On the drive back from Kamloops, I told my daughter that what her soccer team just accomplished is far from normal. Fresh off receiving her second BC Provincial B Cup gold medal in the last three years, the Nelson under-18 Selects had just accomplished something that is unlikely to be repeated in our region for a very long time.
In the last three years, Ashley Hall has been part of four provincial medal winning teams: gold in U16, bronze in Grade 11 high school with the L.V. Rogers Bombers, silver last season with the U18s and now gold with the U18s. A couple of her teammates (Julia Burkart and Hanna Quinn) have an entire fistful of provincial medals because they were on the gold-medal winning Bombers team in Grade 10.
For a tiny community in the middle of the mountains playing against much larger associations and high schools in populous places like Kamloops, Kelowna, Victoria and Vancouver, that accomplishment is Hoosier-esque.
Sunday’s 3-0 victory over the favoured Kamloops Storm pretty much summed up what this team was all about. From their earliest days in competitive soccer when they were only 11, they were taught that kicking the ball down the pitch and chasing after it was not the key to success. Under the guidance of amazing coaching they were taught the possession game, which at times was not easy. They lost a lot of games in the first couple years, sometimes by lopsided margins because their opposition did kick the ball down the pitch and chase after it.
On Sunday they were underdogs and they knew it, but this group of girls entered the game with a business-like approach. They spent seven years developing their ball skills and having faith in the systems established by their coaches. It started to pay off a couple of years ago and in their last gold-medal match, they seemed more than ready to test their approach one last time.
As I go searching for the best spot to take photos, I tend to place myself amongst the opposition parents during games because they strangely always seem to be in the prime location. As I have heard on the sidelines for the last couple of years, the parents of other teams are quick to rain praise upon our girls. It always takes folks from larger centres by surprise when a squad from a small town plays so stellar. On Sunday they commented many times about how well they play together as a unit and how the coaching staff uses the whole bench equally.
I’m no expert in soccer, but when I reflect on how it is that this group of girls has had so much success in recent years there is one word that comes before all others: trust. These girls trust each other and they trust their coaches. That’s not always easy to do, especially for teenage girls. But they are proof that it works. This is not blind trust. Over the years, they have all tested each other and they have all tested their coaches. In the end, they know they can rely upon each other because they all demand equally from each other. It’s a beautiful thing.
The lessons of youth sport are so much more important than medals. I feel fortunate to have watched my daughter grow up with so many tremendous role models. There will never be enough thanks for Iain Harvey, Peter Quinn, Chuck Bennett and Paul Burkart. Over the years, these four coaches have given so much of themselves to ensure a duffel bag full of amazing memories and knapsack full of essential human qualities for our girls. The girls’ future successes, whatever those may be, will always be shared with the people who helped plant the proper seeds. These four men can be sure that the humans they helped raise will always look back on this time with fondness and respect.
After the game, Ashley walked across the pitch like she has so many times over the years. Win or lose, we hug and I mutter, “Good game.” On Sunday we hugged, but there was no sound. The lump in my throat blocked all words. That’s OK because sometimes words are not necessary in those moments. Had I been able to fight through the tears that were hidden behind my Ray-Bans, I would have said that even though this chapter of her life is over, the game of life continues and I know there are many, many years of good to come. With a foundation based on trust, commitment and friendship it’s the only outcome that fits.