Nunavut basketball teams target Arctic medals

“Passion about a sport easily translates into passion about something else”



Nunavut’s budding sports stars converge on northern Alberta this week to battle with other young athletes from around the North in this year’s Arctic Winter Games.

And at least in boys and girls basketball, international competitors better watch out for the teams wearing Nunavut colours.

Before heading to Fort McMurray, both all-star basketball teams for Nunavut spent a few days on a special warm-up tour in Newfoundland, dribbling past competitors sometimes a foot taller than them.

The mini-tour last month in Newfoundland, plus extra tournaments and practice before and afterward, departs from the often under-practiced past of Nunavut’s basketball teams, cobbled together without much time to forge team spirit or hone their skills against worthy competition.

Jim Feltham, coach of the boys’ team, said he’s seen talented team play in this year’s group that’s been absent in the past.

But considering the facilities and funding available to players in Alaska and the Yukon, Feltham cautioned that the extra practice doesn’t mean the team will win medals, but he’s certain it will help.

“We’re working at a big disadvantage, but we’re much more prepared then we were before,” said Feltham, a long-time basketball coach and high-school teacher from Clyde River. “The boys are very quick and very skilled. What we lack in experience and size, we make up in enthusiasm and energy.”

Nunavut’s basketball players, and a legion of athletes in other sports such as speed-skating, badminton, soccer and volleyball, will be the underdogs in the 18th Arctic Winter Games. Between Feb. 28 and March 6, players will face off against powerhouse athletes from Alaska, northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories, who invariably clean up in most categories. When Iqaluit hosted the games two years ago, Alaska won a total of 185 medals, compared with Nunavut’s 35.

But Nunavut’s teams are chasing more than medals.

Qajaq Robinson, coach for the girls basketball team, views this round of games as a “developmental year” for her young players, most of whom she hopes will be playing together again in future Arctic Winter Games.

But Robinson, a 26-year-old law student who picked up basketball while living in Igloolik, said the importance of sending Nunavut youth to the games shouldn’t be underestimated, regardless of their chances of winning a medal.

“They develop a passion,” Robinson said of the students’ involvement in amateur sports. “With developing a passion about a sport, I don’t think it takes a long time before that show up in other parts of life. Passion about a sport easily translates into something else, like education or a career.”

Justine Killulark, a 15-year-old on Team Nunavut’s basketball team, has only been playing the sport for two years, but already has plans to become a coach someday.

Killulark, one of two players from Baker Lake on the girls team, said she’s enjoyed making friends with athletes from other communities around Nunavut.

“It’s fun because we get to know [the others’] way of playing,” Killulark said on the eve of leaving for Fort McMurray. “I think we’re going to be good. I hope to get a medal and meet a lot of people.

“If we don’t get a medal, that’s okay. [The Games are] there for fun.”

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