Good attendance enables students to compete for prizes
Kugluktuk Grizzlies keep kids in school
KUGLUKTUK – Mahik Havioyak, Nunavut's top table tennis player, slams a ping-pong ball across the table to her coach and physical education teacher, Attila Csaba.
You can find Havioyak here, in the high school gym, several times a week, including weekends, where she works on her game with Csaba, a former national table tennis coach.
Havioyak is also member of the school's gold-winning girls soccer team. At 15, she's Kugluktuk's female athlete of the year, and she has one thing in common with every other young success story who defies the odds and stays in school despite rampant booze, drugs and violence found in their small commmunity. She's a Grizzly.
Shawn Kuliktana, 17, is also a Grizzly, and a hard-working student who shows up at school everyday. Kuliktana, named an aboriginal role model in 2006, is completing his second year of a pre-trades program. After school, he works with younger kids as part of the community's fetal alcohol syndrome project.
"He is a caring, respectful person who strives to do his best in everything he does," says Gary Kennedy, a teacher and president of the Grizzlies' Kugluktuk High School Athletics Association.
Since 2001, the Grizzlies have encouraged students in Kugluktuk to live well, play hard and stay in school. This year, 83 students are Grizzlies.
Being a Grizzly requires dedication to sports and good attendance at school. So far, this mix has produced outstanding results for the Grizzlies in table tennis, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, badminton and volleyball. The women's volleyball team won gold earlier this month at a Nunavut-wide tournament in Rankin Inlet.
Participation in regional, national and international games, exchange trips, and special activities are among the perks Grizzlies enjoy.
But to remain part of the program, Grizzlies must maintain an 80 per cent attendance record at school and steer clear of trouble.
Students also receive coupons for attendance, to be entered in a monthly draw. The more students attend school, the more chances they have to win. The winner receives a laptop, paid for by BHP's $300,000 Heritage Fund for Kugluktuk Inuit.
At the end-of-school gala, Grizzly leaders, a mix of teachers and community members handed out scholarships and awards. On May 10, Carla Algon, Andrew Atatahak, Tiffany Novoligak, Edward Havioyak and Kuliktana picked up awards for their 95 per cent school attendance record.
Kuliktana and Lena Adjun were also recognized as most "consistent academic student," while the Mike Johnson awards, given to students who "best exemplify what a Grizzly is," went to Beverly Anablak and Jeremy Hala.
This award recognizes the hard work and effort that Johnston, one of the founding members of the Grizzlies, put into the association.
"The people that win this award may not be the best athletes, or best students but they work hard everyday to be the best that they can," Kennedy said.
The healthy lifestyle awards went to Danielle Adjun and Kuliktana, who, Kennedy said, "always make the right decisions."
"They don't smoke, they lead by example by participating in sports, and they don't let others influence them," he said.
Jeremy Hala and Carmen Aviak were honoured as junior athletes of the year, along with Kyle Aviak and Havioyak as senior athletes of the year.
Donations from northern companies, Inuit organizations, government and fundraising activities make up the Grizzlies' Kugluktuk High School Athletics Association's $500,000 budget.
The Grizzlies are also the largest youth employer in town. They operate the Grizzly Den arcade, canteens and sell their own line of clothing.
"Every community needs Grizzlies, and every school should have the same kind of organization," said Dave Little, the Grizzlies' full-time manager.
After six years, Little is leaving his job at the end of this school year, but he says the Grizzlies are so rooted in Kugluktuk life, he's confident the organization will continue smoothly under his replacement.