It’s 8 a.m. on a chilly Saturday morning in late April. The local Mildred Hall Eagles are up 2-0 against Lutsel K’e in Yellowknife’s cavernous Fieldhouse, the largest soccer venue in the territory. The 12 Grade 7 and 8 girls from the downtown capital city school are rallying nicely after a 13-0 loss the night before versus a very strong Hay River team.
“Atii!” screams the mother of an Eagles player as her team struggles to clear the ball from its zone. “Get iiit ouuuuuut!” The Eagles turn the ball over and Lutsel K’e gets a shot on net.
“[Offensive four-letter word]!” she yells.
“[Less offensive, yet still offensive four-letter word]!” she shouts reflexively at her faux pas. Then she laughs. “Sorry,” she says sheepishly, to adjacent parents and teachers scattered in the bleachers for the early morning game. “I get worked up when I watch my daughter.”
This is Super Soccer weekend in Yellowknife, the annual celebration of the beautiful game, which attracts dozens of teams from across the North. Teens and pre-teens flood the town, a boon to fast food restaurants and the movie theatre—novelties you can’t find in most small communities. (Over time, the event has been split into two weekends: junior high students get their turn this weekend, high schoolers the next.)
The boy and girl Grade 8s—with teams from Iqaluit to Haines Junction, Yukon, and many spots in between—have taken over the Fieldhouse. For some, it’s a chance to go up against the best soccer competition they’ll see all year. To others, it’s a prime opportunity to bug parents—or teachers—for Gatorades and hotdogs.
The players are at a precarious age: many are earnest and cheer on their teammates with a “Let’s go Eagles!” chant (accompanied by a big coloured sign they made at school this week, which they hold up on the bench), while others need to be coaxed on to do just about anything because they’re just a little too cool for this. And then there are the girls who, waiting for a free kick, do the Macarena like they’re looking at each other in the mirror. Because they’re still kids.
The formerly foul-mouthed mother shouts “I love you!” to her sprinting daughter, who stops, looks over and smiles.
The Fieldhouse has two soccer pitches: each is four times the size of the Mildred Hall gym. The size of the field makes for a slower pace of play, as it only takes a few times up and down the field before the girls tire out. All that open space also means the top players—the fastest, the cleverest, the most skilled—can pretty much score whenever they want to. And it helps explains why a game can end up with a final score of 13-0.
Two girls charge hard at a ball rolling toward the wall and their feet get caught together: the Mildred Hall Eagle goes head first into the glass boards with a big clunk. The referee, who’s been absently leaning against the board chatting with the coaches, is caught off guard and blows the whistle, guiltily running over to the girl who is on the ground crying. The ref waves over a coach. The girl is taken to the bench and eventually the hospital, where she’s diagnosed with a mild concussion.
During the delay, one player from Lutsel K’e—a team made up of Grade 5, 6, 7 and 8s due to the small size of the school—is laying on her back on the vivid green turf. She starts rolling around and giggling.
Maybe it’s the letdown after the injury, or the resilient Lutsel K’e team, or maybe it’s the fact that the team was only able to get three practices in before the tournament, but Mildred Hall lets the game slip away. They spend most of the second half in their end and Lutsel K’e scores three goals to win. They cheer as the Mildred Hall team walks back to the bench, dejected.
There won’t be a storybook ending for the Eagles this Saturday. They’ll go on to lose to Hay River 6 to 1. (Or 8 to 1? Or 11 to 1? They stopped keeping track in the second half.) And they’ll lose to Lutsel K’e again. And to another Eagles team, this time from Inuvik.
But there are small victories. Players who looked uninterested earlier in the morning run with purpose by game number four, confidence and comfort gained over the course of the day. And Kelsey Nayally, one of the team’s more focused players, scores the first goal of the tournament against the Hay River powerhouse—and the only one during Round Robin play.
The accomplishment gets noticed by a local radio reporter and, after the game, Kelsey is interviewed, live on-air. Moose FM’s Ollie Williams asks her about the goal.
“Umm…” she says into the microphone, smiling widely. “I ran…”
“And then what happened?”
“…and then I just scored.”