Fastest growing sport
Assistant principal transplants love for the game from Burin Peninsula
“It’s the fastest growing sport in Newfoundland, it’s the fastest growing sport in Canada, and of course, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the world, it’s the most popular sport in the world.”
Robert Tarrant’s soccer roots run deep, thanks to an upbringing in an area of Newfoundland whose soccer culture runs back to the beginning of the 20th century.
When Tarrant, the assistant principal at North River’s All Hallows Elementary School, moved to North River from the Burin Peninsula, he found himself missing that area’s rich soccer culture.
“ Every community there has a soccer team, no matter how big or how small. So there was always a strong presence. That was part of our culture, really. Growing up as children, we played soccer in the meadows, and on the fields, whenever we had any spare time. That was the culture. Everyone did it.”
Tarrant says the strong Scottish and Irish heritage in the area laid the foundation. Scottish forestry workers and post-Second World War settlers brought a love for the game with them, he says, leading to the formation of the Burin Peninsula soccer league and the provincial Premier Cup competition, but the origins of the game there go back even farther, to what he believes is the first soccer game played in Newfoundland. In 1901, a team from St. Lawrence took on a group of Portuguese sailors - with the New- foundlanders winning 2-1.
Tarrant’s own father, Isadore, is a member of the Burin Peninsula’s soccer hall of fame as a builder.
“ When I moved away from there, I missed it. It was so much part of your life,” he said. Because of the softball field located next to the school, Tarrant attempted to get a softball recreation program off the ground seven years ago, but there was very little interest. A couple of years after that, he wondered if it would be possible to repurpose the field for soccer.
“ The first summer I tried it, we had 60 kids. And then, we ran a winter program that winter, and by the next year, we had 250 kids.”
All Hallows student Erin Mackey, 12, says when she first saw soccer on television a few years ago, she thought it looked like a lot of fun. It’s now her favourite sport.
“ I love it. It’s awesome,” she said. “ It’s a great way to hang out with your friends and it’s really good exercise and all our teachers, they’re so generous with us. They give up their time to help us. It’s really great.”
Tarrant says in just a few short years, a soccer culture has taken hold of local children. “ The kids loved it so much that lunch hours, for example, the kids are out playing soccer,” he said, noting that even the relatively warmer winter weather allowed children this past year to play soccer outdoors into January. Organized programs give local children the chance to play almost year-round, and Tarrant says the game’s inexpensiveness and strong health benefits make it an attractive choice for parents who want their children to be active.
“Soccer is a relatively inexpensive game to play. All you need is a ball, and a set of cleats and shin guards, and it doesn’t cost very much,” he said. “ Soccer’s the best cardiovascular sport you can play. ... You got a game that’s 90 minutes long, most of the team are on the field for 90 minutes. You’ve got to aspire to high levels of fitness to be a good soccer player.” Tarrant’s also of the opinion that soccer requires more teamwork than some other team sports, like hockey.
Phillip Mercer, physical education teacher at All Hallows, said the sport is an excellent way to promote fitness, and the kids seem to love it.
“ We always get kids asking (in class), ‘ Sir, can we have a game of soccer?’ We try to oblige whenever we can,” he said. “It’s a great program.”
Last year, the soccer program provided activity for almost 230 kids, whose ages range from three to 14, with all the teams with children aged eight and up taking part in provincial tournaments.
With the soccer program entering its fourth full season, Tarrant says they’re starting to see younger siblings of original players wanting to take part in the same sport their older brothers and sisters are playing.
“ We’re getting three-year-olds whose brothers played on our under-10 and under12 teams,” he said. “And they’ve gone to the games and watched the games and they want to play themselves.”
Tarrant said the enthusiasm of local kids for the sport is “ unbelievable,” and he’s watched the kids develop over the past four teams into squads capable of winning provincial titles, as the CBN Lightning Under-14 team did this year.
Tarrant said the soccer programs build skills as well as provide an athletic outlet for children, and the coaches in the program are taking courses to earn their certification as well, all of which helps keep the popularity of the sport growing.
“ It’s the fastest growing sport in Newfoundland, it’s the fastest growing sport in Canada, and of course, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the world, it’s the most popular sport in the world,” said Tarrant.
And the soccer players in Conception Bay North are aware of the sport’s global position: local kids are sponsoring a soccer team in Ghana in Africa. “ That’s been a really positive thing for us as well, and it’s nice for our kids to see that part of it,” he said. “ We’re playing here, and it’s fun for these kids over there, but
“We’re getting three-year-olds whose brothers played on our under-10 and under-12 teams. And
they’ve gone to the games and watched the games and they want
to play themselves.”
— Robert Tarrant, assistant principal, North River’s All Hallows Elementary School
it’s also a way for some of them, eventually, to maybe become professional or semi-professional players as a way of living.”
For local players, Tarrant has a simpler - yet more crucial - goal: to help fight against rising levels of childhood obesity. He said it’s “scary” to read studies that suggest today’s children might not outlive their parents.
“ I certainly would encourage parents to get their kids involved in soccer programs or other physical fitness programs, so that we can reverse that trend. Because if things continue to go the way they’re going, and kids spend so much more time playing video games than they do playing other sports, I think we’re going to see a lot of that become a reality in the future.”
And as kids get involved, so do their parents; Tarrant had high praise for the volunteers who keep the program running.
“ The parent-volunteers ... make it possible in order for these types of programs to happen,” he said, “ because if it wasn’t for the parent-coaches and other people who volunteer to help out with fundraising and so on, it certainly wouldn’t be possible for these programs to run.”
Photos by Daniel MacEachern/The Compass Robert Tarrant, assistant principal of All Hallows Elementary School and organizer of a local soccer program with more than 200 students, dribbles a soccer ball in the school gym.
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