THUNDER BAY, Ont.
Despite some criticism about its location, organizers of this year’s Ontario Native Basketball Invitational (ONBI) are working to make it a success.
This year’s tournament will be staged April 18 to April 21 in the northern Ontario city of Thunder Bay.
Indigenous Sport & Wellness Ontario (ISWO), the governing body of Indigenous athletics in the province, is running the event.
This marks the fifth time ISWO officials have staged a provincial basketball tournament. The last one was in October of 2017 in Sault Ste. Marie.
“We’re still experimenting with the best time to do it,” said ISWO’s president Marc Laliberte, a Thunder Bay resident who is also the main organizer for this year’s tournament, adding the event has previously run during different seasons. “We’re trying to figure out what will be the best time for it.”
Laliberte said several representatives from teams in southern Ontario had expressed their concerns about how costly it would be for them to attend a tournament in Thunder Bay. But he is defending ISWO’s decision to stage the 2019 event in the northern Ontario city.
“We want to move our event around and to give everybody a chance to host it,” Laliberte said.
This year’s event will feature female and male squads with players aged 14 to 18.
The 2017 tournament had also included a 9 to 12 division, as well as adult categories. But those have been scrapped this time around.
Laliberte said organizers can accommodate 16 male teams and eight female squads. As of Monday, 15 clubs (10 male and five female) had shown interest in participating.
Though the tournament has been for Ontario-only entrants in the past, Laliberte said organizers are switching things up this year and allowing out-of-province entrants.
Laliberte is hoping some competitors from Manitoba and Saskatchewan take part in Thunder Bay.
“The other provinces have been invited as well,” he said. “They’re seeing if they can do it.”
The entry fee is $200 for Ontario-based clubs wishing to enter the tournament and $300 for out-of-province squads. For those individuals looking to sign up and be placed on a team the registration fee is $30.
Laliberte said some teams from southern Ontario are still taking part in this year’s event. But organizers realize they will have to make due with fewer squads from that part of the province.
“We’re doing a lot of last-minute decision making,” he said.
Josh Carpenter played in the adult division of the 2017 ONBI. And this year he’s organized the Sudbury Martens teams who will take part in the female and male categories.
“I think it’s great,” he said of the ONBI. “I hope it continues to grow and gets bigger.”
Carpenter believes the potential is there to have a large number of Indigenous youth basketball squads in the province.
“It seems almost every First Nation has a gym or a sports complex of some sort,” he said.
Carpenter was able to get plenty of support for the Martens as he promised prospective team members they would be able to participate in three tournaments. That would be the ONBI and two other events.
The Martens took part in an event staged in the Six Nations community of Ohsweken last month. And the squads also plan to take part in another tournament at some point after the ONBI.
The Martens feature a dozen players on their female roster and 11 members on its male team.
Carpenter said there was considerable interest from those who were hoping to crack the Martens’ female lineup.
“We had 36 try out for the team,” he said. “I should have built two or three teams now that I think about it. Maybe that’s something to do for next year.”
The Martens’ female club includes a pair of players from Moose Factory. Their families drove 18 hours, including a few on ice roads, to attend the Six Nations tournament.
“Basketball is really big in Moose Factory and they’re really hungry for more,” Carpenter said.
“I’ve been amazed by their dedication and commitment,” he said.
Laliberte is pleased with those who are jumping on board to make the 2019 ONBI a success.
“The city of Thunder Bay is behind this in a big way and is a major sponsor,” he said.
The Thunder Bay Airport Authority has also made a sizeable contribution to the tournament. It is putting up $2,500 to cover the costs of the event.
And the Lakehead District School Board has donated gym time at three of its facilities that will stage tournament games.
Laliberte has also been in touch with officials from both the women’s and men’s basketball programs at Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University.
“We’re looking at them to see what they can help us with,” he said.