George Sampson mentors young athletes to succeed on and off the court.

Heart of the City: It’s about more than basketball to George Sampson

George Sampson's playing career may be over, but his fingerprints are all over the careers of the athletes still playing today.

George Sampson’s playing career may be over, but the All Native Basketball Tournament’s rules and regulations committee member’s fingerprints are all over the careers of the athletes still playing today.

The Friendship House director is continuous and tireless in his leadership and guidance of the Aboriginal youth of the community, ranging in ages from Grade 7 to college level. It starts with basketball, but the lessons and teachings the House imparts on the kids can be applied to all aspects of life.

“There’s a saying, it takes a village to raise a child. I really like that,” George said.

It’s a saying that defines what George’s work consists of. The Lax Kw’alaams native works at providing athletes, parents, coaches and organizers with the resources needed for the kids to succeed in whatever endeavours they choose to embark on. But he also needs the help of the respective villages to be able to provide them with the best support systems they can get.

“Our No. 1 priority is education. We stress education but it doesn’t have to be in the school system, you could be going to an alternative school, you could be going to college, you could be going to [some sort of] training program. We promote role models so our players can be proper role models in the community,” he said.

Through his work at the Friendship House and on the rules and regulations committee with the All Native tournament, George has supported countless youth in narrowing down their career options to hone in on their abilities and talents, on or off the court. Sampson pairs athletes with coaches and parents to fundraising opportunities so that when the time comes around for all the villages to come together in Prince Rupert, they’re prepared to show off the best sides of each First Nation group’s respective culture for the whole city to see.

“It’s all about the culture that’s tied in [to the tournament]. It’s the food, the opening ceremonies, the regalia, the pride,” said the ex-Charles Hays Rainmaker and Prince Rupert Beaver.

In addition to finding opportunities for children to succeed in Prince Rupert, George moderates the application process for rosters and settles any conflicts teams may have with eligibility concerns.

“The rules and regulations committee makes sure that when there’s a protest, there are fact finders, because there are no ringers so our job is to make sure the tournament is fair … Right before the tournament we make ourselves available to answer questions so that way we can now post rosters online at least two to three weeks ahead of time, so every team now scrutinizes the roster [looking for ways to get ahead],” he said.

“When you’re there you’re going to have a very competitive team, you’re going to look for every advantage.”

George works with legendary Charles Hays senior men’s coach Mel Bishop and other bench bosses to provide the different teams with the basketball fundamentals, but the real ability to play comes from within, says the board member.

“Coaching is important, you can teach all the fundamentals in the world, but it’s the boy who doesn’t miss practice, it’s the boy who stays after practice, it’s the boy who does the running without being told, it’s the boy who chooses a lifestyle of right over wrong knowing full well he loves the game and that he loves it so much he sacrifices parts of him to make sure he’s on the right path,” he said.

George has been on the committee for the past five years after the board approached him to be a member due to his work running the Junior All Native tournaments. He uses Skidegate Saints all-star Nate Vogstad as an example of a player whose passion drove him to success as opposed to talent or fundamentals, though each plays a part.

“It’s the coaches, his managers, his elders, whoever’s working with him, and getting that fire inside him to come out, [it’s that] passion, his pride of Haida Gwaii, his pride of Skidegate, his pride of who he is and where he’s from that sparks something inside him.”

Some of George’s fondest memories of his own playing days were on the intermediate teams, where squads only have a three-year window to win a championship before they move onto the senior ranks. Those ages (19-21) are when players typically put on significant muscle mass and finally emerge from the lanky bodies they’ve lumbered around during their teenage years.

“Some of them would come back and [after not seeing them for quite some time] we’d say ‘whoa are we glad to see you’, because some of these kids are big,” said George, who played small forward.

“It’s funny, now a small forward’s probably six-foot-one, six-foot-two. In my day, five-foot-ten was pretty big.”

George has also learned some lessons of his own over the years.

“It’s amazing when you work with younger people, they actually listen when they’re not looking at you. It’s like when [a kid’s] sitting down and his dad’s telling him something and he’s not looking up, he’s actually listening,” he said.

Simplicity and brevity exemplify George Sampson’s philosophy in becoming an excellent role model.

“Respect, honour, dignity, there’s all these words for it in the English language. In ours, it’s called ‘action’. You just do it, it’s a reflection of who you are in the real world,” he said.

“I do a lot of promotion to try and be the best you can be in whatever you choose.”