Wikwemikong youth inspired through PLAY program

Three time Olympian Sami Jo Small works with youth goalies during a workshop at the Wikwemikong arena as part of the Right to Play PLAY Program.

WIKWEMIKONG—Youth from Wikwemikong, Aundeck Omni Kaning, Whitefish River and Sheshegwaning First Nation had the opportunity to rub elbows and learn from Olympic hockey player Sami Jo Small and some of her teammates on the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) Toronto Furies at a recent hockey workshop from the Right to Play PLAY Program in Wikwemikong.

“Right to Play has an ongoing afterschool youth program in Wikwemikong,” explained Right to Play Sports Development Manager Lauren Simeson.

The program runs three to five days a week and is designed to offer children aged six to 12 a chance of indoor/outdoor recreation, arts/cultural enrichment, homework support, nutrition and daily support.

“This weekend we are running a Hockey for Development program,” continued Ms. Simeson. “The goal is to inspire youth to make hockey part of their daily life by bringing in professional hockey players for both off-ice and on-ice leadership sessions.”

“The Sports for Development programs combine sport and play with other non-sport leadership development components to enhance their effectiveness,” states the Right to Play website. “These programs are designed to support community mentors to plan, lead and assess regular sport programs in their community. These programs empower children and youth to develop their sport-specific skills, enhance their leadership capacity and understand the importance of sportsmanship and fair play.”

Ms. Simeson explained that the players did an in-school session at Wasse Abin Pontiac School, speaking about their hockey careers and overcoming challenges, followed by an open skate at the Wikwemikong Arena.

“The students were very receptive,” three time Olympian Ms. Small told The Expositor. “We talked about the upcoming hockey workshops on the weekend and encouraging students to come out. We also talked a lot about overcoming challenges and the joy of playing on a sports team.”

Ms. Small, now a goaltender for the Toronto Furies, is the vice-chairman and one of the founders of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

She said that she learned about Right to Play after meeting fellow Olympian Johann Joss, who founded the organization in 2000.

“He encouraged other Olympic athletes to get involved and I wanted to help make an impact,” said Ms. Small, who became involved in 2010. “I realized I could make a difference in my own backyard, so I jumped on board and got my teammates to come out too.”

Ms. Small brought her Furies teammates forwards Julie Allen, Kori Cheverie and defenseman Lexie Hoffeyer to Wikwemikong.

The weekend workshops included sessions for children of all ages and skill levels in the Wikwemikong and the surrounding First Nations, as well as a special girls only session on Sunday.

“The program went really well,” Right to Play Wikwemikong Community Mentor Jessica Manitowabi told The Expositor. “We had over 80 youth attend throughout the weekend as well as 25 coaching staff for a coaching clinic. We were pleased with the turn out, which was way more then we expected, and how much everyone enjoyed the weekend.”

The Right to Play PLAY Program was started in 2010 by the Grand Chiefs of Ontario, the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Right to Play. The program currently partners with 57 First Nations and urban Aboriginal organizations across Ontario and the Manitoba.

For more information about Right to Play and its programming visit www.righttoplay.ca.