True Sport Foundation is committed to ensuring that sport makes a positive contribution to Canadian society, to our athletes and to the physical and moral development of Canada’s youth.
The Blizzard legacy is here to stay!
A large sign greets residents and visitors at the entrance to the small Inuit hamlet in Nunavut.
The sign reads “Welcome to Baker Lake” and there’s a small arrow along with the words “Home of the”. The arrow points to a second sign with the word “Blizzard” in big bold letters accompanied by the team’s logo. The second sign wasn’t there before True Sport arrived in the community. Brad Mainse, coordinator of the Baker Lake Youth Athletic Association (BLYAA) explains that this second sign was added by the local council as a surprise gesture to the Youth Athletic Association. Mainse was not sure who put the sign up, or why. But he feels that the sign reflects the community’s support for the program’s success. It does.
Mainse recalls a particularly telling moment when he assembled a group of Inuit youths in a gymnasium. During the gathering, Mainse pointed to one group. They responded by shouting “We Are!”. Mainse pointed to the second group. They shouted “Baker Lake!” Maise pointed back and forth, between groups, as everyone loudly shouted “We Are! Baker Lake! We Are! Baker Lake!”
You can sense the difference that True Sport has made in this small northern community (population 1700 – almost all Inuit). The powerful scene of a group of gathered youth proudly identifying their support for their community is a demonstration of the success that Mainse and his team have been able to achieve in Baker Lake. Though people had previously shown an interest in sports and athletics, the introduction of True Sport has allowed that interest to grow, sustain and thrive.
Before the BYLAA, significant issues plagued the community. A mere 50 youths were involved with athletics. Although travel teams were created, they had no identity or focus, they competed for local funding and opposing teams would not visit Baker Lake for tournaments. Beyond athletics, attendance in school was low and students were not graduating. Self-esteem among the youth was dropping and some were taking troubled paths in life.
Connecting sport to community success and personal development was a welcome challenge for Mainse and other volunteers. With the BYLAA came the introduction of a team name and identity – the Blizzard – as well as a mascot and new approach to sport. Participation in athletics was linked with grades in school and more students began to succeed and graduate. Now, close to 125 youth are involved in the program. The Blizzard are not simply the BLYAA participants. The entire community plays a role in the success of the program. More people are attending games, parent volunteers cook food during tournaments and even the non-participanting youth feel like they are part of the team.
“One thing that makes me feel good about this program is its continued success with more youth making positive lifestyle choices,” Mainse says. “More and more youth are choosing sports and athletics as their outlet. Improving self confidence in youth snowballs success for the school and our community.” Even though there is frequent turnover of staff and volunteers, the success of the program has meant that young Inuit youth who were Blizzard athletes are starting to become officials, coaches and board members. Graduating youth give their time back to the BYLAA and create a self-sufficient sport program.
True Sport has provided the means by which to engage youth and sustain these positive developments. One highlight was the visit of Olympic athlete and star badminton player Andrew Dabeka. The interest created by his visit, along with the infusion of coaching materials, equipment and other resources created both memories and athletic development that will last a lifetime. “Teachers, coaches and youth will come and go over time,” says Mainse. “But the identity of the youth, the pride in Baker Lake and decisions to make positive lifestyle choices is here to stay. The future is exciting for the youth of Baker Lake.”