Athletics offers great highs and lows.

By Darren Lum

On Sunday, March 27, it was a high for Canada when the men’s national soccer team advanced to the upcoming World Cup in Qatar with a 4-0 win over Jamaica at BMO field in Toronto, completing their qualifying journey with a 14-1-4 CONCACAF record. It’s been a 36 year wait for the national team and the soccer fans in this country that have supported it. Canada’s one and only World Cup berth was in 1986.
There was another athletic high, which won’t be grabbing national headlines.

It wasn’t for a win of any magnitude in the traditional sense, but was a victory for hope, a brighter future, when a co-ed volleyball tournament was held for Grade 8s from elementary schools in Minden and Haliburton held last week in Minden.
It was a beautiful and joyful atmosphere recognized by those that were there for the first indoor sporting event with spectators at an elementary school in Haliburton County. There were boys and girls who smiled, laughed, and held fists in the air, cheering their Grade 8 peers.
Even with just five teams from Haliburton’s J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School and Minden’s Archie Stouffer Elementary School, the competition was familiar, comprising of friends and friends of friends.
This tournament was more about the opportunity about the moments, to share in the rush of competition, which includes the highs of winning a long rally point to take a tightly contested match, and even the deflation of seeing a ball fall to the ground and losing a close match, than the win-loss records that day.
This isn’t the first return to play for elementary school students this school year, but this time it felt different. It may have to do with the appreciation of the competition after a long pause from when some of these athletes played soccer in the autumn, or how there is hope for an end to the pandemic, as it coincides with spring and the inevitable end to the school year only a few months away. Hope is an amazing thing. Belief in something can spur the most discouraged, the despondent.
With the snow blowing by my window at the Echo office, its clear spring is still just out of reach, with its gentle breezes and warming sunshine. COVID numbers are rising and there is the potential for another spike. But with the tournament, that was forgotten for an afternoon.
Our current frigid average temperature lately is far from being reflective of the warmth exhibited at the tournament, where supportive adult spectators applauded and smiled, the teachers demonstrative with their instruction and encouragement along the sidelines, and the players embrace of one another or how they delivered high-fives of support to each other.

A post-tournament conversation with one of the teachers, who helped officiate the games, said all the teachers recognized the positive atmosphere and the camaraderie. He pointed out this isn’t always part of the single gender tournaments of the past, so he wondered if co-ed competitions should be the practice.
Children at this age would never say it, but what was on display was the power of love and illustrated the connection we’ve all lost during this pandemic. This isn’t to diminish the family dynamic, but to highlight the best part of school. I remember school for the friends I made, the laughs I shared, and the encouraging interactions with teacher and/or coaches. Grade 8 is an awkward age, with a mix of emotions. Tournaments like what I witnessed provide the moments when children can be themselves in an encouraging environment. It goes a long way to being able to have a core memory that cuts through the confusion that is lasting, deep and joyful.