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Young globetrotters

John Thompson
Northern News Services

Rae-Edzo (Mar 07/05) - Michael Botermans hunches over a book in the Chief Jimmy Bruneau school library. After travelling the world he moved up North for a six-month contract.

NNSL photo/graphic

Librarian Michael Botermans in Rae-Edzo peers over a book during a quiet moment. After school he coaches a slew of athletes, including soccer players who can out-play adults in the territorial championships.

That was 16 years ago. He's decided to spend his life in Rae-Edzo, where he works as the librarian. After school he organizes the school's travel club and coaches an exhausting list of sports: volleyball, basketball, track and hockey.

But soccer is his passion, and he is taking that passion to the whole community.

"It's changed my life," he says. "It's challenging because you're dealing with kids on their time, on their own turf."

It's also creating opportunities for youth to experience life outside their community.

Fifteen students will visit the bright lights of New York City this spring after a year of fundraising. While there they'll visit parts of the Bronx where Botermans grew up.

"You want to give them a different perspective on the world around them," he says. "If all you know is your own culture, it's like only knowing your own side of the street."

His boys have travelled to Germany twice, to the United States and across Western Canada. They've also participated in five Arctic Winter Games and four North American Aboriginal Games.

His soccer teams have won 15 territorial championships. For three years in a row his 14-to 16-year-old students have won the Under 20 category.

Many of the same students have taken 12 territorial volleyball championships.

His students even won two of five territorial open mens soccer tourneys. "The other three we were in the finals," Botermans says.

Botermans says the Dogrib have a natural talent for soccer and marvels over what they can do with the ball.

"They're very, very humble. They don't talk a lot. They put all their words into action," he says. "The final score will say everything."

Broken humanity

"We really are a team of broken humanity," he says. "But everyone has their own brokenness."

Some students carry the weight of fetal alcohol syndrome, depression and criminal records. When Botermans sees his students overcome these problems, work together and win, he says there's nothing more uplifting.

"I'm totally inspired that there's hope for us, hope for everyone."