Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stoking the fire

Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Association introduces children to activities at a young age

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Playing multiple sports growing in Peguis, Kiinnan Stevenson-French remembers how sports came to him.

Stevenson-French attended many clinics and camps held in his community by the Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Association (MASRC).

"It's very important that they do this for kids," said Stevenson-French, 18, who is now a first-year student at the University of Manitoba. He plans to pursue a career in environmental studies and maybe work as a conservation officer.

"It (MASRC) gives a lot of aboriginal athletes a chance to be involved in sports at an earlier age. The clinics and camps are development opportunities to give them a chance to go farther than they maybe thought they ever could."

Through the clinics and camps, he and other youths in his community were introduced to sports such as volleyball, softball, basketball, wrestling, golf and both ice and ball hockey.

"Kiinnan is a tremendous role model for other youth. He's a great example of what a difference our programs can make," said Mel Whitesell, MASRC executive director. "We try to bring the sports to the communities for the young people there to learn sports that they might not otherwise be exposed to."

MASRC has three sport consultants who travel to aboriginal communities around Manitoba to present the clinics and camps with guest instructors from Sport Manitoba's provincial sport organizations.

"It made me want to play them (sports) more. I learned how to play the sports better and that gave me a chance to improve myself," said Stevenson-French, who was selected as the male recipient of last year's Tom Longboat Award as the male aboriginal athlete of the year. The award recognized him for the wide range of sports he played as well as citizenship.

He was a member of Manitoba's team that won the bronze medal at the 2011 Western Canadian Softball Championships, and he won three medals the 2011 Manitoba Indigenous Invitational Games.

He also spent time working in other areas of sport as a timekeeper at school activities and an ice hockey referee, and Stevenson-French said the opportunities offered him by MASRC showed him the importance of contributing to his community.

As a member of the Peguis Youth Hunters and Gatherers, he and the group are using their hunting skills to provide all the meat for this year's Peguis Christmas hamper program.

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

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