Meet the Eagles, Sheshatshiu’s premier basketball team

Boys are drenched in sweat as they run up and down the gymnasium at Sheshatshiu Innu School during a basketball game on a Thursday afternoon on a freezing February day.

Passing, shooting, blocking: Their shoes squeak as they run up the court, dribbling the ball in quick movements towards the opposition’s net.

It’s a week and a half away from the Eagles’ first tournament taking place in Churchill Falls. It’s also their first game, ever, against another team.

An exuberant Phoenix Benuen-Pokue, 14, is the youngest starter in the squad.

“I think it’s a great honor. It feels great. It feels like the greatest thing in the world,” he told CBC News.

He says the team wants to show Churchill Falls what they’re made of in the regional tournament and hopes to sink a few 3-pointers while they’re there.

Seeing these boys play hard and come together as a team gave me so much hope.– Kanani Davis

Sheshatshiu Innu School Grade 8 teacher and coach Nathan Miné-Goldring says the group started getting together informally in October, but says they’ve gotten more serious about it since December.

“I see the change in them as players, but also in their presence and confidence. I’m just proud of them,” he said.

Miné-Goldring says the players, who are aged between 14 and 17, are motivated.

He says they took the initiative to ask Sheshatshiu’s entertainment coordinator to keep the gym open in the evenings for training and take the lead in promoting the team.

“Yeah, they’re going after people about it in a really positive way. I’m proud of them for asking for something they want,” he said.

The Eagles coach says he is proud of the players for their dedication to practice and to the team. (John Gowdy/CBC)

And he says the community is showing interest, too, noting that school staff and students stop him in the hallway to ask about the team.

Most importantly, he says, he wants them to have fun.

Mamba mentality

Benuen-Pokue adopts late NBA star Kobe Bryant’s personal philosophy on life – the mamba mentality – on the court and says it’s about being the best version of yourself every day.

The shooting guard dreams big.

“When I was young, I didn’t have a future. I didn’t think about anything I wanted to do. Right now, I just want to go to the NBA and be a really good player, maybe surpass LeBron [James] in points,” Benouen-Pocue said.

Basketball players stand in a row posing for a photo holding a basketball.
Some of the Eagles players can’t believe they are part of the first basketball team at Sheshatshiu Innu School. (John Gowdy/CBC)

As pioneers, the players say it’s hard to believe that Sheshatshiu now has a basketball team.

Co-captain Shipek Andrew says he never imagined playing on a basketball team like the one that represents his school and community.

“I never thought I’d be doing this, and if I was younger, and I knew I was going to be doing this, I would have been so surprised. It’s so much fun and it could take you somewhere. Go play in college or somewhere,” he said.

On February 25, the Eagles hit the road early in the morning for the three-hour trip to Churchill Falls.

Morning Labrador18:05Meet the Eagles…Sheshatshiu’s premier basketball team

We go to a practice to meet some players in Sheshatshiu’s first basketball team. We also get some play-by-play and hear why it was such a historic moment for the Eagles to play in their first tournament.


Some Innu parents also went to cheer on the team.

Kanani Davis, CEO of Mamu Tshishkutamashutau – Innu Education, was looking forward to seeing the Eagles play.

“It makes me so emotional to think about the boys, how excited they were to play basketball and just love it,” he said.

Two smiling players looking up to camera at basketball tournament.
The Sheshatshiu Eagles were delighted to win the third game in the tournament. (Facebook/Kanani Davis)

When Benuen-Pokue sank the Eagles’ first field goal in the first quarter of Game 1, Davis’ husband remarked that the spot had just made history.

She captured the live action of the tournament on social media, admitting that it was her first time watching a basketball game.

The team lost their first two games, but won their third.

He said everyone was cheering for the Eagles, even the parents of the Churchill Falls players.

I see the change in them as players, but also in their attendance and confidence.– Nathan Miné-Goldring

It’s also how the boys reacted when they received their second place medals that makes Davies really proud.

“They weren’t upset. They were happy to get a second place, they were happy to get a medal,” he said.

Davis says it was especially touching for her when during the medal presentation, player Ty Penashue gave his coach a big hug.

“It just made me so emotional because it’s so real. It’s so powerful. An athlete, a student and a teacher just bond,” he said.

A basketball player reaches out to hug his coach while other players look on.
Ty Penashue hugs his coach during the medal presentation at the Regionals tournament in Churchill Falls in February. (Facebook/Kanani Davis)

It’s not about being first, he adds. It’s about being there for the students.

Boys are role models for younger kids now, she says, and that makes a difference.

Davis hopes the boys will continue to play basketball and continue to pursue their dreams.

“Seeing these boys play hard and come together as a team gave me so much hope,” he said.

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