Basketball is helping bridge the linguistic divide in a small Manitoba town | CBC News

Basketball is helping bridge the linguistic divide in a small Manitoba town | CBC News

St. Laurent is a small bilingual town that can sometimes be divided along linguistic lines, say some in the community, so they’re building a bridge through a sport all can share. 

Boys on the basketball team in the Manitoba town, about 80 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, come from two different schools and speak two different languages during practice.

“Tous les garçons, on est très proches,” said Tyson Christiansen, a star forward on the varsity A team, Les Loups (Wolves). 

Christiansen’s comment translates as, “all the boys, we are very close.”

That sentiment was closely echoed by another top teammate, Tyrell Jolicoeur.

Tyrell Jolicoeur, one the top players on Les Loups, says he and his teammates are close despite being from different schools and language groups. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“We go to different schools, and I still think we’re very close,” said Jolicoeur, who studies in English at St. Laurent School, just across the street.

Some from older generations say it wasn’t always like that. 

Mélanie Sparks, principal of École Communautaire Aurèle-Lemoine, grew up in nearby St. Eustache, speaking Michif French. She moved to St. Laurent 12 years ago and said it took a while for her to fit in.

“Everybody seemed to have been grouped in certain ways in St. Laurent,” Sparks recalled.

A woman with long brown hair, glasses and a white turtleneck smiles in a library.
École Communautaire Aurèle-Lemoine principal Mélanie Sparks says she found it hard to fit in at first in St. Laurent because of linguistic divisions, so she decided to build bridges with the English school across the street. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“We have the people from the lake, the cottagers,” she said. “We also also have the Métis, but there’s the francophone Métis and the English Métis. 

“So the community seems very divided,” she said. “I wanted to bridge those differences.”

Sparks says she worked with staff and parent volunteers to make everyone feel welcome at the French school, whatever language they spoke, with whatever accent.

She believes those efforts helped the student body grow about 40 per cent over the past six years.

But like the English school, École Communautaire Aurèle-Lemoine doesn’t always have enough students to field sports teams. 

Crystal Millar-Courchene used to be principal at St. Laurent School, before taking on a new role as Indigenous academic achievement lead for Prairie Rose School Division. 

A woman with long, dark hair and a colourful beaded lanyard stands in a school hallway.
Crystal Millar-Courchene, formerly principal at St. Laurent School, says she wanted to join forces with the French school to grow community connections and help the basketball program thrive. (Travis Golby/CBC)

She’s also Métis but grew up speaking English, and was captain of the basketball team in Grade 12.

“So it was really important for me to keep that basketball program striving here in St. Laurent,” said Millar-Courchene, whose name is still on a plaque in the St. Laurent School gymnasium.

“Then I thought it would be really nice just to have everybody included,” she continued. “They’re also from this community, and if they can’t have a team, it would be nice to have them join our team.”

Millar-Courchene says she met with Sparks, and they decided to join forces to create a co-op team, practising in the French school gym.

“It did bring our kids together,” said Millar-Courchene, “and they’re doing really, really well.”

A man with spikey hair stands on a basketball court holding up a basketball and smiling.
Head coach Byron Deogracias said the boys’ basketball team is doing so well because of the players’ hard work and camaraderie. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Just a few years after teaming up, Les Loups have already reached the provincial championships twice, including last weekend in Glenboro, Man.

“I don’t think that would have been possible if we hadn’t worked together,” Sparks said.

Head coach Byron Deogracias credits the team’s hard work and camaraderie for its success.

“Through the power of sports, a lot of people say, groups come together,” he said. “And obviously, they have been doing that with basketball.”

Basketball helping bridge linguistic divide

Student athletes in St. Laurent defeat language differences to win on the court.


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