Next weekend will be an emotional one for the Comox Valley United men’s soccer team.
From Dec. 15–17, the club is hosting a memorial tournament for their teammate Tommy Butcher, who passed away last year at the age of 23. The indoor tournament will take place at the gymnasium at 19 Wing Comox.
“He was a big part of the club and the community, so this is one way to keep his name going,” said United player Rob Caya.
Coincidentally, the tournament will take place almost a year to the day since Butcher’s passing. Caya said the weekend was picked to accommodate people who would be back in the Comox Valley for Christmas. The weekend also takes place during the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s one-month winter break.
“We knew it was going to be around the same time, but we were trying to get as many people involved [with the tournament] as possible,” he said.
On Dec. 18, 2016, Butcher and a friend set out on a kayaking expedition from Union Bay to Tree Island at roughly 10 p.m.
About one kilometre out from shore, their kayaks collided and the two fell into the water. Butcher’s companion was able to make it back to land, where he rushed to flag down a passing motorist on Highway 19A.
Despite an urgent rescue attempt, Butcher could not be located that night. Search and rescue crews found his body the next day.
Soccer team copes with loss of teammate
The Comox Valley soccer community was in shock after learning about the tragedy. Butcher was a well-known figure in the community, having played for the Valley’s VISL Div. 1 team for a few seasons alongside his brother Joe.
Before playing for the men’s team, he had made his way through the club’s youth ranks. He graduated from Highland Secondary in 2011 and attended North Island College.
The team’s first home game after Butcher’s death took place in early 2017 and was dedicated to him.
Teammate Stefan Szkwarek says it was an emotional time for the club in the weeks and months following Butcher’s passing.
“The other guys, a lot of them grew up with Tom, so that was extra hard for them,” he said. “For myself, it was more of an older-player-to-a-younger-player type of relationship. That was tough in itself. For the younger guys, I’m sure it was excruciating.”
“It really forced us to come together even more,” he continued. “We have a tight-knit group. It’s easy in a tough situation to walk away, but it really galvanized the team. We tried to turn a very negative situation into something positive.”
Even though he played as a right-back, Butcher had an attacking mindset. Teammates say he was even among the team’s leading scorers in the first half of the 2016 VISL season.
“He did [defence] well,” said teammate Graeme McNeill. “But I think in his heart, he always wanted to play more attacking. And it showed. He was defensive, but when given the opportunity he would spring an attack.
For more information on the upcoming tournament, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250) 871-0620.
Team erects bench in Butcher’s memory
— CV United Mens (@CvMens) July 27, 2017
The tournament next weekend is not the only memorial that members of Comox Valley United have set up for their teammate.
Near the north-east corner of the club’s home pitch — the GP Vanier Turf Field — there is a bench dedicated to Butcher.
Glory, Glory, Tommy Butcher is engraved on the bench, based on a song written by team members following his passing.
As they walk past the bench towards the field for games or practices, United players often tap the bench with their hands.
“After it happened, there were a number of things we did to remember Tom and try to help his parents through an incredibly tough situation,” said Szkwarek. “We had a wake of sorts, [and] we had a memorial evening for him the first home game after his untimely passing.
“But those weren’t permanent, right? I think a lot of people at the club brainstormed and we came up with the idea for the bench.”
In conjunction with next weekend’s indoor tournament, Comox Valley United is also hosting a “Tom Butcher Memorial Party” on Saturday, Dec. 16. The event will be held at the Filberg Conference Center from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m.
Tickets to the party are $20 per person and include 1 free drink.