A silver finish at NAIG
Brady Lacroix shows the silver medal Team Ontario won in U17 baseball during the 2017 North American Indigenous Games. He was the team's head coach.
It was a mixed bag for two local men coaching teams which took part in the North American Indigenous Games.
For Brady Lacroix, coaching Ontario's U-17 baseball team to a silver medal was an experience he won't forget.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said, “from the opening ceremony onward.”
For Gerry Benoit, coach of the boy's U-14 basketball team, the games were a lot more bittersweet. His team placed fifth overall in a tournament which was marred by a controversial decision involving one of the American teams taking part. Instead of being expelled, the team would head on to win the gold medal, and its presence elbowed Ontario out of the running to the finals.
“It was a great experience, but it was a heartbreaking way to feel after the team worked so hard,” he said.
The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), which ran from July 16-23, 2017, is the largest continental sporting and cultural gathering of Indigenous people, welcoming more than 5,500 athletes, 2,000 volunteers and a countless number of spectators and dignitaries from across Turtle Island.
Lacroix said he was honoured to have this opportunity to coach, and admits it was a tough challenge. Joining him behind the bench was Scott Bullett, a former major leaguer, and Earl Cottrelle, who has been managing the team since 1996.
“It was a real test of my leadership skills, leading this 16-man roster through a tournament and faced with really warm weather,” he said, noting the temperatures were up to 30 C and beyond most days. On top of that, the team really hadn't been playing together for long before NAIG.
Lacroix said hard work and team building exercises like group tours and playing laser tag helped form the bonds necessary to forge a contender.
“Overall, the team played really, really well,” he said.
Team Ontario started their run by defeating Eastern Door and the North (Quebec) 13-0, lost to Wisconsin 10-6, then defeated both Saskatchewan (7-5) and Alberta (15-1) on the same day.
In the semis, the team again faced Saskatchewan, pounding them 13-3 to qualify for the gold medal game. Playing Wisconsin once again, Team Ontario found themselves down 11-0 after five innings, when the game was called due to the mercy rule. Winning bronze was Saskatchewan, who edged Alberta 8-7
“We didn't lose gold, we won silver,” Lacroix said.
Benoit wasn't impressed with how basketball went in the round robin. Team Ontario lost their first two games in their pool, first against Wisconsin 53-34, then Minnesota 61-44. Facing Manitoba as another third place team, the team won, defeating them 53-35.
It was shortly after this he learned from the Wisconsin coach that Minnesota had illegal players on the team, who hadn't been properly registered.
In a ruling, NAIG's leaders decided while the coach and the three players would sit on the sidelines during the gold medal game, the team itself would be allowed to play as it does not want to penalize it for administrative errors made by its team staff.
Minnesota subsequently won the gold medal after downing British Columbia 54-50.
Wisconsin won the bronze by beating Alberta 58-40.
In answering a follow up complaint by parents from Team Ontario, NAIG explained they didn't want to punish the kids on the team by kicking them out of the tournament after they had traveled such a long distance to attend the games. Benoit felt this decision sent the wrong message to the youth, that one doesn't need to play by the rules to win it all.
“I was disappointed in the decision,” Benoit said. “It was a dumb one.”
For Lacroix, the most rewarding aspect was what happened off the ball field. Being involved in baseball allowed him to get alongside the Jays Care Foundation of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He said one of their team members, Lance Oombush, is a leader in Cat Lake, a fly-in community located near Sioux Lookout.
The foundation is now going to help build a ball field in the isolated community for local youth.
Lacroix said Oombush also received dental care after he needed to get a dental appliance. He said he contacted the office of Dr. Jody Kingston of Eganville, who with office coordinator Alycia Kingston made arrangements with Dr. Cove in Oshawa through Shaw Labs to have a dental appliance created and fit while he was in the area.
“The team carried him to the dentist to get it done,” he said. “That was the highlight of the games for me.”