Summertime means it is volleyball time, and teams from all over Northern Ontario have gathered in Sandy Lake First Nation to compete for the $15,000 top prize.
The annual tournament has made its return to Sandy Lake for the first time since 2019, and teams could not have been more excited to make their way into the community.
Tournament organizer Violet Fiddler shared her excitement for the tournament to be back.
“It feels really good, we were very excited to put this tournament on again, because we have been waiting the last four years to put it on again because of the pandemic,” she said.
Popularity of volleyball in Northern Ontario
Volleyball has been a staple in the Northern Ontario sports community for some time. Since it has been played, many people feel that it is very important to the communities.
“Any sport brings communities together and volleyball is one sport that brings people together and it develops teamwork and sportsmanship, especially to the young players,” Fiddler said.
Ezerial Mekanak, who is playing with the Tomahawks, one of many teams from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, has been playing volleyball since 2016.
“As you see youth coming up to play in Northern Ontario, it is very important to let them play to bring up the next generation,” he said.
“I feel excited and happy because I haven’t been out here in Sandy Lake, and it was good, this is my first time here in Sandy Lake,” he said. “Lots of good players from each reserve.”
Mckenzie Kakepetum, a young athlete from Sandy Lake, said “It’s good volleyball, lots of money prizes, a way to keep busy, and just to stay active.”
The story behind the tournament’s namesake
Roland Tait was an extraordinary athlete from Sandy Lake who was very skilled at volleyball.
He unfortunately passed away in 1999, and because of his love for volleyball, his family decided to put on this annual tournament in memory of him.
“Roland Tait was one of those people that was really outgoing and friendly to whoever he played with and against, and he was really good at volleyball, and volleyball was the sport that he excelled in. He was really good at volleyball, and he was good at spiking, he was a good all [around] player” said Fiddler, who was Tait’s aunt.
Mekanak, who has played for the Titans for two years, said it was a great opportunity for him to play against talented athletes all over Ontario.
“I got to play with the Treaty 3 Titans and it felt awesome getting the opportunity to play elsewhere, and I played with them in 2020 as well before Covid in London,” Mekanak said.
Mekanak said this experience helped him see more higher-level competition and that it deepened his passion for volleyball.
“It made me fall in love with volleyball even more,” he said.
Kakepetum has also played for the Treaty 3 Titans youth team and she is heading to Alberta to play in a tournament, which she said is her last tournament with them.
“It’s been a ride, [the] first time I was not too good and I wasn’t confident enough, but I feel more confident over the years, and volleyball helped me in my life,” she said.
“I thought it was a really good turnout, when we announced the tournament, we had a lot of interested players and teams who commented on the page to enter their teams, and I feel the other teams were waiting for us to put on this tournament,” Fiddler said.
“When we started our tournament in 2017, we had really low money prizes, and the turnout was not that great, we had six out of town teams and six local teams, so the tournament has gotten bigger and I hope that next year’s will be even bigger.”
When Mekanak was asked if he would be back next year, the answer was a definite yes.
“Of course I will be back, you will see me here next year.”
Kakepetum was also asked if she would return to the tournament next year.
“Yes I will be back, maybe with the Sandy Lake Moose.”
‘Don’t give up’
The tournament ended with a lot of smiles of everyone having a good time.
The Poplar Hill Thunder ended up taking the championship over the Kingfisher Lake Tomahawks with the sets being 3-1 in favour of the Thunder.
Fiddler shared some of her favourite tournament highlights.
“The highlight for me is watching the players and all the skills that they have shown, and also the really good sportsmanship that everyone who came to play showed, and watching any games is the highlight of this tournament to me.”
While Kakepetum and Mekanak shared some personal advice for aspiring volleyball players who wish to play in this tournament or even with the Treaty 3 Titans.
“Don’t give up, keep on playing your game and don’t think about what anyone has to say or think about you,” Kakepetum said.
“Keep playing hard and not let others put you down, just keep chasing your goal to become a better volleyball player,” Mekanak said.
The tournament organizers have announced that the Roland Tait Memorial Volleyball Tournament will be back next year in the summer of 2024.