Seven youth from across northwest B.C. were honoured for their sport achievement and character as role models through several Premier’s Awards for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport.
The winners were Elijah Azak, Madison McKay, Harold Moore and Teysean Henry from Terrace, as well as Kleanza Cathers and Jadyn Johnston from Kitimat and Brendan Eshom from Prince Rupert.
There were 48 Aboriginal athletes overall in B.C. to earn the award, given to recognize sport achievement and commitment to education, culture, leadership and community. The top 12 recipients will be selected for a larger provincial award, which will be presented at the Gathering Our Voices Aboriginal Youth Conference in Kelowna on March 21, 2017.
An age 16, Nisga’a teen from Gitwinksihlkw Elijah Azak is a well-rounded and driven youth of character with a presence on the soccer field and the basketball court.
Playing with Terrace Youth Soccer Association (TYSA), Elijah and his team won silver at provincials last year, and this year he took home gold.
He also played with an Aboriginal northwest regional team, winning the all native provincials in 2013 to qualifying for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG). The team conquered to win gold and went completely undefeated in the NAIG championship in Regina, Saskatchewan in 2014. The following year, 2015, Elijah played on the U16 regional team, claiming gold again and this year the team narrowly lost in the finals and took silver.
His TYSA coach Surinder Dhaliwal said Elijah is a strong force in left midfield and has excellent ball control.
“He is one of the most driven athletes I have worked with over my 15 years of coaching,” Dhaliwal said.
He called Elijah an “elusive player… able to go around anyone on the field.”
Elijah is also a strong basketball player, playing point guard on the Caledonia Secondary School team, and winning gold with them in provincials in 2014.
He also played with a team of Nisga’a youth in the Junior All Native Basketball Tournament for several years.
His Caledonia basketball coach Joe Dominguez spoke highly of Elijah’s work ethic, sportsmanship and leadership.
“He is the first one [at practice] and often the last to leave…he goes above and beyond,” said Dominguez, adding that he is a good team mate, well liked, and respected by his peers.
Elijah also helps coach the Jr. Timberwolves program at Caledonia, and Dominguez says he “exemplifies the behaviour, attitude, and demeanor that will positively influence his peers and the youth he coaches.”
Finally, Elijah shines academically, earning a 4.0 GPA last year, being named on the principal’s list and honour roll, and earning numerous awards for academic excellence.
Elijah said sports runs in the family, he likes the competition of the games, and finds it a good way to clear his head after a hard day.
Asked how he felt upon winning, Elijah said he was shocked, commenting humbly that “it could have been anyone.”
While very quiet and shy, Teysean Henry is a motivated and eager figure skater, aiming to achieve and setting goals to master new jumps.
She started skating six years ago, allured by the sport after watching Winter Olympics on T.V. and seeing “all the spins and jumps,” she said.
She joined the Terrace Skating Club in 2010, and though she felt awkward at first, she picked it up fast and was named the Can Skate champion that year.
This year, she won the Most Improved Skater Award at the club and achieved a personal goal by landing her double axel in competition in the Super Series in Surrey.
She also whirled through the Star 4 regionals in Prince George to seize first for her solo dance, a warrior on ice routine based on the Hunger Games.
Coach Jennifer Kuehne said Teysean works hard, listens well to coaches, and sets goals to achieve and conquer new jumps.
She focuses on “the new jump she needs to do to move up a level, or [on what she] needs to be on the podium,” Kuehne said, adding that Teysean is quiet but great at listening to coaches and making adjustments to improve her technique.
With gentle prompting from her mom, Teysean said one thing that entices her about skating is the new challenges always before her. “I like to learn new things, new jumps and new dances,” she said.
Her dad Leon Henry says being on the ice is almost a second world for her, where her shyness fades, and she dons a dress and spins confidently through routines.
“It’s like different worlds,” he said. “When she’s out there on the ice, it’s like there is nothing else out there but her. Off the ice she is shy, but she makes her noise on the ice.”
But despite being one of few words, Teysean has been a role model through her love and pursuit of skating, her hard work and her consistent efforts to improve.
Backed by a supportive immediate and extended family, Teysean was featured in several magazines, including Figure Skating Magazine in Feb. 2013, in Lax Kw’alaams Life in June 2016 and in Native Hoop in January this year, and again in August.
Her mom Robyn Henry updates family and friends through a Facebook page, Warrior of the Ice Teysean Henry, and said she gets messages from people asking how Teysean started and got involved.
Robyn said she believes that Teysean is inspiring her younger cousins and other Aboriginal people into the sport.
Her dad Leon agreed, saying most of their family and friends are into basketball and soccer, and Teysean is the first skater in the family.
An obvious sport enthusiast, Madison McKay plays volleyball, basketball and soccer. She is the basketball point guard on her team, the centre position which is a specialized role directing the team’s offence.
Her last year basketball coach Daniel Henry said he put her in that position because she is good at passing, and most of all “is patient and has excellent vision on the court.”
He adds that she is also a strong defender at the other end of the court.
“She has swagger and will do great things. I am extremely proud of her,” he said.
Harry Moore is a hard working and enthusiastic soccer player from the Haida Nation.
Now 17, Harry started playing soccer with TYSA at age five, but said his real soccer drive kicked into gear in Grade 8, when he tried out for the B.C. Summer Games and didn’t make the team. His love for the sport, combined with a desire for a healthy lifestyle, drove his pursuit in the game, he said.
Moore says after that he put in extra time to train after school and in 2013 earned a starting position on his TYSA team, which went to provincials five years in a row starting in 2011.
Harry also played on the northwest Aboriginal soccer team, same as Elijah, and with them won Aboriginal provincials in 2013 and won nationals (NAIG) in 2014.
His NAIG coach Chris Daniels said Harry has a great sense of humour and kept the team excited and motivated.
“Not only for our team, but he got the whole Team BC, 500 athletes, all excited and hyper,” Daniels said, referring to the B.C. competitors from all different sports who travelled to the national games.
“He plays hard, and when the team is down and he is always there to speak up and give encouragement,” he said.
Daniels said Harry has a wide range of soccer skills and an ability to adjust to any position on the field, even switching mid-game from forward to defence. Daniels says that speaks well of Harry’s abilities.
In September 2015, with support from his mom Julia Moore, Harry kicked his ambitions into high gear and moved to Vernon to play in the Whitecaps soccer academy. There he also played on the rep team with the North Okanagan Youth Soccer Association, and earned MVP with the team.
In February this year, he moved to Kamloops training in the Whitecaps academy there and playing on a rep team for the Kamloops Youth Soccer Association.
Moore says he also worked hard to bring up his grades since leaving Terrace and made the honour roll in both Vernon and Kamloops.
When asked how he felt when he won the award, Moore shrugged.
“I didn’t really think of how big it would be,” he said, adding that his pride grew when he saw the mayor in attendance as well as officials from Christy Clark’s office.
Kleanza Cathers is of Nisga’a heritage and previously lived in Terrace, but moved to Kitimat five years ago and is the girls team captain for the Kitimat Marlins Swim Club.
Last season she qualified and competed at the western Canadian national championships and broke multiple pool records in Terrace and Kitimat.
She broke a northwest B.C. region record in the age 15 and over girls category and qualified for national championships in the freestyle and backstroke strokes.
Jayden Johnston is of Chilcotin/Cheslatta heritage, and achieved multiple medals at last summers AAA provincial championships in freestyle, backstroke butterfly and individual medley in the 11 and under boys division.
His times in those events were all in the top 10 fastest times in Canada for 11 year old boys.
Jayden also broke a pool record in Kitimat and a regional record at provincial championships in freestyle for the 11-12 boys age category.
Brendan Eshom is a 14-year-old basketball and soccer player from the Gitga’at/Tsimshian First Nations.
He won the Coast Capital Savings Leadership Bursary after playing in the BC Summer Games, which recognizes youth for leadership and he has helped coach.
He is aiming and has a good chance of qualifying for the 2017 North American Indigenous Games.
With files from Kevin Campbell from The Northern View in Prince Rupert, and submitted article from Jason Cathers, swim coach from Kitimat.