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Patrick Leask wins national coaching award from Aboriginal Sport Circle

Brandon Storekeeper by day, award-winning softball coach by night — Patrick Leask is serious about sports.

On November 1, 2021, Patrick won the 2021 National Indigenous Coaching Award from Aboriginal Sport Circle, recognizing his work bringing the sport to Indigenous communities across the province and starting several softball teams for boys.

A smiling man, wearing a red Oji-Cree Softball sweater and baseball cap, holding a glass award.

Patrick Leask holding his National Indigenous Coaching Award.

Enlarge image: A smiling man, wearing a red Oji-Cree Softball sweater and baseball cap, holding a glass award.

“This award means so much to me,” said Patrick. “I was surprised to receive this award for doing work I love and enjoy — it almost doesn’t feel like work.”

The work he’s talking about is running Oji-Cree Softball, a sports development program for Aboriginal/Metis youth. The initiative brings softball coaching, clinics, and mentorship directly to reserves — a way for Patrick to pay forward the positive experiences he had with sport as a child.

“I am from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, and growing up, I remember seeing neglect and abuse and a lot of people living with addiction,” said Patrick. “Sports, for me, was a good way to cope with some of the traumas I was dealing with. I had very limited opportunity to develop as an athlete living on-reserve. There were some programs, but to get to higher calibre teams meant travelling and commitment.”

An ice hockey action shot of Patrick Leask playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs Junior Ice Hockey team.

Patrick played on the Saint John Sea Dogs.

Enlarge image: An ice hockey action shot of Patrick Leask playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs Junior Ice Hockey team.

Patrick’s own parents were residential school survivors who struggled with addiction. A community member taught him everything he knew about softball, and another community parent sometimes drove him to hockey. At 14, he moved away to attend school, and his continued involvement with sports eventually led to him playing Junior hockey with the Swan Valley Stampeders and later the Saint John Sea Dogs.

“I always faced temptation, but I did look up to those community members, billets I was placed with over the years playing hockey, and other mentors I met along the way at work, hockey, and softball,” said Patrick. “They really had a positive effect on who I turned out to be.”

So when Patrick and his wife — who he’s been with for 18 years — had children, Patrick wanted to make sure his kids wouldn’t see or be around any of the issues he saw in his childhood.

A girl, a woman, a man, and a boy, all smiling, wear Oji-Cree Softball sweaters and display a glass award.

Patrick, his wife, and his two children.

Enlarge image: A girl, a woman, a man, and a boy, all smiling, wear Oji-Cree Softball sweaters and display a glass award.

“With help from my father-in-law and other mentors, I took time to learn about addiction, residential schools, and time to heal my childhood traumas,” said Patrick. “Through counselling and my determination to be the best parent and partner I could be, it led me on the path I am on today.”

Patrick shares this and other stories — and spotlights Indigenous athletes he meets — on his Oji-Cree Softball Facebook page.

“I see so many talented athletes and would love for them to be seen and recognized,” said Patrick. “I encourage them to come out and play in my program and help bring further instruction to get things started in their community.”

Bringing the sport to them, Patrick says, is the most important way to eliminate barriers.

Left: A man shows the proper throwing form to a boy wearing a catcher’s mitt and holding a softball. Right: A man shows how to properly swing a bat to a boy standing in front of a baseball catching net and tee.

Patrick coaches and runs clinics with Oji-Cree Softball.

Enlarge image: Left: A man shows the proper throwing form to a boy wearing a catcher’s mitt and holding a softball. Right: A man shows how to properly swing a bat to a boy standing in front of a baseball catching net and tee.

“I offer free clinics, but I bring it right to them so they don’t have to worry about getting there,” Patrick said. “I come to them to teach the game I love.”