Tragedies bring First Nations athlete back to the court
SCOTT TAYLOR, MyToba.ca
Photos by JOSH SCHAEFER, Courtesy of Emory Wells
Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to set a young man on the right path. For Emory Wells, it was two tragedies involving two different friends that made him realize taking advantage of every opportunity that’s sent your way is the best decision you could ever make.
Wells has, for quite a long time, been one of the finest First Nations athletes in Manitoba. Emory’s dad’s family is from Brokenhead First Nation, while his mom’s family hails from the north. He grew up in Transcona and went to high school at Miles Mac. His dad is a firefighter and his mom is a teacher at Children of the Earth School.
Wells was a volleyball star, and by star, we mean award-winning, scholarship-earning star. In fact, in his junior year of high school, in 2006, he was named the Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Council’s Tom Longboat Award winner as Manitoba’s aboriginal male athlete of the year.
But Wells didn’t believe his athletic career was worth the effort. He kind of lost his way. He wasn’t absolutely sure what he wanted to do or how to get where he wanted to go.
Then tragedy struck.
“I’d finished three years at the University of Winnipeg and it wasn’t a great experience,” he said. “It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t feel like playing all that much and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
“So I finished up school and didn’t play and then took a year off. And then, in 2011, two of my friends and former teammates with the under-16 provincial team passed away. Stefan Savoie and Derek Twomey … both died. They died in different ways, but they both died, and that really hit me hard. It was two huge losses.
“When they died, I’d been thinking about going back to school, but I decided to just take a year off. I’d lost my passion. I hadn’t had a lot of success. I needed to do something different.”
During his year away from the game — and away from school — Wells realized how important it was to use the gifts he’d been given.
After all, Wells — who also played baseball and hockey as a youngster at Springs Christian Academy — had always been an outstanding volleyball player. His parents coached him early in his career and he played his high school volleyball at Miles Macdonnel Collegiate. Those teams were terrific. In both his Grade 11 and Grade 12 years, Wells and the Buckeyes went to the provincial final. During his final year, Miles Mac went 58-1. The only loss came in the provincial championship match to St. Paul’s.
At that point, Canadian universities were falling all over themselves to recruit him. He had serious interest from UBC, Brandon, Winnipeg and Manitoba and he chose Winnipeg.
But after three semi-successful seasons, he’d lost his passion for the game. It was time to step back.
“I had a B.A. in criminal justice and I was done,” he said with a smile. “I just wanted to see what I really wanted to do. I thought about working in corrections, but the more I thought about Stefan and Derek, I remember they had passion for the game. I had plenty of opportunities in front of me and their deaths made me realize I should take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.”
So Wells got back to the game and back to his roots. He talked to the coaches at the University of Saskatchewan and learned that the school had one of the best Native Studies programs in the country.
“I just thought about how fortunate I am to have the skills and the opportunity to go to university and play volleyball,” he said. “I’d taken a year off and I had two years of CIS eligibility left. There was certainly no pressure from my parents. Any pressure I feel is from myself. But I knew I had an opportunity and I was going to take advantage of it. So I’m taking Native Studies, a really good program, and playing for the Huskies. It was the right decision.”
This past summer, Wells worked for his friend Marty Adey, the concessions manager of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and in late August he’ll pack up his car and head back for his second and final season at Saskatchewan.
“Taking time off made me examine what I was doing and where I wanted to go,” he said. “I’m in a really good place right now.”