Saturday’s season-opener at Wick Elementary School field was a fun one.
Bundled in layers and long johns, about 20 U9 division players took to a dry soccer pitch thrilled for the opportunity to chase the ball around with friends.
Longtime Ucluelet coach Ken Griffin stepped in to referee. He held the young players to task, leaving no second chances for illegal throw-ins and encouraging them all to spread out and use the field more.
In the first few minutes of play, 8-year-old Noah Grills scored the first goal of the season for Team Ucluelet.
Team Tofino A played an earnest second half, scoring a game-tying goal midway through. Moments before the final whistle, Ucluelet had a good opportunity to take the win, but their efforts were halted by Tofino’s defence. The game officially ended in a 1-1 tie, but for these little sports, it was evident the real victory was savoured in the form of half time cookies and oranges.
Local soccer mom Jodeyn Grills has been watching her boys play soccer for the last three years. She regularly shuttles them to and from Ucluelet and Tofino to play games, and told the Westerly her favourite part of the season is when the two towns unite to form one super squad for the Mini World Cup.
“We love to come together and the best part about it is after the season we all go to the Mini World Cup. Tofino and Ucluelet come together and play together on the same team,” said Grills.
The annual tournament attracts hundreds of young soccer players from all over Vancouver Island. Last year’s event was held in Port Alberni. The Alberni Valley Youth Soccer Association has scheduled the 2017 Mini World Cup for May 13 and 14 in Campbell River. Saturday’s tie-game has perhaps set the tone for the remainder of the winter season.
Coach Griffin, who has been leading Ucluelet’s soccer program for the last 16 years, noted that the win-loss track record between towns is pretty well balanced.
“It always flip flops,” he said. “It goes back and forth. It depends on the year. It always changes.”
Ucluelet fields one U9 team, while Tofino has enough participants to field three teams.
In the U12 division, each town has one team with about 13 players per.
The teams are all co-ed, but for this year, Ucluelet’s U9 squad is without the presence of a female player.
“It’s a first,” said coach Griffin. “We’ve always been a mixed team. We’ve even had a girl go on to Nationals from the Ukee team. There’s always been girls on the team, but this year we just didn’t have any sign-up.”
U9 and U12 soccer games are played on Saturday mornings, alternating between towns. The last game of winter will take place on March 4 in Tofino.