A BRIEF HISTORY OF YOUTH SOCCER IN PRINCE GEORGE
By Keith Liddiard – Past Executive Director, BCYSA (Now BC SOCCER)
Like many similar communities throughout British Columbia, Prince George’s sports heritage owes much to immigrant pioneers who brought their knowledge of foreign games and leisure pursuits to a new breed of people. A look at the short, but rich history of youth soccer in this northern city certainly supports that view.
The man credited with being the first to attempt to get youth soccer started on a formal basis in Prince George was John DaSilva, a native of Portugal was his ambition to set-up a program that would duplicate what he’d grown up with back home through the school system.
That was in 1966. But his idea met with little response as Da Silva didn’t get the kind of interest or support he’d hoped for. No doubt many of Canada’s traditional sports were foremost in the eyes of many moms and dads at the time.
His efforts did pay off the following year, however, as he managed to recruit enough boys to form two teams that unofficially marked the establishment of organized youth soccer in Prince George.
By 1968 enrollment had increased to six teams. But by the time Da Silva finished the season, he was back to the original two. Despite the discouraging blow, DaSilva and other local soccer enthusiasts decided to put together a select team at the end of the season which travelled to Kitimat to play in an invitational tournament. Unexpectedly, the team won the event. Buoyed by the team’s surprise victory, a group of parents banded together the following year to officially give the fledgling organization a name: Prince George Youth Soccer Association.
With a solid corps of support they recruited enough players to form another six-team loop that not only completed the season without losing a team, but also sent a strong message throughout the community that soccer had. at last, established a strong foothold and a solid foundation on which to build.
And build it did. From six teams in 1970, the league grew to a ten-team loop by the 1974 season. That year the PGYSA decided it was time to join the provincial association, which had only three other interior affiliates on board at that lime –Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna.
During this period the PGYSA’s presidents, Alwyn Auld and Janet Valdarchi are credited with spearheading tremendous growth and development in the region.
They spent countless hours and considerable energy encouraging more players to take up the sport. He also helped arrange upgrading clinics for coaches and referees. and was the motivator behind the eventual introduction of Prince George’s annual youth soccer tournament in 1974.
DaSilva’s and Auld’s (Brenda & Alwyn) tremendous contributions to youth soccer in Prince George were recognized by the provincial association in 1988 when they were presented with BCYSA Certificates of Merit an award given annually to individuals who have devoted considerable time and effort to the promotion ot the game at the grass roots level.
In 1975 the BCYSA gave interior teams the opportunity of participating in provincial cup play for the first time. It was agreed that competition would be offered on an annual basis in a handful of age groups and representative teams of the four districts would gather in Kamloops for semi-final and final round games. It was a step that opened play amongst the four interior districts, and provided a stimulus for the accelerated development of skills and understanding of the game.
Prince George teams took part in the inaugural Interior Championships, but they all came home empty handed. It wasn’t until the 1977 tournament that two Prince George teams captured divisional titles. The Prince George Spiders won the under-13 age group, and Fred Walls and Son North Stars took the under-18 division.
Ten years passed before another Prince George team came back from the Interior Championships with more than bruised legs. In 1987. the Prince George Northerners gave the City its third interior trophy in the under-13 boys division.
In the late 1970s the Prince George YSA until then a “boys-only” organization decided to accept girls into its system. As was the trend in other member districts. the PGYSA acknowledged the growing popularity of the sport amongst females and set about establishing a strong league program for girls. The executive, determined to provide the same opportunities for girls that had been available for so long to the boys, began to promote the game in schools and in community centers in order to recruit sufficient players to run viable leagues, usually in two-year and sometimes in three-year age groups.
In 1983, the BCYSA also acknowledged the tremendous growth that had taken place in the girls’ program and added competition for girls at the Interior Championships, in three divisions. The move was another giant step toward bringing about equity for all members.
Thirteen years after the Prince George association decided to join the BCYSA, in 1988, the local executive resolved it was their turn to host the Interior Championships for the first time. The PGYSA past Chair at that time was Shafeed Rahman. now Prince George’s first representative on the provincial board. The PGYSA past Chair at that time was Shafeed Rahman. now Prince George’s first representative on the provincial board. Says Rahman: “It was an important occasion for youth soccer in the north and a chance for the PGYSA to showcase its program and its facilities. It did a great deal to bolster interest and attract media attention .. . two things that led to even more growth in the Prince George soccer community.”
The district’s hosting of their two provincial and inter-provincial cup events was a huge success.
Since then, Prince George has regularly captured their fair share of the silverware. but the district’s teams have only recently been managing to better their coastal counterparts at the provincial level a circumstance that is changing now that select team dispensation policies are giving interior teams a chance to compete on level ground.
There has been many PGYSA volunteers who have carried John Da Silvas modest ambitions to even greater heights since he got the ball rolling. Many of those people have also been awarded BCYSA Merit Certificates for their efforts. People like Tom Moore, Enc Hollands. John Cain. Peter Usher, Janet Vaidarcht. Brenda Auld, Gaetano Mauro, the Cooks. Hans Niedermayer. and more recently. Pam Shelest. Mike Labonte. Shafeed Rahman, and Gale Russell. They are volunteers who have contributed unselfishly toward the prosperity of youth soccer in Prince George. And the results are clearly evident this season the Association expects to register over 2600 players.
There has also been a couple of other major developments recently that has changed the face of youth soccer in this northern city. In 1992 the district decided to hire its first paid administrator (Heather Carter) and an office. Seven years ago, in cooperation with other levels of soccer administration. the Rotary Club and City Council, the district managed to complete Phase 3 of a development project that will eventually bring on-stream ten new soccer fields. Gerry Knechtel’s efforts in spearheading this venture is deeply appreciated. The first Phase. the new Rotary Complex. had six fields (2 floodlit). Phase 2 added another four, and Phase 3 has provided the senior leagues with a clubhouse and two more fields, making the new Rotary Complex the best of its kind in the province. Phase 4 a clubhouse and 4 mini fields hopefully will he completed within 2 years.
Not bad for an organization that has yet to celebrate its 30th anniversary!
Keith Liddiard 1999