Youth from Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., shed tears of victory after winning the Sr. Spike It territorial volleyball championship in Yellowknife last weekend. The Chief T'Selehye School Eagles did it in honour of their former coach, Gregory Shae, who died last year.
The senior boys U19 team won the tournament after beating several teams from across the territory, including from larger schools in Yellowknife.
They faced Yellowknife's St. Patrick High School in their final game.
"Oh man … I wasn't really up to play. It was an emotional game for me — not just for me, but the whole team," said TJ Kaskamin, a power hitter on the team.
Shae died by suicide a year ago on Nov. 12. He was one of several losses for the community this past year.
"He was my cousin. He treated me like his little brother," Kaskamin said. Kaskamin also lost another cousin this year, who he was also playing for.
"He taught me how to play volleyball ... [at] the age of 11. Taught me how to serve, play… to spike too."
After a tough third set, the team won gold. And their victory — they say — was all for Shae, who supported them since 2012.
"Some of us started crying," said Braydon Taureau, an offside hitter on the team who says Shae first introduced him to the sport.
"We were just thinking about Greg, just going out there and doing it for him."
Taureau described Shae as a coach that "pushed [them] hard," but at the same time, was someone who cracked many jokes.
"We always laughed," said Taureau.
"He was our momentum," said player Jesse Tobac.
"We're one of the smallest and youngest teams here, and people thought we weren't gonna win the tournament but we showed them."
'I'll always have your back"
The team had placed a t-shirt with Shae's picture on a bench during the tournament.
On the shirt, underneath Shae's face was written "I'll always have your back."
"It was a very touching tribute to him," said Gillian MacInnes, the assistant coach of the team.
"[It was] to say he has a place on this team still."
Surprise party for the team
Sureta Shae, Gregory Shae's mother, said she watched the entire tournament on Facebook Live from her community.
"They were crying at the end of the tournament, I was doing the same over here," said Sureta.
She said her son would have been just as proud.
"I don't think he ever would have doubted them. I think that he knew that they would win."
Sureta said the cheers in the community were "that much louder" than the ones in the gym.
She gathered the community and organized a surprise party for the team as they landed back in Fort Good Hope Monday.
"We need to recognize these youth because we've gone through so much this past year."
A video posted to Facebook of the team's gold medal game in Yellowknife: