest starter on the team.
“I think it’s a great honor. It feels great. It feels like the greatest thing in the world,” he told CBC News.
He says the team wants to show Churchill Falls what he’s made of in the regional and he’s hoping to sink some three-pointers there.
Seeing these guys play hard and come together as a team gave me so much hope. – Kanani Davis
Sheshatshiu Innu School Year 8 teacher and coach Nathan Miné-Goldring says the team started meeting informally in October, but says things have become more serious since December.
“I see the change in them as players, but also in their presence and confidence. I’m just proud of them,” he said.
Miné-Goldring says the players, aged between 14 and 17, are motivated.
He says they took the initiative and asked Sheshatshiu’s recreation coordinator to keep the gym open at night for exercise and take the lead in promoting the team.
“Yeah, they chase people in a really positive way. I’m proud of them for asking for something they want,” he said.
And he says the community is also showing interest, noting that school staff and students stop him in the hallway to ask about the team.
Most importantly, he says, he wants them to have fun.
Benuen-Pokue takes the late NBA star Kobe Bryant’s personal philosophy of life – the mamba mentality – on the court and says it’s about being the best version of yourself every day.
The Shooting Guard dreams big.
“When I was little I didn’t have a future. I didn’t think of anything I wanted to do. Right now I just want to go to the NBA and just become a very good player, maybe surpass LeBron [James] in points,” said Benuen-Pokue.
As a trailblazer, players say it’s hard to believe that Sheshatshiu has a basketball team now.
Co-captain Shipek Andrew says he never thought he’d play on a basketball team like this, which represents his school and the community.
“I never thought I would do this and if I were younger and knew I would do this I would be so surprised. It’s so much fun and it might get you somewhere too. You could go to college or whatever,” he said.
On February 25, the Eagles set off early in the morning for the three-hour drive to Churchill Falls.
Some Innu parents also came to cheer on the team.
Kanani Davis, CEO of Mamu Tshishkutamashutau – Innu Education, couldn’t wait to see the Eagles play.
“It makes me so emotional to think about the guys, how excited they were to play basketball and they just loved it,” she said.
When Benuen-Pokue sunk the Eagles’ first basket in the first quarter of the first game, Davis’ husband remarked that the point had just made history.
She chronicled the tournament’s live action on social media and admitted it was her first time watching a basketball game.
The team lost its first two games but won its third.
She said everyone cheered for the Eagles, even the Churchill Falls players’ parents.
I see the change in them as players, but also in their presence and in their confidence. – Nathan Miné gold ring
Davis is also really proud of the boys’ reaction when they received their second-place medals.
“They weren’t upset. They were happy to get second place, they were happy to get a medal,” she said.
Davis says she was particularly emotional when player Ty Penashue gave his coach a tight hug during the medal ceremony.
“It just made me so emotional because it’s so real. It’s so powerful. An athlete, a student and a teacher that just connects,” she said.
It’s not about coming first, she adds. It’s about being there for the students.
The boys are now role models for the younger ones, she says, and that makes the difference.
Davis hopes the boys continue to play basketball and continue to pursue their dreams.
“Seeing these guys play hard and come together as a team has given me so much hope,” she said.
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