From our sports desk comes news of the Olympic spirit catching on in Eeyou Astchee big time.

No Crees competed at the recent Olympic Games, but the day may not be too far off when one will.

As we went to press, the finest athletes of the Cree Nation were busily preparing for the gruelling Cree Fitness Challenge in Nemaska in mid-August. Summer games have been held in some of the communities. A Cree chief and his wife are going to walk 700 kilometres in two weeks and several dozen residents of Eastmain wanted to join them.

In keeping with the Olympic theme, Neil Diamond has investigated the accomplishments of Native athletes at the Olympics in years past. His article is on p. 10.

Closer to home, we have also gotten word of several young Crees who have made outstanding athletic achievements.

Brandon Happyjack-Smoke, 16, of Waswanipi is making a name for himself in the softball world. Brandon is the youngest member of the Midget Kanata Pirates softball club roster near Ottawa where he lives with his mother, Marsha Smoke.

He recently accompanied the team as the only Native at the North American International Softball Conference in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

The Pirates, one of only two Canadian teams that participated, came in a respectable fourth place. At the same conference last summer, the Pirates were the only team from Canada playing and Brandon was there with them.

Brandon, the son of Allan Happyjack, started off as a pitcher but now plays outfield and is also known as a reliable hitter. He was recruited into the Pirates from a Bantam team in time for the Eastern Canadian Softball Championships two years ago.

In other sports news, the semi-professional Rafales de Québec hockey team may soon have the Cutest Guy In The Cree Nation as part of its line-up.

Yes, Whapmagoostui’s very own Robert Auclair (elected by the public at large as the “Cutest Guy” in our Valentine’s Special Issue) and rising star Brant Blackned of Wemindji are going to be trying out for the Rafales soon. The Rafales are a new member of the 16-team International League and The Nation wishes them the best of luck.

Hockey-wise, the future looks bright indeed for Cree youth. Three Crees are trying out for the Midget AAA team in Amos, and a record nine or 10 are trying out for Junior Major teams.

In Chisasibi, the first-ever hockey camp run by Stan Jones of the Cree Hockey Development Program had 54 youth getting a work-out from hell starting August 3. Thirteen-hour training sessions each day for a week gave these boys the kind of aches and pains that make you pray for Deliverance, but watch for a real difference in the level of hockey at upcoming tournaments. Tuition for the camp was kept low, according to Stan—about half what you’d pay in the south.

“They’re busy. It’s a long day for them,” Stan reported halfway through the camp. “We have to keep pushing them. It’s new to them. But it’s going great. They want to learn. In general, everybody is really keen.”

Look for a goaltending school in Waswanipi in September and another camp back in Chisasibi for just Atoms and PeeWees.