A pair of individuals from the Yukon capital of Whitehorse have been selected as Canada's top Aboriginal coaches of the year for their efforts in 2007.
Danielle Lang, who coached the Northern Blazers girls' under-16 soccer squad, won her Tom Longboat coaching award as she was chosen as the best female coach.
And Leslie Johns, an archery coach who was in charge of the Yukon entry at the Canada Winter Games, was picked as the top male coach.
The awards, in honour of legendary runner Tom Longboat, are annually presented by the Aboriginal Sport Circle.
Lang and Johns were honoured during a ceremony held in early May in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships.
Canada's top Aboriginal athletes were also honoured that evening. Stacie Anaka, a wrestler from Victoria, B.C., was named the best female athlete. And Cody Jamieson, a lacrosse player from Ohsweken, Ont., was dubbed the top male athlete.
"I wasn't expecting anything of the sort," Lang said of her award.
But she's obviously thrilled at winning it.
"It's just satisfying," she said. "I feel honoured to be recognized for all the hard work I've put into the sport. I've been coaching half my life."
Lang, 32, began her coaching career when she was 16. In order to pick up a high school physical education credit, she coached a team in the Whitehorse Minor Soccer League.
She enjoyed the experience so much she continued to work with numerous squads over the years.
As for this past year, Lang coached the Northern Blazers at various tournaments. She helped the club qualify for the national under-16 tournament, which was staged this past October in Sherwood Park, Alta.
While the Yukon entry did not have as much talent as the majority of the squads in the 12-team tournament, it did register a victory over the North West Territories reps.
"We were really excited about that," Lang said.
The Northern Blazers also represented the Yukon in the six-team Western Canada Summer Games, also held in Sherwood Park, last August.
This tournament also included clubs from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the N.W.T.
The Northern Blazers also competed in three other tournaments in 2007, including an indoor event in Juneau, Alaska. The two outdoor events were both in B.C., in Kelowna and Richmond.
Instead of coaching, Lang said she would prefer to still be playing soccer herself. But she hasn't played for a competitive team in eight years.
"The older that I'm getting it's just harder on my body," she said.
But she still is keen to remain in the sport.
"I would love to play," she said. "I just love the sport. I love everything there is about soccer. With the Northern Blazers I live vicariously through these girls."
As for Johns, 64, he served as both a coach and manager for the eight Yukon archers who participated at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse last year.
"We had no medals," Johns said of his team. "But I explained to the kids they'll probably never have another chance like this so they'd better be good ambassadors for the Yukon."
Though he dabbled in archery as a youngster when he made his own bow and arrows, it wasn't until earlier this decade that Johns' interest in the sport was revived. That's because his grandson participated in the sport at the 2002 North American Indigenous Games.
A few years later Johns decided to obtain coaching certificates in archery with the assistance of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle.
Since 2004, Johns also served as the vice-president of the Whitehorse Archery Club. Then in April of this year he was named the president of the club, which has about 50 members.
Though he was honoured to win a national coaching award, Johns opted not to make the trip to the ceremony in northern Ontario. That's even though the Aboriginal Sports Circle would have paid for his flight and expenses to the ceremony.
"I thought it was too big of an expense," he said. "So I thought they should put the money to some other use."
For winning their national awards, Lang and Johns both received cheques worth $500 as well as a glass trophy.