Young baseball players of the Thessalon First Nation came out on top at the 2022 JaysCare Indigenous Rookie League for the Algoma region.
After an end-of-season tournament, the team finished with more than 4,000 points.
But only six of the points were from winning games. The team earned the rest of their points from the dedication of the players and coaches, and the support from their parents and community members.
The North Shore Area Indigenous Rookie League, formed earlier this year through the JaysCare Foundation, in partnership with Maamwesyng North Shore Community Health Services, follows a unique points system.
Designed for groups of neighbouring Indigenous nations, the league is about more than the games. It encourages participants to focus less on the skill-level and more on getting their community engaged.
The goal was so much bigger than the win, and the point system reflected that as well. - Lue Mahaffey, general manager for the Thessalon First Nation team
Lue Mahaffey, the Thessalon First Nation team's general manager, said this format for the league teaches kids "how to win well, lose well, how to support each other and how to respect each other."
"Obviously you want to play for the win," Mahaffey said, "but the goal was so much bigger than the win, and the point system reflected that as well."
In addition to sportsmanship and team spirit, points are awarded when parents, elders, and even members of chief and council attend practices and games.
"You got points if you hosted a meal for the opposing team when they came to your community, or if you incorporated culture within the game," Mahaffey said.
The team opened the games with a smudge and prayer from an elder.
Thessalon First Nation Chief Edward Boulrice said he felt proud of the youth and his community for supporting them.
"These types of initiatives give our youth a chance to learn and grow as athletes, but also as young people," he said in a statement.
He said the league brought "joy after a few years of challenges with COVID." It also gave our families a unique opportunity to help our kids achieve something they maybe didn't think was possible.
Mahaffey said their win was made possible thanks to strong community involvement.
"You can fall into a tendency where you drop your kid off at something and then you leave them. Or you could choose to be there and be present and be involved and this really allowed for things like that to happen."
Thessalon is among seven league teams, with the others including:
Mississauga First Nation.
Serpent River First Nation.
Batchewana First Nation.
The Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre.
Each team played six games through the summer leading up to a closing tournament hosted by Mississauga First Nation on Aug. 27.
The league held two categories for winners: the league champions and the tournament champions.
While Thessalon won the overall league, Batchewana First Nation took first place at the end-of-season tournament, followed by Sagamok Anishnawbek in second place and Atikameksheng Anishnawbek in third.