Heath Young and James Souter hope to represent Canada at this year’s Homeless World Cup in Poznań, Poland.
Both are new members of the Maple Pool United street soccer team that practises weekly at Maple Pool Campground and RV Park in Courtenay. The squad is gearing up for the annual world tournament’s June 29 Western Canada qualifier at Lewis Park.
Young, 35, discovered the street soccer program this year when he met team coach/co-ordinator Grant Shilling, an outreach worker at the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society, “through housing complications.
“Ever since then it’s been onward and upward,” Young said. “Everything’s getting so much better and so much … wouldn’t say easier. Day by day.”
Young is a Dawn to Dawn client who has lived at Maple Pool for three months. Years ago, he had played soccer while growing up in Abbotsford. His father coached the team, which competed in a league and played in tournaments.
He honed his skills each summer at soccer camps, and cross-trained by cycling and running. On one memorable weekend he and his teammates were ball boys at a Vancouver Whitecaps game.
In his teens Young moved to Nanaimo, where he competed with the city’s elite soccer players.
“There were some prospects there to go to England, but I popped my knee out,” said Young, who was sidelined from soccer because of addiction.
He recently finished treatment at the Comox Valley Recovery Centre.
“Even if I don’t go to Poland, just getting out and getting healthy again. Getting off the couch and away from that other stuff.”
Young enjoys the camaraderie that comes with meeting new people, feeling his confidence growing with each soccer session.
“It’s been a work in progress,” he said. “Getting back into the sport with a good coach and a good leader (Shilling) is just far and beyond, and good teammates, too. There’s no end to goodness here … It’s like heaven. It’s a new beginning.”
Souter, 44, is a potential goalie for the Canadian team bound for Poland.
“I quit smoking so I could play soccer,” said Souter, who last played the sport when he was a kid.
He moved from Ontario about a decade ago, first living in Alberta before coming to the Island three years ago.
Souter was one of four players who turned out the first day of the season in April.
“It rained,” he said. “None of us had cleats. We had just running shoes on, slipping and sliding all over the place. We had a great time.”
The street soccer program provides an opportunity for homeless and marginalized individuals to exercise, socialize and compete in a fun environment. The sport involves four-person teams that play on a field about 22 metres long with hockey-size nets.
Last year, Street Soccer Canada named Joan Mathias of Maple Pool United to the women’s national team that competed at the Homeless World Cup in Mexico.
The program will fundraise to help send players to Poland. Cash donations are welcomed.
To help, call Shilling at 250-218-3136.
He encourages the public to drop by Lewis Park to cheer on the local side at the Western Canadian tournament June 29.