Whitefish Lake basketball coach carries on legacy of murdered son

Becky Thunder dedicates her life these days to carrying on the legacy of her son, who was murdered two years ago along with his girlfriend.

More than 900 young athletes will converge on Edmonton this week for the Alberta Indigenous Games

Becky Thunder, pictured with her late son, Dylan Laboucan, and her spouse, Leo Laboucan, has assumed coaching duties with the Whitefish Warriors basketball team. (Becky Thunder )

Becky Thunder dedicates her life these days to carrying on the legacy of her son, who was murdered two years ago along with his girlfriend.

Since the tragedy, Thunder has become a certified basketball and volleyball coach, and this week will bring her reserve's basketball team, the Whitefish Warriors, to Edmonton for the Alberta  Indigenous Games.

Her younger son, Silverado (Hunter) Thunder, now 17, has taken over as captain and will lead the team, as his brother, Dylan, once hoped to do.

"I was just thinking about my late son ... and how he was like a mentor to these younger kids," Becky Thunder said on the eve of the games.

Two summers ago, Dylan Laboucan and his girlfriend, volleyball player Cory Grey, were murdered by a former friend and classmate on Whitefish Lake First Nation in northern Alberta.

He was 17 and she was 19. 

Cory Grey and Dylan Laboucan, a young couple from Whitefish Lake First Nation, were killed by a former classmate in July 2016. (Family photo)

Before he died, Dylan had his sights set on leading his teammates to victory at the games. He never got the chance.

Now his family and the community are trying to make sure the young couple's sporting legacy lives on. 

When the games officially begin in Edmonton on Thursday, two basketball teams and two volleyball teams from Whitefish will be on the courts. 

"That's the most ever," Becky Thunder said. "That makes me feel very proud. I just wanted to honour them that way. Their legacy will still be going, and still be alive." 

The Whitefish Warriors will be among 95 teams — comprised of more than 900 young athletes between the ages of 10 and 20 — from Indigenous communities across the province competing in basketball, volleyball, fast pitch, ball hockey and lacrosse over a three-day period. 

'He'd be happy about it' 

For Silverado Thunder, setting foot on the basketball court without his big brother will always be hard. But he knows he's in good company; his brother's friends have stuck with the sport and are still out there, competing.

"Like, I'll be looking for him," he said. "He'd be happy about it, and tell everyone that he's proud of us, of how far we're going." 

Silverado (Hunter) Thunder, right, has followed in the footsteps of his brother, Dylan Laboucan, left, as captain of the Whitefish Warriors basketball team. (Becky Thunder)

Support for sports growing 

His mother said support for sports programs in her community has grown in the wake of the tragedy.

"That makes me very proud, that makes me just very proud of my nation," she said.

Her son said seeing older generations step up is inspiring for young people. 

"It shows that there's more out there," he said. "You can be like us. You can be better, if you keep working." 

  Jacob Hendy, a spokesperson for the Alberta Indigenous Games, said there is growing interest in sports among Indigenous communities.

The games used to be held every two years, he said. But there's been such interest, organizers have decided to hold them annually. 

It's important to provide opportunities for young people to play sports, he said. 

"It helps them focus on something positive and healthy. It's good mentally, physically and emotionally. It's something to work toward." ​
One of the Whitefish Warriors basketball teams registered to compete in the Alberta Indigenous Games. (Becky Thunder)