Aupaluk basketball camp ‘a huge gift’ to young Nunavimmiut

Grind Now Shine Later program leader hopes to develop coaches, regional league

Youths from different Nunavik communities play basketball in Aupaluk at the Tarsakallak School gym as part of the recent Grind Now Shine Later camp. (Photo courtesy of Russ Johnson)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Twenty-seven young people from Nunavik converged last week on Aupaluk, the region’s smallest community, for a week of basketball.

And these young ballers want to see the game grow across Nunavik.

Russ Johnson, a teacher and basketball coach in Aupaluk, runs the Grind Now Shine Later program, which aims to develop young leaders to become coaches in their communities while spreading the popularity of basketball.

Johnson hosts regular community basketball events at the school gym. During the camp, students from Quaqtaq, Kangirsuk and Kuujjuaq travelled there to join in the fun, and for lessons about mental health and staying in school.

“We talked very openly about well, basically, pretty much every issue you can imagine in the North,” Johnson said in an interview.

“We want to use sports, and basketball specifically, with what we’re trying to do to help combat dropout rates and suicide rates.”

Nalumi Nassak, of Kangirsuk, is one of the youths who made the trip to Aupaluk.

The 17-year-old fell in love with basketball after being introduced to the game by a friend. She said it means a lot to have access to programs that allow youths from the different communities to be able to play the game together.

“Russ has given us a huge gift,” Nassak said.

“It’s fun to play with other people you don’t usually play with because it’s different, and it’s good for the kids to see what other communities are like.”

Nassak’s message for kids wanting to try basketball: just do it.

Another participant, Angelina Mesher, is a 19-year-old teacher at Tarsakallak School in Aupalak.

Having previously played basketball while in school in the south, she said she wants basketball in Nunavik to grow to the point where teams are able to take part in larger provincial tournaments.

“It’s really cool to see that we are, in a different way, we’re evolving,” she said.

“Let’s say in the future, we’ll be able to be a part of the Quebec Games,” she said. “Maybe eventually one day we’ll have a team down there for the tournaments and all that.”

Johnson said he was relieved that he was able to run another successful camp in Aupaluk, despite some players who registered being unable to fly in due to poor weather conditions and other travel issues.

More Grind Now Shine Later basketball events are set to take place in Nunavik and the south this year, but he said the goal is to develop young players into coaches, and to build the foundations for a regional league with student athletes who are competing while keeping up with their education.

“We want to have a league, and when I say a league, like based on the south where kids play against different high schools, That’s something that we think is incredibly important to develop,” Johnson said.

“We do think that we’re moving things in the right direction, and the healthier you get the kids, the more active they are.”


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