Two hockey players are the 2004 recipients of the Tom Longboat Award as the most outstanding Aboriginal athletes in Ontario.
And now the regional female and male winners-Michele King of Akwesasne and Nathan O'Nabigon from Thunder Bay-are hoping to become national winners as well.
The national recipients will not be presented with their awards on April 21 in Miramichi, N.B. The ceremony will be held in conjunction with the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships (NAHC), running in Miramichi from April 17 to 23.
King, 20, is in her third year of playing for Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. The talented defenceman helped Colgate advance to the quarter-finals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference last season.
King, who is majoring in sociology and anthropology with a minor in political science, also received the Honours Dean Award for academic excellence last year. Finding out she was Ontario's top female Aboriginal athlete for 2004 is also a huge deal for her.
"I was pretty excited about it when I found out," she said. "It made my day."
King said she's known about the legendary runner Tom Longboat since about the age of 10. At the time she won her age group in a running race named after Longboat.
"I learned a little bit about him back then," King said. "And to win this now is a great honour. It's a great feeling."
As for O'Nabigon, the 21-year-old is a first-year business student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
Though he's won numerous hockey awards during his career, he said capturing the regional Tom Longboat Award is very meaningful to him because it represents all Aboriginal athletes in the province.
"It definitely holds some meaning there because of that," he said.
O'Nabigon completed his four-year Ontario Hockey League career in 2004. During his junior days he had stints with the Plymouth Whalers, Mississauga IceDogs and Kitchener Rangers.
O'Nabigon is uncertain of his chances of also capturing the national Tom Longboat Award.
"I think there will be a few other good candidates out there as well," he said.
Besides O'Nabigon, eight other male regional winners are also in the running for the national award. There are also nine female regional winners.
Meanwhile, another pair of individuals-Rhonda Mitchell and Kevin Kagegamic-have been selected as Ontario's top Aboriginal coaches in recognition of their efforts in 2004. They are now vying for the national Tom Longboat Award for coaching.
Mitchell guided a pair of female hockey teams last year while Kagegamic is a high school volleyball coach in Thunder Bay.
It was another golden year for Mitchell in 2004. The 29-year-old from Akwesasne led the Ontario South girls' entry to another gold medal at the NAHC in Prince George, B.C.
It marked the third straight year the Ontario South entry has won the girls' division at the nationals. Mitchell has coached the club at all three national tournaments.
And for the third straight year Mitchell also served as a coach at the national Aboriginal high performance camp held in Ottawa. That camp featured players who had been named to the all-star squad at the 2004 NAHC.
Mitchell also coached the North County Ice Storm, which is a women's under-19 squad in the state of New York.
Kagegamic, 30, coaches volleyball at Thunder Bay's Dennis Franklin Cromarty high school, where he is also a teacher.
Kagegamic, who is from the Keewaywin First Nation, has led the senior boys' volleyball team at his school to three straight Superior Secondary School Athletic Association (SSSAA) championships.
No other school has won three consecutive boys' volleyball SSSAA titles. The feat is even more impressive considering Dennis Franklin Cromarty has less than 275 students, making it the smallest school in Thunder Bay.
The Tom Longboat Awards are named in honour of Tom Longboat, a member of the Onondaga Nation from Six Nations of the Grand River who n the early 1900s made a name for himself as a long distance runner, competing in races across North America and Europe and setting new records where ever he competed.
The Tom Longboat Awards are given out each year by the Aboriginal Sports Circle as a way to recognize and celebrate the achievements of gifted Aboriginal athletes and coaches who embody the spirit, determination and dedication demonstrated by Longboat almost a century ago.