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It takes a community

Rankin Inlet works together to provide opportunities
All cameras are aimed at the players celebrating after the gold-medal game, but there’s a whole arena and more of family, volunteers, fans and passionate community members who strive all year to help Rankin Inlet youth create lifelong memories. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

The players get the limelight, but just like in the winning team photo of the 2023 Arctic Winter Games U19 hockey squad, there’s a whole community behind them working just as hard off the ice.

Selma Eccles might not have a child still involved in hockey, but she remembers the parenting journey of fundraising for her son’s hockey career.

“As soon as he was able to skate, I think he was five, that’s when we got involved,” said Eccles.

“They would go on trips to Thompson (Manitoba) or have tournaments here, so we would do bake sales, penny sales. I almost used to dread weekends because that means we’re going to have to bake something again. You run out of ideas of what to cook other than pie, cookies, cake. I had to start thinking of different things to start to bake to try to make people buy things.”

And if it’s not hockey, it’s soccer, volleyball or another activity. Everything costs money: travel, equipment, accessories. And it all involves a lot of time.

It takes a full commitment to organize, plan, announce and advertise these initiatives, she said. And what Eccles found along the way is not only was her son on a team, but she was too.

“It becomes a real bond that hockey parents get,” she said. “We normally wouldn’t see each other on an everyday basis but when we have to get together to fundraise or go on trips with the kids, you have a camaraderie where you feel like you’re a team too, you’re a team of parents.”

And it’s not just the fundraisers who play a role.

Recreation coordinator and hockey coach David Clark is known to end each tournament giving a big thank-you to the people in the arena who make the atmosphere what it is: the timekeepers, scorekeepers, the arena DJ, referees, the livestreamers, recreation staff, fans and everyone else.

David Ningeongan’s Inuktitut play-by-play is treasured in the community. Nowadays, Ningeongan said he’s starting to get paid for the bigger tournaments, but he often commentated for free in the past.

“You’ve got people volunteering to put the schedule together, the referees are there as well to take their time away from family to be part of the tournaments in our community,” he said. “We’ve always had that support from the community.”

The only thing he wishes for now is more ability for Rankin Inlet to host out-of-towners so local tournaments can continue to grow in size and the community can continue to welcome teams and players from elsewhere.

“I think that’s where we’re kind of struggling as a community.”

Pujjuut Kusugak has been coaching in Rankin Inlet for some-25 years.

“You’re putting off a lot of other things that maybe you’d like to do,” he said. “But I think coaches and volunteers understand that these types of community activities are so important for the health and wellbeing of our community members.”

And that extends beyond hockey, he added, to other sports and even those who keep facilities like the fitness centre running or take the time to pass on their traditional knowledge.

“Just a huge shoutout to our community members that put in the time to make sure these kind of events can happen. If there was a way that we could thank them all, there are so many that could easily be named.”

David Ningeongan provides Inuktitut play-by-play over radio and livestream during big tournaments in Rankin Inlet. He said the community has always provided lots of support for these activities, and what the town needs next is more accommodation to host visiting players and teams. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo