You would think coming in third in the league would be a disappointment, but the 18 members of the under-16 Malvern Lightning soccer squad feel like champions.
“We are not just a team, we are a family,” said team captain Nigel Bucknor, who addressed his teammates at the Lightning’s annual awards banquet on Oct. 17.
The banquet marked the end of the Lightning season, which began with tryouts in late May and ended with playoffs in September. In addition to weekly league games, the team also played exhibition games and tournaments throughout Ontario and Quebec.
Though the season had its low points over the past year with a record of 7-3-2, dropping games that many players said should have been victories, they did win a major tournament in Ottawa and one player will be looking for international success in Europe next spring.
Jamal Comrie, who won the award for best defender, was rewarded the chance to attend a training camp in England next March alongside players from around the world.
Comrie hopes to play at a professional level in the future, aspiring to suit up for teams like Manchester United and Chelsea.
“Even playing for the national team and reaching the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup would be a dream come true,” said Comrie, who shares these dreams with many of his teammates.
Speaking at the banquet was Ward 42 councillor Raymond Cho, who shared how soccer affected his own family. His three children played youth soccer when they were younger.
“Soccer is the people’s sport,” Cho said. “You do not have to be rich to play soccer, anybody can play.”
“The confidence my sons got from playing sports translated into their academic work”.
Like Cho, many of the players’ parents hope the success they have had on the field translate to the classroom as well.
“I am proud of my son, and I tell him all the time soccer is important, but an education and a career should also be a priority,” said Annette Bucknor. “My son’s skills as a player are improving, but not at the expense of his grades.”
For Coach Earl Nelson (fondly known as Coach Bugs by players for how much he is ‘on them’), one player stood out this season and earned the right to be called the Lightning’s most valuable player: Juwan Rhodes.
“He showed me guts, heart, gusto, and most importantly determination,” Nelson said. “Juwan played hurt, he played sick, and sometime could not breathe, but he still played.”
Other award winners include Trae Green for Rookie of the Year, Joseph Edwards for Perseverance, and Oneil Morris and Carlo Gambino for Most Improved Players.
“We teach the boys more then just the skills for the field,” Nelson said. “We teach skills that they can take with them for the rest of their lives.”