Meet the Eagles, Sheshatshiu's first basketball team
The boys are soaked in sweat as they race up and down the gym at Sheshatshiu Innu School during a Thursday afternoon basketball scrimmage one frigid day in February.
Passing, shooting, blocking: Their shoes squeak as they run on the court, dribbling the ball in quick drives to the opposing side's net.
It's a week and a half away from the Eagles's very first tournament that's taking place 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 huge honour. It feels magnificent. It feels like the biggest thing in the world," he told CBC News.
He says the team wants to show Churchill Falls what they're made of at the regional tournament, and he hopes to sink some threes while he's there.
Seeing those boys play hard, and coming together as a team, it gave me so much hope. - Kanani Davis
Sheshatshiu Innu School Grade 8 teacher and coach, Nathan Miné-Goldring, says the team started getting together informally in October but says they've became more serious about it since December.
"I see the change in them as players, but also in their attendance and in their confidence. I'm just proud of them," he said.
Miné-Goldring says the players, who're between the ages of 14 and 17, are motivated.
He says they took the initiative to ask Sheshatshiu's recreational coordinator to keep the gym open at nights for practices and taking the lead on promoting the team.
"Yeah, they hound people for it in a really positive way. I'm proud of them for that because they're asking for something they want," he said.
And he says the community is showing interest, too, 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 is adopting late NBA star Kobe Bryant's personal philosophy on life — the mamba mentality — on the court, and says it's about being the best version of yourself everyday.
The shooting guard is dreaming big.
"Back when I was little, I didn't have a future. I didn't think about anything I wanted to do. Right now, I just wanna go to the NBA and just like become a very good player, maybe surpass LeBron [James] in points," Benuen-Pokue said.
As trailblazers, players say it's hard to believe Sheshatshiu now has a basketball team.
Co-captain Shipek Andrew says he never imagined playing on a basketball team like this representing his school and the community.
"I never thought I'd be doing this, and if I was younger, and I knew I'd be doing this, I'd be so surprised. It's so fun, and it could take you somewhere you, too. You could go play college or somewhere," he said.
On Feb. 25, the Eagles hit the road early in the morning for the three-hour trip to Churchill Falls.
Some Innu parents also went 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 thinking about the boys, how excited they were to play basketball, and they just loved it," she said.
When Benuen-Pokue sank the Eagles' first basket in the first quarter of the first game, Davis's husband remarked the point had just made history.
She recorded the tournament's live action on social media, admitting that it was the first time she ever watched a basketball game.
The team lost its first two games, but won its third.
She said everyone was cheering on the Eagles, even parents of the Churchill Falls players.
I see the change in them as players, but also in their attendance and in their confidence. - Nathan Miné-Goldring
It's also how the boys reacted when they received their second place medals that truly makes Davis proud.
"They weren't upset. They were happy to get a second place, they were happy to get a medal," she said.
Davis says it was particularly emotional for her when during the medal presentation, player Ty Penashue gave his coach a big hug.
"It just made me so emotional because it's so real. It's so powerful. An athlete, a student and a teacher just bonding," she said.
It's not about coming first, she adds. It's about being there for the students.
The boys are role models to the younger kids now, she says, and that makes all the difference.
Davis hopes the boys will keep playing basketball, and continuing to chase their dreams.
"Seeing those boys play hard, and coming together as a team, it gave me so much hope," she said.