Photo from Chief Ahtahkakoop School Facebook page

Ahtahkakoop Titans football team celebrates eighth successful year

It’s about more than winning, head coach and captain say

By Belinda Nelson

The Ahtahkakoop Titans football team started in 2015 with the dream of a young man who approached the principal.

“The late Kendell Isbister started this team for the boys. He asked for it for the boys, for his community,” says Shaun Sasakamoose, principal of Chief Ahtahkakoop School principal and head coach for the Titans football team.

Sasakamoose was laughed at when he took the idea forward. This only added to his determination. He made sure it got off the ground.

Their first jerseys were acquired by donation and the team became known as the Titans, a name describing physical and intellectual strength

When the Titans first started in 2016, they joined the Sask Rivers league. It was a tough league, with teams like Big River, Birch Hills and Rosthern.

Football offered a whole new experience for Ahtahkakoop students.

“Athletes need to see a variety of venues, where they can excel. There’s something for everybody when you’re a football player. If you’re small and quick, there’s a spot for you, if you’re big and a little slow, there’s a spot for you,” says Sasakamoose.

The team members range from Grade 9 to Grade 12, and all genders are welcome.

“Our talent pool here is deep,” says Sasakamoose. As the coach, he recognizes who has talent and wants them to learn early, he says.

“By the time they hit Grade 9, they know what they’re doing. It’s best to get them involved early, then they know what’s happening on the field.”

Sasakamoose’s favorite moment was their very first game against Birch Hills. They had 17 teammates, with two quarterbacks.

The kids were on the field warming up. Then the other team “came out 38- strong. Our boys were shocked. They had their drills down, they’re all counting their sit-ups and push-ups, and our boys were intimidated,” recalls Sasakamoose.

“We played through it. We lost our quarterback in the first minute. And then our back-up quarterback we lost within the next two minutes.

But the thing to take away from that game, that was a white crowd, an Indian school in a white crowd, in a little white town, and they welcomed us with open arms. They came and shook hands with all the boys after the game. And they said, ‘That’s it, you’re football players now.'”

Sasakamoose says that alone was a victory.

“That was just awesome, that was the best thing, our boys just loved it, they were walking on air all the way home, even though we got only one touchdown, they loved it, they had the time of their life, and I enjoyed it, too,” he says.

They then became part of a new league, the North Saskatchewan Indigenous Football League, playing Pinehouse, Beauval, Creighton, La Ronge, Cumberland House, Buffalo Narrows and La Loche.

“It’s not about winning. We’ve gone years where we didn’t win a game, but the boys played their hearts out. They were they sportsmen on the field and off the field, and that is what it means to be a Titan,” says Saskamoose.

“When we speak about being a Titan, it means something.”

– Coach Sasakamoose

Early in its history, the team suffered the loss of two players, Kendell Isbister and Brennan Ahenakew.

Describing how the loss deeply impacted the whole school community, Sasakamoose explains, “Our football has a different culture. When we speak about being a Titan, it means something.”

Team members bring an elevated level of respect and an example of disciplined behaviour among the student body, he explains.  

“If you’re on the team, you’re a Titan, you shouldn’t be doing certain things. We try to stick to that and have that be our motto.”

This is how Isbister and Ahenakew’s spirits live on, in the team, he says.

To Sasakamoose, its not about winning every game. “It’s about trying something new, having the courage to go out there, and do something.”

This spirit is evident in the team members.

Titans captain Colton Peekeekoot has been playing football with the team for the past five years.

“My dad really encouraged me to play — not to be scared, to try new things, push yourself,” Peekeekoot says. “It’s hard, but day by day it gets easier.”

Peekeekoot, is also a mentor for everyone on the team “I guide them. I focus mostly on the rookies,” says Peekeekoot.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of providing encouragement.

 “One girl on the team was really scared of playing, a little nervous. I helped her out, showed her what to do, and she got really good. She was really determined to play,” recalls Peekeekoot.

Last year the Titans team had the opportunity to attend a Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp in Regina.

“We trained with them, and that was a really surreal experience. The university was beautiful, the field, the players, the people,” says Peekeekoot.

Peekeekoot is proud to be on the team.

“This year we really all came together, communicated, and it was nice hearing everybody’s thoughts,” says Peekeekoot. “I love the sport a lot more than any other sport I’ve ever played ‘cause I love the memories and I love the people. I love to help people a lot. I like helping my teammates succeed.”

“That’s the best part for me,” agrees Sasakamoose. “I love coaching, I love being around the kids, just seeing them elevate their level, and everybody can be successful in this sport.”

A painting in Ahtahkakoop School done by Jordan Sasakamoose (standing in the picture), in memory of Kendell Isbister and Brennan Ahenakew. Picture courtesy of JS Airbrush.

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