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Terry Wilson tourney kicks into gear

The kids from St. Mary's school playing soccer today in the Terry Wilson Memorial soccer tournament at Rotary Field know all about the tournament's namesake.
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Teams from Immaculate Conception and Sacred Heart play during the 2016 Terry Wilson Memorial Cup Catholic Schools Invitation Soccer Tournament at Rotary Fields in May 2016. Eighteen teams from the north participated in this one day tournament.

The kids from St. Mary's school playing soccer today in the Terry Wilson Memorial soccer tournament at Rotary Field know all about the tournament's namesake.

Wilson was the first gym teacher in the history of the Prince George Catholic elementary school.

Wilson's impact as a youth soccer pioneer is still being felt in the region, seven years after his death, and today his efforts in developing the sport will be remembered when 20 teams take to the field in the seventh annual tournament.

"It's a fabulous opportunity for kids to get together from all over northern B.C. and play some soccer in a fun environment," said

St. Mary's principal Brent Arsenault, who will oversee three Huskies teams from his school.

"All the Grade 7s played last year so they're all pumped and excited and the Grade 6s are all wondering how it's going to be and I just told them it's going to be fun. They've been practicing on their three teams the last week so they know which team they're on."

Wilson emigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland in 1986 and he was one of the founders of the Prince George Youth Soccer Association. He was the phys-ed teacher at St. Mary's until 1991, and served as the principal at St. Anne's school in Quesnel and at Sacred Heart school in Prince George until 2002, when he and his family moved to Picture Butte, Alta. The inaugural tournament was held in 2011, a year after Wilson died at age 47 of brain cancer.

"It's a great tournament, they have good opening speeches and everybody knows about Terry Wilson," said Arsenault.

"He was a big Catholic educator but he was also a huge soccer coach. The kids are excited about it, they get the whole day at the soccer field."

Arsenault said his Huskies teams usually wear St. Mary's hoodies, but with a high temperature of 25 C expected under sunny skies, sweat shirts will not be needed today.

St. Mary's won the second annual tournament in 2012. Annunciation of Prince Rupert is the defending champion, having also won in 2014, the only school to capture the Wilson trophy more than once.

Twenty teams from 12 schools and eight cities are competing for the title. Westside Academy of Prince George is back in the mix after a one-year absence. Teams from Terrace. Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Dawson Creek, Smithers, Quesnel and Vanderhoof and Prince George will be on the field today.

Arsenault, a former Prince George Cougars/Spruce Kings junior hockey assistant coach, is moving to Kamloops this summer after 25 years in Prince George. The 48-year-old native of Antigonish, N.S., hasn't locked up a position yet at another school but when he does, he said he will be coming back to Prince George with a team to play in the Terry Wilson tournament.

It starts today at 9 a.m. and each team plays three 20-minute games within their pools, leading up to the playoffs at 12:30 p.m.

The top eight teams, based on points and goal differential, qualify for the A Division playoffs. Teams ranked ninth to 16th form the B Division and the 17th-20th-ranked teams form the C Division.

Teams from some the far-lying communities like Terrace take the opportunity to visit historic sites like Barkerville or Fort St. James before the tournament. The 200-or-so players gathered Thursday night at Immaculate Conception school for a dinner and night of activities like capture the flag.

"For the Grade 7s, this is their last big tournament before they leave elementary school and what's so nice about it is it's mix of boys and girls and it's a fun tournament," said Terry Murphy, who organizes the tournament with Donnacha O'Callaghan and Shafeed Rahman.

"The morning is always relaxed but as the day goes on, it builds up. By 3 o'clock when the final is on you can cut the tension with a knife. It's great, but it never goes overboard."