Norman Wells soccer player thrilled to be chosen for Team NT at Canada Summer Games
A teenager from Norman Wells was on his way to the Yellowknife airport to catch a flight back home after a training camp in Edmonton when he found out he'd officially been named to Team NT's male soccer team.
"I screamed, I couldn't believe it," he said. "The car stopped, everyone was like 'are you OK?'"
Shamar Bennett told the teammates who were giving him a ride that yes, he was OK, and then called his mom to tell her he'd be going to the Canada Summer Games in Ontario in just a few weeks.
"I couldn't stop smiling. It's such a big moment for me, to make Norman Wells proud, and Jamaica," said the 18-year-old.
Bennett, who grew up in Jamaica and moved to Norman Wells three years ago, lobbied the community for financial support to get to Yellowknife for the team's initial selection camp last June. There, he was chosen to keep on training — but the team heading to the Canada Summer Games wasn't finalized until last Friday.
That meant Bennett had to continue raising money to cover the costs of travelling from Norman Wells to Yellowknife and even Edmonton for training opportunities for the past year, all while wondering if he'd make the official roster.
"It is a bit of a, you know, an excitement for the athletes because they don't know, they have to work diligently … the whole time." said Rita Mercredi, Sport North's chef de mission (or team leader) for this year's Games, noting that it's up to individual territorial sport organizations to select their teams.
Female soccer team withdraws
The Canada Summer Games are being held in Niagara, Ont., from Aug. 6 to 21.
In addition to the male soccer team, Mercredi said this year, the N.W.T. will be sending athletes to compete in athletics, female basketball, male basketball, swimming, tennis, indoor female volleyball and male beach volleyball.
The female soccer team, she said, decided to withdraw because it wasn't ready to participate in the Games.
Jackie Whelly, a soccer coach in Fort Simpson, was training players in her community for the Games — including three candidates for the female team. She spoke to CBC North earlier this year about the challenges of being an athlete in a small community.
Mercredi said it's too bad the team withdrew, but that it was a decision left with the team and the Northwest Territories Soccer Association, also referred to as NWT Soccer.
"We want every athlete to have an opportunity to participate in the Games but at the same time we want it to be meaningful competition as well … for them as well as their opponents," said Mercredi.
Practicing alone in Norman Wells
Keisha Campbell, Bennett's mom, previously pegged the cost of a three- or four-day trip to Yellowknife for her son and a chaperone to be $2,500. Bennett said he's thankful to his community for an outpouring of support that helped him get to the various training camps over the past year.
In the future, he said he'd like to see sport opportunities come to N.W.T. communities so that young people can try new things and get chosen for teams like he did. But right now, he's focused on staying active and keeping up his skills — a difficult task for the only soccer player in a community of about 700 people.
"No one really likes playing soccer with me here, they say I'm too passionate. That's a nice word for it," he laughed.
Instead, he makes do with what he has — a patch of grass next to the arena, a soccer ball and a small soccer net.
"I throw the ball in the air, try to get a touch, take a shot on the goal behind me, or dribble with some stones on the ground," he explained.
Bennett said he also plays softball and basketball and tries to go on runs to stay fit.
He also finds himself checking the roster with his name on it every day.
"I'm just shocked to even know a kid from Jamaica is on Team NT, going to this big tournament to represent this small community," he said. "It's so crazy."