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shíshálh Nation soccer players score gold medal winning goals at NAIG

'I couldn't really believe it. Because of all the fans there cheering us on and the adrenaline from soccer. I was just in shock': shíshálh Nation athletes helped Team BC's U-19 men's soccer team bring home the gold from the 2023 North American Indigenous Games.
Team BC’s U19 Men’s team celebrate their Gold medal at the North American Indigenous Games at Halifax N.S.

Three young athletes returned home as champions after not only winning the gold but substantially contributing to its achievement. 

On July 21, Team BC’s U19 men’s soccer team won the gold medal with a 4-0 win over Team Manitoba at the North American Indigenous Games, hosted in Halifax, NS, July 15 to 23.

Every Coast athlete at NAIG was manning the team, including shíshálh Nation’s, Kamryn Pierre, Billy August and Max Joe.

In the final game, each one of the local athletes scored a goal. 

Kamryn Pierre said the first moments after the game ended were surreal, “I couldn't really believe it. Because of all the fans there cheering us on and the adrenaline from soccer. I was just in shock.”

Pierre scored the fourth goal of the match, securing the victory. According to him, it was a sentimental moment.“My grandma really wanted me to score her a goal, and same as my other family members. So when I scored, I felt that I really achieved everything I wanted to do in that tournament,” he said.

The game was delayed for more than an hour at the half due to a thunderstorm, according to Pierre, the downtime was a good chance to refocus. "Once the thunder hit, we had time to really regroup ourselves, we had this huge talk in the locker room, talking about what we're fighting for, and how hard we're gonna fight for those people. That really brought motivation to our team and showed it as the second half started,” he said.

Billy August was the icebreaker, scoring the first goal of the match and getting the momentum started for Team BC.

For August, getting an opportunity to be on a team with players he usually faces off against was a rewarding experience, “Just bonding with my team was great, because I've been playing against them my whole life," said August. "After playing against them, having that rivalry, and then coming together and working together as a team and taking home gold was a very good experience." 

A coach’s perspective

Christopher Daniels was the head coach of the soccer team, he agreed with his players that the gold medal match was the toughest by far.

“Even though we played Manitoba earlier in the round-robin, they came back to play in the gold medal match versus us and once you get to a gold medal game, then everybody wants it so bad, so it's a totally different team,” he said. 

Daniels said it was extremely rewarding working with the team.

“I pointed [Billy] over towards the middle. And a free kick came right to his foot and all he had to do was touch it and change the direction a little bit. He scored a goal in the final game, said Daniels. “You know, it's little moments where you adjust the player and it comes out to an awesome outcome.” 

Mike Cowrie was one of the coaches who worked with Billy August and Max Joe when they played for Sunshine Coast Youth Soccer, and said they were an integral part of the team's success this year.

“Their team had their greatest season ever, Billy and Max raised their level to the highest point ever. They played the best soccer of their lives for the Storm U18 team this year," said Cowrie. "All of Max and Billy's U18 Storm coaches and teammates are so proud of the two of them for bringing home the gold."

What's next for the players?

NAIG is hosted every four years, meaning that these athletes will be too old to compete when the games return next. 

As the players decide how soccer will be a part of their lives going forward, multiple options arise. 

“I’m attending UBC in the fall, so I'm going to try and find a high level league to play in so I can make my way up to the UBC team,” said August. “And actually, I do have a trial for a league called NIFA. It's an Indigenous team that goes international and plays games all over, they're going to Europe next year.”

“I want to bring back the passion into our nation, try to start winning the tournaments here, like the native tournaments that happen every summer around B.C.” Pierre said. “A lot of our nation members lost the passion but I want to get back for everyone, especially the youth.

In a followup interview with Coast Reporter, Pierre said, “The three of us would like to thank and acknowledge the Tsain-Ko group of companies and the shíshálh Nation Indian Band for the donation support financially and assisting us to attend the North American Indigenous Games. Also our Chief and Council, Elders and everyone who supported us while we participated at NAIG.”

Jordan Copp is the Coast Reporter’s civic and Indigenous affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.