In the summer OF 1994, a couple of local Aboriginal pool players – Roy Rae and Les Louttit – had the idea of entering an all-Aboriginal pool team in the Thunder Bay Selectomatic Pool League, a member of the Valley 8-Ball League Association.
Upon contacting other pool players, Roy Rae from Keewayin, Ontario organized the team and registered it in September 1994, at the start of the 1994-95 season. Although the team was mostly Aboriginal, its home base was at the Polish Legion Hall (Simpson Street) under the name of the Polish Rockets.
Last year, the Rockets played all 24 games in 94-95 by placing fourth in the “B” Division of the League and made it to the playoffs in March 1995. Winning either the “A” or “B” title guarantees the two winning teams a shot at the Annual 8-Ball International Championships held in Las Vegas in May each year.
Unfortunately, the Rockets did not advance and were eliminated in the “B”side playoffs last March 1995, but surprised the opposing teams by often outs hooting some of the city’s best 8-Ball pool players. In’ its first year, the team showed real determination and sportsmanship conduct with their freewheeling style in an environment where games are played under the League’s rules and most times under a very serious setting and close scrutiny by opposing teams.
In addition, only two of the players actually owned their own personal pool cues, which were shared among team members while other teams’ players each had their own cues and, in some cases, players owned up to four cues.
For its maiden season in an organized, semi-professional league, the Polish Rockets achieved notice and recognition with its individual members who played equally well against opposing players rated as “A” players.
THE 1995-96 SEASON AND LAS VEGAS
This season, half of the all-Aboriginal team members are new players and the team is called the Airlane Arrows, being based out of. the Airlane Hotel. Although it is currently struggling due to numerous player changes, the following is the Arrow’s permanent roster: Les Louttit (Captain, Kashechewan First Nation, beneficiary of the Wemindji Band), Ernie Spence (Asst. Captain, Constance Lake), Leslie Meekis (Deer Lake), Lloyd Meekis (Sandy Lake), Ortie Redskye (Bearskin Lake), Doug Kebokee (Attawapiskat) and George Edwards (Fort Albany).
The Airlane Arrows finished the regular season March 26,1996 by placing first in the “B” Division with an equal half of the players ranking eight and nine averages on a scale where a player ranked with a 10 average is considered a top player in the League.
The Arrows’ first-place standing allowed them two “byes” in the first and second-round matches of the 1996 playoffs. They faced their first test by eliminating the Lee’s Lagers team on-March 30 and advanced to the final berth for the “B” Division Championship title. On Saturday, April 6, the Airlane Arrows made a historical sports achievement for the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation by eliminating the Lee’s Roadrunners, who conceded the last game.
The Airlane Arrows proudly took the 1996 “B” Divison Selectomatic 8-Ball Pool League Championship title in a hard-fought game which, at times, was very tense but exciting. The Arrows had taken an early 25-point lead but in the fourth round of the match, the Roadrunners threatened the Arrows through strong finishes and reduced the Arrows’ lead to 10 points.
But in the end, the Arrows maintained their composure and rallied to outshoot the Roadrunners by sinking the one point required to capture the game and title.
In taking the “B” Championship title, the Airlane Arrows won an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas to compete in the 16th Annual Valley 8-Ball International Championships, which were played at the famous Riviera Hotel.
Only the first five members of the Airlane Arrows listed above were able to compete in games involving 871 world-class pool teams playing on 200 pool tables. The Arrows played a total of 60 games in five matches before being eliminated. This equalled the record of the “A” Champions from Thunder Bay.
Unofficially, the league representative has informed the team that the Airlane Arrows placed within the top 20 per cent of the competitions, or approximately at the 115th position from the top. Considering the quality and level of competition at these championships, the team members are pleased with their standing and are determined to compete again next year in Las Vegas.
The team members are very determined pool players competing in an international league with the best players in this city. Pool is a game of skill which requires concentration and motivation to succeed. Our players have shown these qualities consistently and, if properly equipped, can achieve a higher standing in the League.
Last summer, many Aboriginal athletes from Northwestern Ontario were outstanding and took several titles at the Pan-American Indian Games held in the U.S. Pool is an international, professional game played at world-class competitions regularly.
The Airlane Arrows are very proud to have represented the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation at Las Vegas this year and thanks to the NAN Grand Chief for promoting the team and Bearskin Airlines, which made a financial contribution. The team looks forward to more support from our First Nations, organizations and businesses next year.