2013 James Bay Eagles All-Stars  Phototaken from James Bay Eagles Facebook page“Believe and achieve is our motto this year.”

This is the message that Chisasibi’s Trevor Monaghan delivered loud and clear to the players and supporters of the James Bay Eagles 6-A-Side football program.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Eagles represented Quebec at the recent 6 Nations Challenge in Brandon, Manitoba. The tournament, which highlights the best teams in 6-A-Side football, is aimed at player development as well as increasing participation among Aboriginal players across Canada.

“Six-A-Side football continues to grow across Canada, providing an avenue for smaller communities as well as those unequipped to manage the traditional 12-A-Side program the opportunity to still play tackle football,” explained Football Canada executive director Shannon Donovan.

“The 6-A-Side brand of football is fast and exciting – it allows for players to play multiple positions on both sides of the ball and helps develop football fundamentals like passing, catching, blocking, tackling and kicking.”

After going undefeated to be crowned champions at last year’s 6 Nations Challenge in Ottawa, the Eagles carried the burden of high expectations to the 2013 tourney.

A new format, introduced this year, saw teams face off first in a shootout challenge, where each team receives a series of 10 plays beginning at their opponents’ 45-yard line. The Eagles struggled in their two shoot-out games, falling to host Team Manitoba 24-22 and tying rival team Saskatchewan 36-36.

The Eagles would get their revenge on Saskatchewan in their following game, posting a 46-36 victory before being defeated by this year’s champion, Team Manitoba, by a score of 50-20.

The 2013 edition of the 6 Nations Challenge marked the first time in the event’s history that all participating teams were led by Aboriginal head coaches, including Monaghan, who has been the driving force behind the Eagles’ program since it started.

“The work we put in is to help our First Nations youth develop life skills, have new experiences and choose a healthy lifestyle,” explained Monaghan, who founded the James Bay Eagles football program. “They are the next generation.”

Gavin Young (Manitoba) and Justin Pooyak (Saskatchewan) round out this year’s head coaching trio.

The Eagles program has now expanded to include competitive teams at the Peewee, Bantam and Midget levels, all of which won championships this year. According to Monaghan, this success is a result of the Eagles’ development-first approach.

“When Football Canada agreed to help [the Eagles] get the 6-A-Side program started five years ago, we had a few objectives to meet,” explained Monaghan in a post-tournament post on the Eagles’ Facebook page.

“First was to develop community members as coaches and that I oversee the high performance program as a manager. This meant less on-the-field coaching, and allowing our young coaches [to gain] experience teaching the sport of football.”

Prior to boarding the bus for the long road trip to Manitoba, Monaghan delivered a poignant message of thanks to Eagle supporters via the James Bay Eagles’ Facebook page.

“Wanna thank all the alumni, past players, current and graduates plus the parents for your continued support. Also the CNC for their resources and the community for embracing football, it’s the ultimate team sport,” said Monaghan.

“Some of you will not be with us in person, but be with us in spirit and good thoughts. As we travel across the country to pursue our dream, of being the best 6-A-Side team in the country. Beat Team Saskatchewan and Team Manitoba is our goal.

“Believe and achieve is our motto this year.”