Gerry Benoit is off to Toronto determined to bring home the gold at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games.
Benoit, who is the head coach of the Ontario boys U-14 team, intends to build on the success of the 2014 games held in Regina, in which the team brought home the silver medal, proving they were the second best in North America. While admitting that was an honour, this time he doesn't want to settle for silver.
“I want that gold,” he said.
The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) is the largest continental sporting and cultural gathering of Indigenous people, welcoming more than 5,000 athletes, 2,000 volunteers and a countless number of spectators and dignitaries from across Turtle Island.
From July 16-23, 2017, people will experience the unifying power of sport and culture as Toronto hosts the 2017 NAIG.
Benoit, the recipient of a 2015 Ontario Coaching Excellence Award and who competed twice in the games himself in 2002 and 2005, winning silver at the latter event, has as his assistant coach Titus Channer, a former national player who played professional basketball of eight years. He has also spent the winter conducting tryouts for the team across the province, and is confident in the players he has assembled.
Benoit is also an ambassador for the Steve Nash Basketball Program, setting up programs in Kenora, Barry's Bay, Brudenell/Lyndoch, Pikwakanagan, Westmeath and Pembroke. He has a player development business Jumpball Player Development and has set up a summer men's basketball league playing out of Algonquin College's gym on Tuesday evenings.
Joining him on this trip to NAIG is former Pembroke resident Brady Lacroix, who is the head coach of the U-17 boys baseball team. He is joined behind the bench by Scott Bullett, a former major leaguer, and Earl Cottrelle, who has been managing the team since 1996.
“It is an honour to be asked to coach at this elite level,” he said, adding he will be using all of the lessons taught to him by coaches in Pembroke, Renfrew and the Ottawa District Little League back when he was playing baseball.
For the last few years, Benoit and Lacroix have been traveling to reserves across the province under the Aboriginal Sport and Wellness Council of Ontario, bringing sport and recreation opportunities to Indigenous youth. Their travels have brought them from Ottawa and Belleville to Serpent River, James Bay and everywhere in between.
“We're trying to get Aboriginal youth to try different sports,” Benoit said, as part of introducing a healthier lifestyle and a place to develop self esteem and a sense of pride.
Lacroix said they bring with them a message of health and wellness, as well as introduce sport and recreation as a lifestyle. He said the pair of them also get a lot back in exchange, as spending time with families and the elders of each community and taking the time to recognize the aboriginal culture is very rewarding.
“Every community has its unique challenges,” Lacroix said. “It has been an absolute honour to be able to work with aboriginal youth.”