My brother Ryan will be tying the knot in our hometown of Williams Lake this August. In this case he actually did marry ‘the girl next-door.’ Living across the street for years, Ryan and his wife-to-be Chantel never said a single word to each other. It wasn’t until years later in Vancouver they met at a party through a mutual friend.
The thing I look forward to most about weddings, is how they bring people together. I was fortunate to grow up in a time where cell phones were not rampant in high school, and words like facebook, youtube, and twitter didn’t exist. My friends and I had a healthy addiction to soccer.
My dad, a PE teacher with summers off and twin boys on the team, had the means to provide us with all the practice time we could want year round. We had a group of players that stuck together from the age of 11 right through graduation.
Instead of playing regional rivals like Quesnel or 100 Mile House we were a town of 10,000 that would play the likes of the Alberta and Saskatchewan provincial teams and win. We lost in overtime to the Puget Sound All Stars in the highly coveted Diadora Cup tournament in Seattle, and had an invitation to play team BC declined because imagine the humiliation if they were to lose to a little interior town. It was the commitment to training and willingness to travel and play the best that made the difference.
That said, we all became the closest of friends, and seven of us went on to play soccer at the CIS university level. In the 10 plus years since our graduation, the town hasn’t produced another.
It may sound odd, but on a nice day I sometimes walk around the field at the now defunct Anne Stevenson Secondary and reminisce. This was the place where we practiced and cut our teeth as soccer players. I look at the hill where we did hill-climbs to end practice; I remember always shooting on the net with the portable behind it so the ball would rebound back to us; I remember having Canadian Soccer heroes Bruce Wilson, Ian Bridge, and Dale Mitchell run clinics in Williams Lake of all places.
I remember dad tossing out hundreds of soccer balls for Ryan and I to shoot and watching him chase them down for us and do it again. I’d say ‘throw me a right footed one-timer along the grass,’ and he’s toss me a full volley to my left foot that I’d scuff into the clouds. “Right foot” I’d yell at him, and he’d say something like “In a game do you get to ask what foot you want.”
Today, only myself and one other player from that team still call Williams Lake home. As with all small towns, people leave and few return. Many of us now have wives, children, careers and are scattered throughout Canada. The times that we do come together for an event are so few and far between that we have learned to cherish them.