For the eighth year in a row, Hay River has played host to the Elks’ Outdoor Soccer Tournament, drawing more teams than ever from across the territory.
“This is the biggest year so far,” said organizer Kelly Webster. “We have 44 teams, and that’s somewhere around 500 or 600 athletes, plus many of their families, coming into town for the weekend.”
The Sept. 20-22 tournament was played on three fields – Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS), Princess Alexandra School (PA) and Tri-Service Park – each with its own level of competition.
Webster said that, while the DJSS field could see some pretty fierce contention, the PA field was more about development and the Tri-Service pitch was all about little kids having fun.
But for all the competitive edge, Webster maintains the weekend remains about the players.
“It has really grown in the last few years,” she told The Hub. “It attracts a lot of people. Anyone can play soccer. All it takes is a pair of shoes and a pair of shin guards.”
Webster thanked the Elks Club for providing the soccer balls, which were all given to players after each game in an effort to promote the sport in all communities in the NWT.
“Not having a ball will not be an excuse,” said Webster. “When we started, we had nothing. The Elks bought us the nets, and all the gear and balls.”
While the sport gains popularity in the territory, soccer in Hay River is also growing. Webster said there were six teams each from PA and DJSS playing in the tournament, with the high school groups split down the middle between boys and girls.
Kevin Smith, who played for the 19 and under AA team from DJSS, said he noticed a lot more people participating over the years.
“I’ve played in this tournament since I was in grade school,” he said. “And I think this is the most teams we’ve ever seen.”
With school only being back in session for three weeks before the weekend event, Smith’s team only practised together four times before taking the field in the tournament. But he said it didn’t really matter.
“We’ve been playing together, most of us, for years,” he said. “We all know each other, and know how we all play.”
As for going up against Yellowknife teams which play in a league all summer, Smith said he liked the challenge.
“It’s pretty good having teams come in from all over,” he said. “It gives us something to try for.”
Webster agreed that one of the best things about the tournament was the chance for Hay River players to test their skills against other teams.
“They just adapt and learn,” she said. “It’s so impressive to see how much better they get each game. It’s nice to see where we’re at, but also what we can aspire to be.”
— Sarah Ladik