After a thrilling season that saw players travel from far and wide to participate, Kahnawake’s Fall Ball has finally come to a close, with the Bears being crowned this year’s champions in the ever-competitive men’s league.
“There were a lot of new faces that we haven’t seen before, and it was just awesome to see the kids out there playing, keeping the sticks going, being active,” said Kirby Joe Diabo, who was one of the organizers of this year’s tournament and played with the Bears.
In the men’s league, the Turtles came in second, the Snipes came in third, and the Wolves came in fourth.
This year, Diabo was particularly struck by how many players came from outside Kahnawake to play, whether the men’s league or the youth division.
“It was really kind of overwhelming. People came from Ottawa, Cornwall, Akwesasne, the Montreal area, we had kids come in from all over the place,” he said. “That’s one of our goals, to get as many kids as we can playing, that’s our main goal. So it was a big highlight.”
One such individual who travelled into Kahnawake to play was Tehawerahkhwa Wells, who is from Akwesasne and who played as a forward for the Bears in the men’s league.
“This is my first year playing. The highlight was definitely winning the championship, but also getting to meet some of the kids out there. I’ve never played with them, but we still had that recognition of playing together,” said Wells.
He played alongside Diabo, winning the overall championship 10-9 against the Turtles in the men’s league.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking because we were down six points, and then we scored in the last period, caught up, and won it,” Wells said. “I’m planning on going out there again (next year) for sure.”
Also playing for the winning team was Kirby Joe’s son, Dash Diabo.
“The tournament was really fun, I’m really glad I got to play with my older brother and dad. We did pretty well – we won all our games except one,” Dash said. “It was an amazing time. I played last year too and it was pretty fun last year, so I’m hoping it happens again next year too.”
In the U7/U9 division, the Bears also won, with the U11/U13 division seeing the Turtles clinch the trophy. The Bears also secured a win for the U15/U17 division. Though it was a particularly victorious season for the Bears, Kirby Joe said the celebratory atmosphere was about more than just winning – at least for the younger players.
“The kids didn’t even care about winning the championship, it was more just about being out there and playing,” he said. “The men’s division was a different story, that was really competitive. It was awesome, everybody really wanted to win.”
Throughout the tournament, Erica McComber organized a half-and-half draw to raise money for the winning team. The Bears took home the $670 prize pot, ordering food and hosting a large celebration for the star players.
“It was really fun. The men playing mixed with the younger up-and-coming all stars, and some of the old guys in there like myself, it was fun. And the best part about it was that I got to play with my two boys and we ended up winning, so it was even more special,” Kirby Joe said.
Dash said that the tournament was a great way to get to know players from the community and beyond, and that seeing other community members come out in support made the games even better.
“Everyone from our community just came out and played, and everyone from different rezzes, like Akwesasne came out and played with us,” he said. “It was pretty fun having my mom watch me, having my friends there. It was awesome.”
This article was originally published in print on Friday, November 10, in issue 32.45 of The Eastern Door.