By Sam Laskaris
A bit of history was made on Monday morning at a southern Ontario arena. Teams representing Ontario and British Columbia squared off in a girls’ under-19 lacrosse match on the opening day of action at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
The game signified the first ever girls’ lacrosse contest at the NAIG. While boys have been playing the sport since the Games’ inception in 1990, this marks the first time a girls’ lacrosse division has also been staged.
Ontario edged B.C. 8-7 in the historic contest, which was held at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Hagersville.
Though the majority of events in this year’s NAIG will be held in Toronto, some nearby communities will also serve as hosts for some sports.
Tawnee Martin, who led the Ontario club with three goals in the opening match, said playing in the first girls’ lacrosse game at NAIG was emotional.
“It was pretty overwhelming,” said Martin, a 17-year-old from Six Nations. “I had the feeling when I was shaking some hands after the game that I was going to cry.”
Martin was able to hold back her tears. But not her excitement at helping her side register its first victory at the Games.
“It was pretty awesome,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect from B.C.”
Squads from Ontario and B.C. tend to be perennial powerhouses at most national competitions.
The girls’ category at this year’s NAIG features five entrants. Also taking part are teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Quebec-based side called Eastern Door and the North.
All squads will play each other once in round-round action, resulting in four games per club. The top four finishers will then advance to the semi-finals, which will be held on Thursday.
The bronze-medal and gold-medal matches will then be staged on Friday.
Besides the ILA, lacrosse games at this year’s NAIG are also being held in the Six Nations community of Ohsweken and in Hamilton.
Martin, who will begin her final year of high school studies this September, is confident her squad can go on to capture the gold medal at the NAIG. She is hoping her team’s jitters over competing in this multi-sport competition are now a thing of the past.
“After getting the nerves out of our system we can do it,” said Martin, who is also playing for the Six Nations Warriors, a girls’ intermediate squad this summer.
Amy Babcock-Dejonge, who is serving as the manager of the Ontario girls’ lacrosse club, is also confident the club can go on to win gold this week.
“I’m absolutely certain they can pull off the gold,” she said.
Besides managing the Ontario girls’ entry at this year’s NAIG, Babcock-Dejonge also has some additional duties. She is serving as the manager for both the Ontario boys’ under-16 and under-19 clubs as well.
“Team Ontario is looking to win the gold in all three divisions,” said Babcock-Dejonge, whose son Ethan is a member of the under-16 club.
Babcock-Dejonge is also thrilled to be a part of history as girls’ lacrosse is making its debut at the NAIG.
“It means everything to me because it’s about time,” she said.
Babcock-Dejonge is also glad that the members of the Ontario teams get to play in their home province.
“We have the support of our communities and our families,” she said. “It takes a lot of the pressure off.”
Edmonton hosted the inaugural NAIG in 1990. This year is the ninth time the Games have been held.
There has been no set timetable as to when the NAIG are held. They have been staged with as little as two years and as many as six years between Games.
About 5,000 athletes and coaches are participating in this year’s Games. They are representing 22 regions across Canada and the United States.
All 10 provinces and three territories in Canada have representatives at the multi-sport competition. And athletes from nine American states are also taking part.
Besides lacrosse, 13 other sports are also being contested at this year’s NAIG. They are archery, athletics, badminton, baseball, basketball, canoeing/kayaking, golf, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball and wrestling.
The Games kicked off on Sunday evening with the opening ceremonies, which were held at the Aviva Centre, located on the campus of Toronto’s York University.
Besides lacrosse, action also began in seven other sports on Monday.
The Games continue until Saturday when the closing ceremonies will be held, also at York University.