UWO reaches out to aboriginal community

Boydell's course assembles varsity athletes at Thompson

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Alexis Karpacz and students

Jon Purdy

MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE COMMUNITY. Former men's basketball coach Craig Boydell's sports and community class hosts an Aboriginal Track and Field Day for schools around London. Here, former volleyballer Alexis Karpacz works with some students.

Last week at Thompson Arena, Western student-athletes hosted the second annual First Nations Track and Field Day. The Mustangs reached out to the community and put on a thrilling day for aboriginal elementary school children.

Craig Boydell, a Western professor and former ’Stangs men’s basketball coach, and his team of 10 Western athletes staged an athletic clinic for the students of eight First Nations schools around the London area.

Events included sprints, relays, long jump, shot-put and high jump with demonstrations by Western’s track and field stars, including Aaron Grainge, Jason Rhodes, Andrew Judge, Shellie McParland and Bethany Janzen. Also participating were basketball’s Bess Lennox, rugby’s Melissa Baer, volleyball’s Colin O’Brien, wrestling’s Jessica Fitzgerald and former volleyballer Alexis Karpacz

The idea for a First Nations track meet spawned from a field experience requirement for kinesiology students in Boydell’s sports and community course. His community initiative’s motto is “with strength, pride and determination, anything is possible.”

Working upon this foundation, the Mustangs focused on giving the aboriginal students a taste of the Purple and Silver.

“We try to get them in here and give them a taste of what Western is like,” Rhodes said. “We try to learn about them and just put on a fun day with a positive atmosphere. They learn a few things about track and field and get active.”

A First Nations dance group opened the day. In addition to the athletic events, a sense of tradition and cultural respect was prevalent throughout the day.

“The key message is encouraging Native kids to come here grounded in their own self-identity with their own traditions, cultures and lifestyles,” said Indigenous Services’ Vivian Peters.

“[Boydell’s athletes] have to have some understanding of Native communities, and we helped them with that,” she said. “They’re a wonderful group of kids, so they can really touch these children.”

Participating Western students found great meaning in the event’s impact on the next generation of First Nations students.

“It’s kind of an exposure thing to give the kids a taste of it,” Rhodes said. “We just want to let them know that it’s within their reach and to not accept anything less.”

“We put in more time than we put in for a regular lecture class,” Grainge said. “But it’s been fantastic. The kids are having fun and they seem to be really excited by the demonstrations and everything. It’s going really well.”

The event’s effects were felt by all of the participants and observers. The Western students not only displayed great athleticism, but dedication and interest in the community outside the university’s gates.

“The event is more successful than the kids even realize,” Peters said. “They think they’re just here to have fun, which they are. But we always have this other goal whenever we come on campus, especially when we’re partnered with Craig Boydell, who is an awesome guy. The message is to try and get the kids to remember this day.”

The First Nations students took in the experience with great enthusiasm and appreciation. When asked what the best part of the day was, sixth grader Kingsley Doxtator eagerly replied, “The girls!”

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