CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – September 2023
“The objective has always been to get kids active, healthy, and focussed on building strong life skills.”
By David Grossman
When Mark Peltier had an opportunity to impact the lives of young people in a positive way, he went right to work. There was no hesitation.
A modest guy, extremely focussed on always wanting to meet challenges with overwhelming success, the rewards started to show. In time, achievements and prosperity continued to shine.
For Peltier, what is acutely gratifying is watching it all happen in a place where it all began for him – his home on Manitoulin Island.
Known locally in Ojibway as “Spirit Island” and in the heart of the Great Lakes, it’s a place recognized for having the largest freshwater island in the world. Tack on some breathtaking sunsets.
Also shining, is the character, dedication, and work of Peltier.
His enthusiasm and energy clearly are evident in his ability to find positive ways to achieve a boom in success. That can be tough when the microscope is on individuals between the ages of nine and 15. Pushing for participation and engagement in a variety of activities can be arduous, but also intriguing.
Peltier chose sport as a way of attracting youngsters. His primary objective: getting them to benefit from physical health and exercise.
“Sport was so important in my life,” said Peltier. “It helped me learn, create relationships, become physically fit and strengthen my social and emotional skills. Now, what makes me feel even better is providing a form of enjoyment to youngsters in the community – and giving them the same opportunities.”
This September, Peltier was recognized with an Ontario Coaching Excellence award given out by the Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO) in partnership with Hydro One. It’s presented to a group of coaches, honoured during National Coaches Week for exemplary work along with the integral role they implement and achieve with their athletes, sport, and community.
As part of the award, CAO and Hydro One is presenting Peltier with a $500 award to purchase new equipment and tools from local Ontario or Canada businesses.
There are periods in life when growing up in smaller communities can sometimes feel like living in isolation – especially for a vulnerable age bracket. Peltier is quite aware that same age range is also hooked on what he calls “small screen devices”. You know of them as being cell phone games and computers.
“It makes my job, as a coordinator or a coach, that much more important,” he said. “I have to find positive ways to attract them to participate so they see it’s all meaningful.”
Peltier grew up on a farm in Wikwemikong First Nation located in the eastern peninsula of Manitoulin Island. For him, there were family responsibilities, which included baling hay, rounding up cattle, and a variety of other chores. Peltier understood his duties, but he also wanted some variety, too.
“My dad wanted me to work on the farm – to do real work,” recalled Peltier. “Sports was a waste of time to him. But when I became successful in school and sports, he changed his viewpoint and said he was proud of me – and I’ll never forget that.”
So, when was the break-out period for Peltier?
It may have been at Pontiac Elementary when Peltier showed the early signs of a fond interest in academics as well as a desire to experience taking part in a variety of athletic activities. He participated in every sport offered by the school.
But badminton was not one of them. For some reason, he explained, the school board just didn’t offer it and factors could have been a lack of funding or having someone to coach. That would change in time.
It was as a seven-year-old, while taking a break from duties on the farm that his ingenuity kicked in. With help from his sisters, he tied string between two trees and launched his own version of a badminton net. Confidence also became huge for him.
A multi-sport athlete, Peltier would go on to excel in the track and field obstacle event known as steeplechase. He went on to become the Nipissing District champ and competed at the Ontario high school track and field championships. It wasn’t the Olympic Games, but for him it was a huge personal accomplishment.
With a post-secondary education always a priority, Peltier went on to attend Toronto’s George Brown College, but would graduate with a diploma in fitness and leisure management from Cambrian College in Sudbury. Worth noting, was that he did win back-to-back gold medals at the Ontario colleges championships in cross country running. As for badminton, he was awarded the men’s singles intramurals badminton title during his time at George Brown.
“After College, the love for badminton remained and it was all for recreation,” he said. “The focus would switch to coaching. I had so much fun that I knew the responsibility shifted to help others, young people back home, and try to bring out the best in them.”
What would come next for Peltier would be huge for the community.
As the coordinator of healthy living youth programs for Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, which services First Nations communities on Manitoulin Island and the District, Peltier was looking for additional funding to launch programs.
In 2021, it came.
The federal Government’s Sport for Social Development in Indigenous Communities provided a two-year grant of $80,000, which included in-kind contributions from Noojmowin Teg Health Centre.
Peltier would tap into the allotment to form Badminton Warriors of Mnidoo Mnising (the Ojibway translation for Manitoulin). It was, and still is, the only badminton club on the Island and serves eight communities. Friendly, encouraging, and a positive role model, Peltier also fit the role of coach.
“The objective has always been to get kids active, healthy, and focussed on building strong life skills,” said Peltier, who is a benefactor of the National Coaching Certification Program.
He knows that the impact of the Sport Canada project is measured in a variety of ways that include participation numbers and physical literacy assessments. Another huge moment came in April of 2023 – the inaugural Manitoulin Island elementary school badminton championships took place.
Peltier couldn’t help but recall his younger years when the sport was not offered. Now, badminton is a school sport event across Manitoulin.
“It’s such a wonderful time,” said Peltier. “Kids love it, parents are happy, and I see everyone as a winner.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
“I had so much fun that I knew the responsibility shifted to help others, young people back home, and try to bring out the best in them.”
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