On an overcast day, syilx Elder Freddy Louis sits on the sofa in his living room and recounts stories from his days as a boxer, a hockey player, and a baseball player.
For a moment, the sun peeks through the clouds and streams through the sliding glass doors, illuminating Louis and the family members seated around him, in a house located in his home community of the Okanagan Indian Band. Those who are present listen to Louis intently and occasionally erupt in raucous laughter. Among them is Louis’ great niece, Rylie Marchand, a successful mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, who was born and raised in OKIB.
Louis is full of humour. He bursts into laughter as he describes his age as “ancient.” He was born and raised in nk̓maplqs, the top/head of the Okanagan Lake, and is a member of OKIB. In his family, and among the community, he’s known for his love of sports. Not only was he an athlete in many organized sports, he was also a boxing referee and sports coach.
“I just fell in love with it,” Louis says when asked of his first sports memories.
“I would train for six days a week, just to get myself in shape and to hone my skills,” he says remembering the dedication he had to sports.
Louis and his wife, Edna Louis, got married 65 years ago, Louis was a logger and worked hard his whole life while also playing sports, and mentoring youth in sports.
“We [Edna and I] were really nice Catholic kids,” says Louis chuckling. “I’m saying, ‘were,’ we had a youth group, and we used to have a youth group from town, and they would have dances and we would intermingle.
“Father Scott [a Catholic priest] used to bring kids from other reserves to get together here. This is where we first really met,” he remembers.
Edna first took notice of Louis at a baseball game.
“I remember seeing him at baseball after that, but he didn’t know I seen him, as soon as I seen him I fell in love already,” she says with a chuckle.
Freddy in the Ring, on the ice, and in the diamond
It was 1953 when Louis first laced up his gloves and entered the boxing ring.
He can’t remember how many knockouts he delivered, but when he tells his family “I got knocked out once,” they laugh.
“You always really remember that one,” Louis says with a laugh.
Having fun always came first, he says, but he remembers that his very last fight didn’t meet that criteria.
“I knew I was done, that was my fault anyways, I went into the ring out of shape,” he remembers.
“[In that fight,] I learned it’s better to not get mad when you’re in there. It was a good lesson to learn though,” he laughs.
It’s a source of tremendous joy that Louis’ great niece, who’s sitting beside him, will soon start her career in professional fighting.
“I’m really proud of you,” he tells her.
“I hope you make it,” Edna says, nodding in Marchand’s direction.
Marchand will be heading to xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, in what has been briefly known as Vancouver, to compete in her fifth Amateur MMA fight, following the fighting trails of so many in her home community of OKIB.
“I fought too heavy last time,” she says, “but this time I’ll be fighting lighter…I’m excited,” she says.
Louis remembers that as a young man he would go to watch The Vernon Canadians play hockey in town, which inspired him to throw on a pair of skates, and eventually play hockey.
“I didn’t know how to skate. I was 14-years-old or so,” he says.
“So I bought some skates and stuff, and I learned to skate. Of course, I had a heck of a time, but I kept going and by the time I was 17 I was skating with the Junior team in town [and off the reserve].”
Along with both hockey and boxing, Louis says that playing baseball allowed him to travel to different communities.
When asked about racism in sports Louis says it wasn’t something he recalled being an issue between players.
“Well you’ll find it not amongst the players but the fans,” he remembers.
As an Elder of the OKIB, Louis frequently imparts teachings, and sometimes they extend to his sports stories. He tells a baseball story to remind his family why self-discipline is important.
“I was playing up in Falkland, [B.C.] at the time, and Tommy King, [he] was a heck of a pitcher. One season I never touched him, every time I got to bat I struck out.”
And Louis thought to himself “‘I can’t believe this, I got to do something about this.’”
“So that spring I went to training camp and I told the pitcher, ‘Don’t you pitch anything but curves on me, because that’s all he [Tommy King] was giving me.’”
“For a month I practised that and practised that, only swinging at a curve inside pitch,” he says. It was the end of May when he finally got to face off with Tommy, during an away game.
“So we went up there [to Falkland,] and Tommy comes and gets the two strikes on me…but I know he always comes in with that inside curve for the big hit to take you out, but when he threw the curve I hit it and hit that home run.”
“Next time at the bat he thought I fluked, then I cranked out another one. That’s my greatest story!”
Louis’ advice to other athletes, following his 25-year career as a referee, coach and mentor is to make sure they give back.
He remembers that as a young man, older players would show up and teach him what he needed to know.
“So it’s part of sportsmanship, you have to give back to the game so you turn around and you teach other people. That’s pretty much ingrained in me…you don’t do it to make yourself bigger, you do it for the kids’ sportsmanship, [for] character, to help out.”
When asked if he believes OKIB sports players are the best he says, “well, I’d like to think so…I think we’re the best,” everyone in the room laughs as he smiles.