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Mourning Pirates

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I’ve been feeling incredibly sad since getting a short note to referees advising that Grant Park High School girls’ soccer team has withdrawn this season.

Urban soccer isn’t that big a deal, lasting barely five weeks, and like all things high school, it’s been gone from our lives for two years now.

But for four years, we arranged our schedules to get to child the younger’s games, as we had done with child the elder and the boys’ team.

I was nervous when my daughter went out for the varsity soccer team in Grade 9. She was barely 14, and while she was playing youth soccer at a competitive level in her own age group, most of the varsity school team were in senior high, some of them already adults. And when the coach announced a roster of 20 players, I thought, OK, at least she’s on the team, but that’s one keeper and another 19 players to share 10 positions, all of them older than she.

Child the younger and two of her friends in Grade 9 started the first match and never came off all that short season. There were only four players on the team playing at a competitive level, and three of them were in Grade 9.

I still hear about that from a parent of one of the girls in Grade 11 or 12 who spent a lot of time on the bench that year, a parent who thought the seniors should play in varsity sports and the younger ones should sit.

Kelvin wouldn’t even let Grade 9 students try out, but Kelvin — like Vincent Massey and Sisler and a few others — could put 11 premier players on the field, a few of them on the provincial team. Half the Grant Park players weren’t even playing recreational soccer, and if you break down the enrolment per grade, it was a much smaller school. But they all went out, and in a public school system that bemoans and decries deplorable levels of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, they were running.

By Grade 11, one of her skilled friends had changed schools and another had suffered an injury, but more than enough girls kept coming out and the girls kept playing. In Grade 12, child the younger was one of only two South End United players on the team.

She was the captain, she controlled play in central mid, she took all the free kicks and all of the corners, and though bigger schools had stronger and deeper teams, it was still a wonderful experience for her and the other girls — a chance at leadership, even for five weeks, is a pretty nifty thing for a teenager. In Grade 11, Winnipeg School Division in its wisdom briefly created a tier-two girls’ soccer division, and Grant Park defeated Daniel Mac in the championship match; those girls celebrated at the final whistle as though they’d won the World Cup.

Mr. F, you put in a lot of hours coaching, and you did a great job working with those girls.

I really hope you can bring a team back next year.


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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