A fan rally in Old Massett had the village booming a full week before any team could make a move at the All-Native Basketball Tournament.
It was the first Old Massett rally in years, and likely the first of its kind.
Facing stands packed with red-dressed Warriors, Watchmen, and Wild fans, Peter Lantin, president of the Council of the Haida Nation, flipped his cap backwards to take on another roles — All-Native sportscaster.
As he called out their names, fans cheered as players and coaches from Old Massett’s intermediate, masters, seniors and women’s teams came running into a spotlight at centre court and high-fived their teammates.
Each team also picked a number-one fan to come down and say a few words to the crowd.
Age 82, Robin Brown said he has rarely missed a tournament in all its 57-year history.
One of the first ball players to come out of Old Massett, Brown can well remember the days when teams arrived in Prince Rupert not by ferry, but by fish boat.
“When you get encouragement like this for ball teams, they try harder,” he said from experience, thanking everyone in the stands.
Besides the cheers and super fans, what made the rally stand out were the games everyone played before sharing a community dinner.
Recognizing that for several years now, a few of the Prince Rupert parties can get dangerously out of hand, organizers set up a series of games — walking a line with “beer goggles” on, racing to roll a condom on a banana — that shared messages about fan safety.
A public health nurse, an RCMP officer, and others were on hand to talk about trouble that can come up outside the game: violence, sexual assault, drug abuse, and sexually-transmited infections.
“We all hear stories about what’s going on over on the mainland,” said Lantin.
“We need to get together as a community, and make sure we take care of one another when we get over to Prince Rupert.”
After everyone had circled once around the gym, stopping off at the ‘Spawning Season’ table or another about sex and consent, players on the Old Massett teams served a community dinner — one of many thank-yous for Haida Gwaii’s extraordinary All-Native fundraising.
“It was the whole island that pitched in and helped the ladies team get to All-Native this year,” said Richard Smith, a veteran player who is coaching this year’s Haida Wild women’s team.
Between ferry costs and travel for off-island players, not to mention hotels for the week, every All-Native team raises thousands of dollars through raffles, fish and chip sales, sponsors and private donations.
“I want to say haw’aa to all our supporters that made donations, bought a ticket, anything to help support us,” said Smith, echoing comments by all the coaches.
“Without them, we’re not getting anywhere.”
Asked about this year’s team, Smith said most of the Wild players are 19 and have been playing together for over three years.
“We’re head and shoulders above where we started because of their maturity level now,” he said.
“I feel this one is their strongest squad yet.”
Likewise, coach Duffy Edgars sounded confident in the Warriors intermediate team — with lots of returning players, he hopes for a top-three finish.
“I think it’s just playing together for a long time, and hard defence — defence win games,” said Edgars.
“Just clicking, gelling together, knowing each other’s role.”
As for the rally, Smith said it was a welcome and far-sighted idea — a good way to get a jump on problems before they start.
“I’ve never heard of any communities doing what we’re doing,” he said.