As has happened every September for about a decade, soccer took over Hay River this past weekend.
It was again time for the annual Hay River Elks Outdoor Soccer Tournament, which attracted school teams from all over the southern part of the NWT for games from Sept. 18 to 20.
Kelly Webster, the main organizer of the tournament and the phys-ed teacher at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, said there were 39 teams in this year’s tournament
“So this is a good-sized one,” she said while watching a game from the sidelines on Saturday.
Webster said the biggest-ever tournament was 42 teams two years ago.
The visiting teams came from Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Behchoko, Fort Liard, Fort Simpson and Fort Resolution.
Webster estimated there were between 500 and 600 players, with about 350 of them coming from out of town.
That makes the Elks Outdoor Soccer Tournament the second-largest annual sporting event in Hay River, trailing only the NWT Track and Field Championships.
Webster believes the timing of the tournament early in the school year contributes to its popularity.
“I think part of it is that it’s almost like you’re back to school, get your school spirit going right away kind of thing,” she said.
Webster said the tournament is a nice way for the schools to get their students together and do something right away.
“Obviously, soccer is popular in the Northwest Territories, as well,” she added. “And it’s one of the only opportunities for outdoor soccer on a regulation-sized field.”
Two players from Hay River have their own reasons for enjoying the tournament.
“I just really like running and kicking the ball around,” said Zoey Walsh, a Grade 8 student at Diamond Jenness.
“I’ve been playing the Elks soccer since Grade 4.”.
Walsh also likes the chance to play other teams from the NWT.
Harvey Havioyak, a Grade 7 student at Princess Alexandra School, said the tournament is fun.
“It’s fun because you can do anything like scoring the goals and all of that,” he said.
The players faced a variety of weather conditions over the weekend, beginning with a sunny and warm Friday.
However, play started on Saturday morning in rain, and somewhat muddy conditions.
“The kids all still smiled,” said Webster. “And the next thing you know the sun came out.”
As usual, the games were held on fields at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, Princess Alexandra School and Tri-Service Park.
Along with the Hay River Elks Club, the tournament is supported by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs and the NWT Soccer Association.