Hard work and her community’s support has helped Shakayla Thomas carve out invaluable footsteps for Ahousaht youth to follow.
The 18-year-old Maaqtusiis School standout is in her first year at Squamish’s Quest University and has earned her way onto the school’s basketball squad, becoming a key role model for the budding star athletes in her home community.
“I think this is a tremendous thing that Shakayla is doing. It’s teaching volumes to our youth. It’s telling them that they can do this,” said Cedar Wechlin, Maaqtusiis’ former Athletic Director and Physical Education teacher who coached Thomas.
“Ahousaht kids are natural athletes. But, I think, what happens is that, by the time we get to the varsity level, we don’t have the role models and the coaches to take our kids fundamentally to the next level. And that’s where we’re losing out.”
Thomas told the Westerly News that she knows the vital role she’s playing in the eyes of Ahousaht youth.
“There’s so much potential at home to play and go further too and I just want to show them that it’s actually possible…They don’t have that. They don’t think there’s anything beyond that reserve. They don’t think it’s possible for anyone to go. I just want to show them that it is,” she said.
“You don’t have to be scouted. I was a walk-on. I didn’t get recruited. They can still go to the school and go to tryouts and be good enough.”
Thomas, a 5’6” point guard who graduated from Maaqtusiis last school-year and headed straight to university, arrived in Ahousaht from Nanaimo as a Grade 7 student in 2012.
She said the move from a big city to the isolated First Nation gave her a different perspective on basketball, where Ahousaht’s love of the sport is passed down by generations.
“It’s a community sport. Everybody plays or played before; so it was cool to be there,” she said. “In [Nanaimo], people just played because they liked it but, in Ahousaht, it was a family thing.”
She added she was blessed by a solid support network that encouraged and nurtured her athletic abilities and helped her reach the collegiate level.
“I had teachers all through my years that told me I had a lot of potential and I was a quick learner. That’s what pushed me to become better,” she said. “Thanks to everybody from Ahousaht for supporting me and Cedar for always being there and my parents for really pushing me to go.”
She said her first year at Quest has introduced her to a much higher level of competition.
“The competitive level is really big. You want to win every game, not just some of them or the ones you can,” she said. “I want everyone at home to be proud, so I’m sticking with it. There’s been times where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can,’ but, I’m still going and getting better every game.”
She said she continues to be strengthened by her community’s support.
“They actually do checkups once in awhile with me. It doesn’t matter who it is, people from Ahousaht will be like, ‘How are you doing?’ and ‘How are things?’ Just making sure I’m not too overwhelmed,” she said. “That’s very valuable because, when you leave, you hope that nobody forgets you. So, with them doing that, I’m like, “Oh, they still know I’m from there and know what I’m doing.” It’s good. It’s very good.”
Wechlin, who recently moved to the mainland but keeps in contact with his former Ahousaht athletes, said Thomas was one of the best players he ever coached and he’s thrilled to see her becoming the role model he always thought she’d be.
“It’s such a huge thing to the Ahousaht community. She’s a huge role model now for the Ahousaht kids,” he said adding he first met Thomas when she was in Grade 10. “I just knew, as soon as I stepped into that school and I saw her in the gym, that she had what it took. She has talent, but she also has the drive and she’s got a really good head on her shoulders.”
He added the coaching Thomas is receiving at Quest will help propel her to the next level.
“She’s a diamond in the making,” he said. “She’s getting the coaching she’s needed. She has all the natural athletic ability. She’s the perfect package and, I think, when she becomes a senior for Quest, she’ll be carrying that team.”