Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A sporting chance

Organization helps aboriginal kids get over barriers that limit participation

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Reaching out to more than 6,000 people in communities across Manitoba each year with a staff of just five is a labour of love for the Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Council.

"Our mandate is to try to ensure that all aboriginal people in Manitoba who want access to sport and recreation have that opportunity," said Mel Whitesell, MASRC executive director.

"We try to help them get over the barriers, whatever they may be, to be able to participate. And there can be a lot of barriers."

Obstacles that may hold back aboriginal people from participating in sport are the cost, travel, equipment and access to instruction and development, he said.

"We want to get kids involved, get them busy, and let them try to go as far as they can go."

One of the biggest roles for MASRC is conducting sports clinics and camps and teaching coaches and athletes in aboriginal communities. This helps sport continue developing within the community long after the camps are over.

There are three MASRC sport consultants who travel to aboriginal communities across the province and work with representatives from Sport Manitoba's provincial sport organizations to provide instruction in whatever sport a community requests.

More than 20 communities were visited in the past year with clinics in lacrosse, hockey, basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton and softball.

"With the aboriginal community growing as fast as it is right now, we can barely keep up," Whitesell said. "We could use twice as much funding as we get. For our two or three guys to travel to all the places they're needed to go, it's really tough. We could use six of them out there."

MASRC held two regional aboriginal sport information forums this year. In Dauphin, the Parkland forum included 23 representatives from surrounding aboriginal communities. There were 20 representatives from neighbouring aboriginal communities at the Westman forum in Brandon.

MASRC runs provincial programs for teams and athletes to participate in the North American Indigenous Games (youth under-18) and runs provincial men's and women's teams for the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.

The 2014 North American Indigenous Games will be held in Regina, and MASRC has begun to search for coaches and identify athletes who will participate in tryouts.

Each year, MASRC awards aboriginal coach, athlete and volunteer awards to recognize the skills and abilities of special individuals from across the province.

Whitesell said MASRC is playing an increasingly important role in Winnipeg because there's a growing number of aboriginal people moving into the city and they may not know how to access services or have limited resources.

MASRC representatives talk to aboriginal athletes at Winnipeg schools to encourage them to get involved in sport and help them access assistance to pay for registrations and get equipment.

Two years ago, MASRC saved KidSport Manitoba from closing its warehouse by taking over the operation, looking after equipment donations and distribution.

"There's so many people we can reach," Whitesell said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 29, 2012 J15

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