Feeding the athletes: kitchen team shares memories of Tony Cote Games

·4 min read
Sheldon Gamble (centre) and his team were in charge of cooking breakfast for thousands of athletes during the 2022 Tony Cote First Nations Summer Games at Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Gamble has been working as a cook for 37 years. (Theresa Kliem/CBC - image credit)
Sheldon Gamble (centre) and his team were in charge of cooking breakfast for thousands of athletes during the 2022 Tony Cote First Nations Summer Games at Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Gamble has been working as a cook for 37 years. (Theresa Kliem/CBC - image credit)

Some rain fell on athletes, coaches and organizers as they were loading up vehicles, packing up tents and cleaning up at Whitecap Dakota First Nation on Saturday morning.

After a week of hosting thousands of athletes from across Saskatchewan, it was quiet in the athletes village on the last day of the Tony Cote First Nations Summer Games.

But for Sheldon Gamble, the last seven days have been anything but quiet.

As the kitchen coordinator for the games, the cook was in charge of making sure the athletes got enough energy in the morning to compete at their best throughout the day.

"It's something I really enjoyed doing," said Gamble, who is originally from Beardy's and Okemasis' Cree Nation but lives and works at Whitecap Dakota First Nation.

"Looking at all these youth's and adults' and elders' faces after they ate — full bellies, big smiles — indicated to me that they really enjoyed the meals we were putting out this past week for everybody. And that warms the heart knowing I can contribute to a big event like this."

Gamble and a team of eight other cooks, as well as a group of volunteers, put together a hot brunch for athletes in the mornings during the Tony Cote Games.

They also prepared lunch for the elders on site, volunteers "and whoever else that wanted to come and eat," said Gamble.

"We weren't turning anybody away."

4 a.m. starts

Every day the 54-year-old enjoyed welcoming the young participants, making sure they were full and offering more food if they wanted.

Gamble's days started as early as 4 a.m. during the Tony Cote First Nations Summer Games. The whole kitchen team kicked off work at 5 a.m. to get breakfast ready for 7 a.m. every day.

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While not officially in charge of supper, the kitchen co-ordinator said he usually came back in the evenings to lend a hand at the hamburger booth in the Dakota Gardens at the athletes village.

"I try to help wherever I was needed this week," said Gamble.

"The very last day, we had pallets of water, apple juice, orange juice, milk, yogurts, that was all given to families [for their trip home]."

Every Child Matters

Despite a week packed with people and responsibilities, one moment at the games stuck out for Gamble.

He remembers seeing two little boys a couple of days ago rubbing their bellies.

"I walked up to them and I asked them if they were okay," he said.

"They said, 'We're full, we ate too much, and you guys are very good cookers.'"

Hearing the compliment from the two children touched his heart, said Gamble.

The theme of the games this year was Every Child Matters, so this week was all about the youth, said Gamble, who is a residential school survivor.

"Gathering as First Nations people, we are all basically one family when we're all together like this even though we're all from different nationalities," said Gamble.

"When we gather, we enjoy ourselves and we all help each other. "

Looking ahead to the next Tony Cote Games

Now that the games are over, Gamble will return to his work at Dakota Dunes golf course. However, he already has his eyes set on the Tony Cote Winter Games next year.

"They want to see us at the next games in April," he said. "If I can, then I'm going to gather the same crew."

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Virginia Burns might be among the potential group of cooks serving the kids at next year's Winter Games.

She has worked with Gamble for many years and was one of the cooks on his team this year, helping to feed the thousands of athletes.

"I enjoyed it," said Burns, who is originally from James Smith Cree Nation. "This is a lot of fun."

Seeing the kids happy and eating as much as they wanted was her favourite part of the job. However, at the end of her shifts, she also enjoyed watching some of the action on the softball fields.

"I just sat there and watched a couple of games," said Burns, pointing toward a door with a glass window that leads outside of the kitchen area.

"It was so awesome. They're just pretty fast."

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Burns used to be a ball player herself, competing in the Tony Cote First Nations Summer Games in 1978, she said.

Whether on the ball diamond or behind the grill frying eggs and ham, the secret to success at the Games seems to be teamwork.

"We had so much laughter in here working with the cooks," she said.

"I haven't laughed for a long time like this."

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