On a cloudy day, syilx Elder Freddy Louis sits on his living room couch and tells stories of his days as a boxer, hockey player and baseball player.
For a moment, the sun breaks through the clouds and through the sliding glass doors, illuminating Louis and the members of his family seated around him, in a house in his home community of the Indian Band of Okanagan. Those present listen to Louis attentively and sometimes burst into 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 humor. He bursts into laughter describing his age as “old”. He was born and raised in nk̓maplqs, the top/the head of Okanagan Lake, and is a member of the OKIB. In his family and in the community, he is known for his love of sport. Not only was he an athlete in many organized sports, but he was also a boxing referee and athletic trainer.
“I fell in love with it,” says Louis when asked about his earliest sporting memories.
“I trained six days a week, just to get in shape and hone my skills,” he says of his dedication to the sport.
Louis and his wife, Edna Louis, were married 65 years ago. Louis was a lumberjack and worked hard all his life while playing sports and mentoring young people in sports.
“We [Edna and I] were very good Catholic children,” Louis laughs. “I say, ‘were’, we had a youth group, and we used to have a youth group from around town, and they would have dances and we would mingle.
“Father Scott [a Catholic priest] used to bring children from other reserves to meet here. That’s where we really first met,” he recalls.
Edna first noticed Louis at a baseball game.
“I remember seeing him in baseball after that, but he didn’t know I saw him, as soon as I saw him I already fell in love,” she laughs.
Freddy in the ring, on the ice and in the diamond
It was 1953 when Louis laced up his gloves for the first time and entered the boxing ring.
He doesn’t remember how many knockouts he’s had, but when he tells his family, “I got knocked out once,” they laugh.
“You still really remember that one,” Louis laughs.
Having fun always came first, he says, but he remembers his very last fight didn’t meet those criteria.
“I knew I was done, it was my fault anyway, I entered the ring out of shape,” he recalled.
“[In that fight,] I learned that it’s best not to get mad when you’re in this. It was a good lesson to learn,” he laughs.
It is a source of immense joy that Louis’ little niece, who is seated next to him, is soon to begin her career in professional combat.
“I’m really proud of you,” he told her.
“I hope you can,” Edna said, nodding at Marchand.
Marchand will travel to xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, in what was briefly known as Vancouver, to compete in his fifth amateur MMA fight, following in the footsteps of fight of so many people in his home community of OKIB.
“I fought too heavy last time,” she said, “but this time I’ll fight lighter…I’m excited,” she said.
Louis remembers going to see the Vernon Canadiens playing hockey in town as a young man, which inspired him to put on a pair of skates and eventually play hockey.
“I didn’t know how to skate. I was around 14,” he says.
“So I bought skates and stuff, and learned to skate. Sure, I had a hell of a time, but I kept going and at 17, I was skating with the junior team in town . [and off the reserve].”
In addition to hockey and boxing, Louis says playing baseball has allowed him to travel to different communities.
Asked about racism in the sport, Louis says it wasn’t something he remembered being a problem between players.
“Well, you won’t find it among the players but among the fans,” he recalled.
As an OKIB elder, Louis frequently gives 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 at Falkland, [B.C.] at the time, and Tommy King, [he] was a hell of a pitcher. One season I never touched him, every time I got to bat I hit.
And Louis was like, ‘I can’t believe this, I have to do something about this.’”
“So that spring, I went to training camp and I said to the pitcher, ‘Don’t throw anything but curveballs at me, because that’s all he’s got. [Tommy King] gave me.'”
“For a month I practiced this and practiced this, only swinging in a curve inside the court,” he says. It was at the end of May when he was finally able to face Tommy, in an away game.
“So we went up there [to Falkland,] and Tommy comes over and gets both hits on me… but I know he always comes in with that inside curve to get the big hit out of you but when he threw the curve I hit him and I hit that Homer.
“Next time at bat, he thought I missed, then I threw another one. That’s my biggest story ever!
Louis’ advice to other athletes, after 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 that’s part of the sportsmanship, you have to give back to the game, so you turn around and teach others. It’s pretty much ingrained in me…you don’t do it to make yourself grow, you do it for children’s sportsmanship, [for] character, to help.
When asked if he thinks OKIB’s sports players are the best, he replied, “well, I’d like to think so…I think we’re the best”, everyone in the hall laughs as he smiles.