An Atlantic thunderstorm couldn’t stop the West Coast boys.
The B.C. under-19 men’s soccer team won gold Friday at the North American Indigenous Games in Halifax, with a team comprisingoteens from communities across the province: Vancouver, Sechelt, Campbell River, Kingcome Inlet, Cowichan, Port Hardy, Alert Bay and more.
The championship final needed to be relocated to an indoor field at the last minute, after Environment Canada issued an alert about a heavy rainstorm and possible flash floods in the Halifax area.
As the storm raged outside and the boys took the pitch Friday morning, the crowd chanted and stomped in approval.
The crowd helped energize the team on their string of four straight shutout victories over the past week en route to the championship, said 16-year-old Richard Palmer Thomas, the team’s youngest member and one of four Vancouver athletes from the Musqueam First Nation.
“I’m just super-pumped,” Palmer Thomas said Friday, moments after his team was awarded their medals. “I’m proud of where I came from and I’m proud that I won it for my nation, Musqueam.”
The B.C. team only had a handful of sessions together before their first game on Monday, and looked disjointed for the first 25 minutes or so, said head coach Christopher Daniels, from the Gitwangak First Nation in the Skeena River Valley. But after the boys found their feet and started gelling together, there was no stopping them as they beat Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan on their way to Friday’s final, where they played Manitoba again and beat them 4-0.
B.C. finished the four-game tournament with 15 goals for and zero against, backed by a strong defensive line and goalkeeper James Dawson.
After the final, assistant coach Terrence Pierre said: “I’m super-proud of our boys, for everything they’ve done, all the sacrificing and all the time that parents put in to support them. I’m just at a loss for words for how proud I am of these guys.”
The 2023 North American Indigenous Games, the event’s 10th edition, drew more than 5,000 athletes from 756 Indigenous communities across the continent to the traditional homeland of the Mi’kmaq People in Nova Scotia. Athletes have competed in 16 sports including box lacrosse, basketball, canoe, beach volleyball and 3D archery, a sport where athletes aim at animal-shaped targets on an outdoor course meant to simulate hunting.
Aspiring filmmaker Scarlett Sparrow-Felix was also in Halifax, producing a documentary film focused on Palmer Thomas and his journey. Sparrow-Felix, 18, grew up down the street from Palmer Thomas on the Musqueam reserve and came from a soccer family: her grandfather is Terry Felix, the former Canadian international and Whitecaps FC player who became the first Indigenous athlete to play pro soccer in North America.
Felix himself followed Team B.C.’s progress in the tournament, and called them “well organized” with some “very talented” players.
“I’m happy that many parents paid their own expenses to travel all the way to Halifax to support their children. That really lifts the spirit of our youth,” Felix said by email.
Despite his talents, Felix never had few opportunities to play soccer as a youth in the 1970s, and said his first structured practice was with the Whitecaps youth team on his 21st birthday.
“I’m glad our youth have the opportunities like the NAIG tournaments. Our youth have the technical training which I never got. It will let them compete with the best players,” Felix said. “This is an experience I am sure they will cherish forever.”
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Back in Vancouver, Sparrow-Felix and Palmer Thomas work together shooting video content for Nautsa’mawt FC, a team of Indigenous players competing in the semi-pro League1 British Columbia.
B.C.’s under-16 women’s and men’s soccer teams will also compete for gold on Saturday, facing Alberta and Saskatchewan in their finals.
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