It was a victory of sorts, an eye opener even, for Maple Pool United — which competed in its first street soccer tournament this month in Victoria.
“It was a great experience,” said Grant Shilling, an outreach worker at the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society who co-ordinates the street soccer program. Operating out of the Maple Pool Campground and RV Park, the program provides an opportunity for people on the fringes of society to exercise, socialize and have fun.
“It was good to be exposed to such a high level of play. For us, it was almost like going to the bigs. The game was played on astro turf, so that was a first for all of us.”
The opposition included three street soccer teams — one from the host city and two from Vancouver — and a few corporate teams.
Shilling said it was literally a crash course in street soccer, where four-player teams compete on a field about 22 metres long with hockey-size nets. One player needs to be over the centre line at all times, goalies cannot leave the crease and corner kicks are done by way of underhanded throw-ins, among other differences from 11-aside soccer.
Shilling was concerned his team would be demoralized after losing their games. But the players instead adopted his motto that says, If you’re playing you’re winning.
“It was a victory just for us to get down there, to do a road trip, to get organized,” he said.
The team consisted of men and women from 11 to 60 years, including Shilling and campsite owners Dali and Jin Lin.
Maple Pool distinguished itself by scoring twice, surpassing the objective of finding the back of the net just once.
“The camaraderie at the tournament was incredible, and the sportsmanship was great,” Shilling said. “We learned a lot about the level of play. Other teams were very welcoming and helpful in terms of trying to bring up our level of play.”
Another positive is a noticeable increase in players’ fitness level, Shilling added, noting two players have quit smoking since the street soccer program began several weeks ago.
Some of the team members experienced their first trip to Victoria, which will be followed by a tournament this month in Kelowna. The latter is a selection tournament for the 2012 Homeless World Cup of soccer in Mexico City in October.
Shilling hopes the Victoria street soccer team will consider trekking to the Valley for a game.
If any Comox Valley soccer teams want to learn the game, he said Maple Pool United is up for the challenge.
The team thanks the Comox Rotary Club for providing uniforms.
Donations of cleats would help the program. For more information, contact Shilling at 250-218-3136.