Belanger Memorial hosted the School Sports NL’s Girls Varsity Outdoor Soccer provincial tournament over the Oct. 13 weekend.
The 2A Belanger Blazers were one of three teams competing and won the best sportsmanship award.
The tournament was off to a cold start with winds strong enough to lift the team benches on Friday, Oct. 12. By Saturday morning when Belanger took to the field around 9 a.m. against Copper Ridge Academy, the conditions had improved though the forecast called for showers.
The poor weather didn’t seem to bother the players on the field, the coaching staff at the sidelines, or even the parents and spectators huddled on the benches overlooking the soccer field below.
“I didn’t have to cut my team this year, which was big, so I kept all 16 girls,” said coach Karen Colbourne. “I only lose one girl this year, and then I’ll have my full team again next year, so it’s good.”
Colbourne says she has seen improvement in all of her players.
“Everybody improved,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to coach them.”
Coaching the team is a kind of legacy for Colbourne. Her father coached the team from 1985 to 1998, and five years ago she took on the challenge.
Colbourne’s strategy for the tournament was simple but effective.
“Just play their best. That’s it,” she said. “If they want to get into the championship game, they want to play the way that I know they can play? They’ll be there.”
The Belanger Blazers did move on to the gold medal round but were bested by St. Lawrence by a score of 5-0.
Lorena Pedro is one of two exchange students from Spain who played in the tournament. Despite the fact that soccer (football) is so big in Europe, she had never played prior to coming to Belanger.
“It’s very good,” said Lorena about the school.
The students are staying with local host families until Christmas. This is the second year Belanger has participated in a student exchange program. Last year the school also had a student from Brazil.
Vanessa Chaulk is the convenor for the tournament, although she says she had a lot of help from others at the school in organizing the tournament.
Chaulk, who is from the Codroy Valley originally, teaches junior high physical education and science. This is her first year back at Belanger.
“I’ve been convening sports for a very long time though at other schools, but this is my first time back in the soccer world, which is really, really exciting for me because this is my sport,” she said.
Chaulk is pleased with how well the tournament has progressed, citing sportsmanship in particular.
“It just comes to basically the comradery between strangers essentially.”
Although some of the players know each other from past tournaments, they are essentially strangers. Chaulk says any rivalry only exists during gameplay and even then, it is very respectful.
“They just come together like friends, and that’s incredible, and that is the value of school sports,” she said.
Chaulk remembers when small school soccer tournaments saw eight or 10 teams participating. Although she would love to see it again, amalgamation and demographics make it unlikely.
“There’s not many small schools on the west coast that actually play varsity soccer,” said Chaulk. Port aux Basques, for example, is a bigger 3A school. “That’s just the nature of the beast. All the school sports… the amount of teams seem to be getting smaller.”